Elvis hit the $20 million mark in January 1964
Elvis Presley’s career has always been defined by numbers—big numbers. In a January 15, 1964, article, Variety used some big numbers to assess Elvis’s career to that point. The article opened with the following paragraph.
“His imminent professional demise having been forecast annually since his dynamic arrival on the show biz scene in 1956, Elvis Presley heads into 1964 as easily the most robust corpse extant, his estimated gross income to date a lively $20,000,000.”
Variety then went out to reveal one big Presley number after another. According to RCA Victor figures released the week before, Elvis’s single record sales during his eight years with the company totaled 49,300,000. He also had sold 11 million LPs and 12 million EPs. The 15 movies in which he had appeared from 1956-1963 had brought in an estimated $75 million in box office receipts. Colonel Parker told Variety that Elvis had taken in $1.5 million in straight salary for his two 1963 films, It Happened At the World’s Fair and Fun in Acapulco, with 50% of the profits still to come on top of that.
So where did all that movie money go? Parker explained that the William Morris agency skimmed 10% off the top, with Elvis getting 75% and the Colonel 25% of what was left. Answering criticism that his share was too large, the Colonel explained that at least half of what he received from Elvis was put right back into the business, for such things as office expenses, advertising, and promotion. Elvis’s cut, according to Parker, went “straight to the Memphis accountants.”
The Colonel also explained that he had turned down all TV offers, which ranged up to $150,000, and personal appearances, estimated at $75-100,000 per week, because he said Elvis didn’t have the time to do them.