PARKER, who gave up smoking his trademark big Cuban cigars in 1990, had a meteoric rise from being a hobo in the late 1920s to a top show business manager.
Tom Parker was born on June 26, 1909 in Breda, The Netherlands to Adam and Maria VanKuijk who named their fifth child Andreas Cornelius VanKuijk. As a young man Parker immigrated to the United States where he worked on carnivals and served four years in the United States Army.
After his discharge from the army he went back to carnival life. In late 1939 and early 1940 he became the manager of Gene Austin and traveled with Gene’s “Models & Melodies” show.
In late 1940 he became Field Director of the Tampa Humane Society, a position he held for three years. Tom Parker left the Humane Society to go back into the entertainment field, booking country acts. In 1944 he became the manager of Eddy Arnold and by November 1947 Eddy had been #1 on the country charts for 53 weeks.
When Tom Parker and Eddy Arnold went their separate ways, Tom began booking Hank Snow and in January 1955 became his personal manager. Colonel (as he was now called, having been given an honorary title of “colonel” by several southern governors) began booking Elvis Presley as an opening act on the Hank Snow appearances.
In October 1955 as Elvis’ special advisor (Bob Neal was still managing Elvis), Colonel negotiated a recording contract with RCA Victor for Elvis. It should be noted that it was, at that time, the custom for the A&R people to choose the songs for an artist to record. However Colonel insisted that Elvis choose his own songs. Today it is common practice for the artist to choose their own material. . . .but Elvis was the first.
In 1956 Colonel became Elvis’ personal manager. By the end of their first year together the WALL STREET JOURNAL reported that since Colonel began marketing Elvis merchandise, they had grossed some $22 million in sales. Elvis records and albums were selling in the millions. Together they made history.
After reading a newspaper story pleading for support for the Arizona Memorial fund, Colonel talked with Elvis and they decided to offer a benefit concert to raise funds to finish the memorial which honored those who lost their lives during the devastating surprise attack on the military installations at Pearl Harbor. In March 1961 the concert took place and nearly $100,000 was raised.