It seems to go without saying that Elvis Presley was the greatest celebrity of all time — the original superstar. He came along at a time when mass media was just forming, and effortlessly blended the various schools of American music into a potent new form that captured the imagination of the baby boomers at just the moment when they were becoming an unparalleled force in the culture. But let us now consider whether Presley could have been an even bigger star. What if, for instance, in addition to being able to effortlessly meld the various schools of American music, he had also been a brilliant neurosurgeon? Wouldn’t that have made him even more renowned? Okay, now let’s alter the formula somewhat: What if he’d been able to effortlessly meld the various schools of American music, been a brilliant neurosurgeon — BUT, he’d had slightly buck teeth? Would he have been more famous, slightly less famous, or exactly the same? All right. Now let’s start with basic Elvis again. What if he — instead of Tennessee Williams — had written A Streetcar Named Desire, but he’d also been born with lobster-like claws for hands? Leave aside the question of how he would have written the play — for the sake of argument, let’s say he dictated it, or maybe had some sort of special typewriter. How he wrote the plays isn’t important. The question is, would he have been as widely adored? More so? Less so? Now, what if he’d been able to fly, but had also been a known Communist? What if he had been the first man on the moon, but had also carried on a highly public affair with Randolph Scott? What if he’d broken Babe Ruth’s hitting record, but had also engaged in unprovoked fisticuffs with Lucille Ball on live national television?
January 9, 2001