Remembering Elvis Presley’s Seattle World’s Fair visit

Elvis Presley poses with a ham and local officials at the 1962 World's Fair in Seattle.

Elvis brought a ham purportedly from his Tennessee farm. | Photo via MOHAI, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Collection, 1986.5.40806.2

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Sure, Elvis Presley is all the rage again with Baz Luhrmann’s new biopic — but we knew the King before he was cool. Or at least when he was originally cool.

Elvis was working on an MGM musical in 1962 called “It Happened at the World’s Fair.” And for 10 days that September, he swung his hips into Seattle to film scenes on location, even riding the Monorail. While the Emerald City was no stranger to luminaries during this time — hello, John Wayne + John F. Kennedy — the sideburned one’s presence was next level.

🍖 Hammin’ it up

One of the oddest photos from Elvis’ time in our fair city shows the singer posing with Washington Gov. Albert Rosselini and a giant, burnt ham. As the story goes, someone had told the governor that Elvis would give him some prized pork from the singer’s farm in Tennessee. The only problem was, um, no such meat was shipped over.

Local grocery store to the rescue. Seattle promoter + actor Dick Friel hoofed it over to an A&P in Lower Queen Anne, securing a ham that would look the part. But Elvis’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, told Dick that he should rough up the ham so it looked like it had traveled the distance from Tennessee — hence, the weirdest pic ever.

💚 Fangirling out

As you might expect from an Elvis visit, the main sound that echoed through the streets was the screams of young fans. The King had not graced Seattle with his presence since a 1957 tour — so this was a huge deal. Around 300 teens waited for his arrival in the wee hours of the morning at the New Washington Hotel, and thousands of looky-loos followed him throughout his visit.

It was no coincidence filming was timed for early September when kids were first returning to school — MGM felt this would limit the throngs. But… er… it didn’t quite work as well as they hoped.. Scenes were continually disrupted by the shrieks of fans around the World’s Fair grounds who caught a glimpse of their idol, leading to multiple retakes. One girl said she had gone “broke” buying Monorail tickets, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer noted that Elvis may have been the “biggest boon to sellers of camera film since the Space Needle was unveiled.”

🎥 Getting our close up

As momentous as Elvis’s appearance in Seattle was, “It Happened at the World’s Fair” wasn’t exactly the biggest hit of his career. Critics panned it, and it barely made back the $2.5 million MGM sunk into it. Notably, though, the movie starred future First Lady of Hawaii Vicky Tiu + marked the film debut of a very young Kurt Russell.

It also put the Emerald City on the Hollywood map for the first time. A couple of years later, Sidney Poitier would star in the Seattle-based drama “The Slender Thread.” Warren Beatty would be chasing a shadowy organization after a Space Needle assassination in “The Parallax View” — and then late 80s/early 90s romcoms like “Say Anything” + “Sleepless in Seattle” helped boost our big screen bonafides.

Basically, Seattle has since become a bonafide star. And now that there are $3.5 million in new incentives for filmmakers to come to Washington, it hopefully won’t be too long before another “hunk of burning love” visits.

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