August 15, 1988 12:00 PM

by Dirk Vellenga with Mick Farren

We live in strange times, friends, when even the manager of a celebrity rates his own biography. If ever such a character deserved scrutiny, though, it is Tom Parker, the mystery man who ended up with only one client: Elvis Presley. Parker was no run-of-the-mill 10 percenter; his final contract with Elvis called for a 50-50 split. Then again, Parker wasn’t the hoot-and-holler native of West Virginia he claimed to be either. “Colonel” Tom was, in fact, born Andreas van Kuijk in Holland and managed to live a long, checkered and finally lucrative life in this country as an illegal alien. That’s why he talked Elvis into turning down profitable foreign tours and paying more than his share of taxes. His manager didn’t want any dealings with tax authorities that might have led to examination of his own life. This book, a down-and-dirty, entertaining 188 pages, performs just that examination. Vellenga is the Dutch journalist who first broke the story of Parker’s secret past. Farren is a New York free-lancer who punched up the prose, which at times gets a little overheated: “There was no way Adam [Parker’s father] could have imagined that the two-day-old Andreas would half a century later be a millionaire who lived in America and called himself Colonel Thomas Andrew Parker—and that he would manage the most popular entertainer of the 20th century.” Not having gotten Parker’s cooperation, they also occasionally take liberties in reconstructing his thoughts. For the most part, though, the authors let their often sordid story speak for itself. Parker was a two-bit carnival advance man who, from his winter base in Tampa, first got involved in music by harnessing country singer Eddie Arnold as his client. (Parker changed his name during the ’20s; Colonel was an honorary title he was accorded by Louisiana Governor Jimmy Davis.) Relocating to Nashville, he stumbled into a spectacular gold mine with Elvis. Parker courted him, and they signed their first agreement in 1955. Then Parker spent the rest of his career assiduously turning that mother lode into dross. Parker’s carny instincts never left him. Even after he was many times a millionaire, he continued to hawk trinkets and souvenirs outside Elvis’ concerts. He seemed to enjoy bilking Elvis’ fans and humiliating the star himself with shoddy projects (anyone recall the 1967 movie Clambake?). His advice, both creatively and financially, was shockingly poor. Provided he got a little up-front money, Parker seemed happy to tie Elvis into long-term contracts. As the authors point out, the result was that the singer’s mediocre late ’60s career “seemed to have a life of its own.” Throughout the book, Elvis comes across as a weak, pathetic figure. Not Parker. He comes across as cruel, manipulative, small-minded, venal and, in a perverse way, fascinating. (Delacorte, $17.95)

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