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CONTEXTUALLY YOURS #72 (article first published : 2006-04-10)

The show When Basil Met Elvis that has recently been running in Durban – where these articles are written – prompted someone to ask me to trace the origin of the sentence “Elvis has left the building”. I was mildly surprised, because I hadn’t realised that the sentence had any particular significance, but a little scratching around revealed that it does have, and why. I am much indebted to an Internet site called “The Straight Dope” for what follows.

It appears that in the early 1950’s one Horace Lee Logan founded a radio show called Louisiana Hayride which was broadcast from Shreveport, Louisiana, and went on producing it for many years. One day he was sent a demo recording of a 19-year-old youth called Elvis Presley. Although it was a major departure from the “country crooners” who provided most of the show’s material, he decided to give the boy a chance, and Elvis made his debut on October 16, 1954. Logan saw his potential and signed a contract with him for regular performances.

After two years of touring with the show, Elvis bought out his contract for the then enormous sum of $10 000, with the condition that he give one last performance, which he did on December 15, 1956. By this time he had a huge following, and ten thousand young people jammed the building on the Shreveport fairground for his 45-minute performance, screaming at the pitch of their lungs. Apparently it was sometimes hard to tell whether Elvis was singing at all, or even if the band was playing.

After his final encore, the audience made for the exits, although several more “Hayride” acts were waiting to perform. Logan took the microphone and begged the fans to return to their seats, saying, “Please, young people…Elvis has left the building. He has gotten in his car and driven away…Please take your seats.” To quote Cecil Adams of The Straight Dope: “The words became part of the Elvis legend and were repeated at many subsequent shows.”

One of the people who repeated it “with a particular flair” was a road show announcer in the Elvis retinue called Al Dvorin. He died recently in a car accident in California, aged 81. The man who said it first, Horace Logan, has also died, on October 13, 2002, aged 86.

The sentence, with ironic overtones, seems to have become part of the American consciousness, with the meaning “The show’s over, that’s all, there’s nothing more.” It is evidently familiar enough for Kelsey Grammer, star of the long-running, award-winning TV show Frasier, to end several instalments of his show with the words “Frasier has left the building”, knowing that the sentence would send a resonant signal to his invisible audience.

It is a little surprising, perhaps, that two of the men on the periphery of the high-pressure Presley circus should have lived to a considerable age, and a little ironic that they should have outlived the King himself by many years. But that’s show-business for you. And on that highly original philosophical note, Ulysses is leaving the building – until next time, at least.

Contextually Yours, Ulysses Online.




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