Elvis Presley released Flaming Star in 1966 to a meagre box office return. The film’s budget was $1.7 million and made just $2 million upon release. The King of Rock and Roll played Pacer Burton, a Texan rancher dealing with rivalling neighbourhood homesteads. During the shoot, he worked closely with American star Barbara Eden, who spoke candidly about her time with the singer.
Barbara revealed in 2017 how much of a “lovely man” Elvis was. She recalled: “[He was] well brought up. Was a hard worker. A very good actor and wanted to be. This was the only film that he really had a chance of showing he could act.”
Before she met him, however, she revealed how intimidated by the star she was. She recalled seeing him perform on The Ed Sullivan Show and being impressed by his “intense star quality and sex appeal”.
Barbara also thought he was a fantastic actor, but that didn’t help their movie.
Barbara spoke openly about how Flaming Star didn’t make too much money – despite the King being involved in it. She said: “He got excellent reviews on the film. And, of course, it didn’t make a penny.”
The now 90-year-old actress felt she knew why the film didn’t work too well, however. She added: “Because he didn’t sing a song. That wasn’t what his fans wanted. But he was excellent.”
While she has a point, this isn’t exactly true.
Elvis performed two songs in the film – Flaming Star and A Cane and a High Starched Collar. Elvis also recorded two more songs, Britches and Summer Kisses Winter Tears, but they were both scrapped from the film’s final edit.
For reference, 1964’s Viva Las Vegas had Elvis singing four songs throughout the movie – and that was a huge success earning almost $10 million at the box office. While it seemed like Elvis really wanted to bring his acting prowess to Flaming Star, the box office return was not encouraging enough for him.
Despite Elvis’ extraordinary fame at the time, it turns out he was actually quite daunted to meet Barbara in the first place.
Barbara wrote in her 2011 memoir, Jeannie in a Bottle, that Elvis was a big fan of her actor husband, Michael Ansara, who was a big TV star.
She penned: “He happened to be a big fan of Michael’s – he loved [the TV show] Broken Arrow and in particular the character of Cochise — so that broke the ice between us.” She recalled being “surprised” Elvis knew about Michael. “I asked him how he managed to catch Broken Arrow, given his frenetic work schedule,” she continued. “He told me that he couldn’t leave his hotel room at night for fear of being mobbed, so he stayed locked inside and watched TV for most of the night.”
Barbara added: “That answer afforded me a poignant insight into Elvis’ world, one that surprised me.”
Years after Elvis’ death, Barbara spoke fondly of working with the star, and about seeing him for the first time. She said in an interview: “God, what a talent he was! I remember the first time I saw him. It was on television. I had a job dancing, and one of the girls took me home to rehearse, and her sister came running in the room and said, ‘Look! Look! Quick! Stop!’ It was the Ed Sullivan Show.”