Dear Cecil: No quotation dictionary gives the origin of the common phrase “Elvis has left the building.” Who said it first? Nicole A., Palo Alto, CA
Funny you should ask. The guy who said it just left the building himself. Horace Lee Logan, founder and longtime producer of Louisiana Hayride, the country-music radio show that gave Elvis his big break, died October 13 at age 86.
In 1954 Sam Phillips of Sun Records sent Logan a demo recording of the 19-year-old Elvis singing “That’s All Right, Mama” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” touting this white kid who sounded black. Elvis was a radical departure from the country crooners who were the staple of Hayride lineups at the time. (To give you an idea, one of the acts that preceded Elvis on his first night was a yodeler.)
But Logan decided to take a chance. On October 16, 1954, Elvis debuted on the show, which was broadcast live on KWKH, a 50,000-watt station in Shreveport, Louisiana, that reached 28 states. The studio audience responded politely to the young singer — he had yet to develop his trademark hip wiggle or sultry sneer — but Logan and company saw his potential and signed him up for a regular gig. Soon teenage girls discovered him and Elvis was on his way.
After two years of touring the south and southwest and drawing increasing national attention, Elvis bought out his contract with Hayride for the unheard-of sum of $10,000, with the stipulation that he give one last performance, which turned out to be on December 15, 1956. By this time he was verging on superstardom. Ten thousand kids jammed the youth building on the fairgrounds in Shreveport and screamed at the top of their lungs for the duration of the King’s 45-minute show. (According to KWKH disc jockey Frank Page, it was sometimes hard to tell if Elvis was singing, or even if the band was playing.) After Elvis had given his final encore and left the stage, the crowd headed for the exits, even though many other Hayride acts were still waiting to perform. Logan took the microphone and pleaded with Elvis’s fans to return to their seats: “Please, young people … Elvis has left the building. He has gotten in his car and driven away. … Please take your seats.”
The words became part of the Elvis legend and were repeated at many subsequent shows. Now they’re a catchphrase whose meaning, usually tinged with irony, is clear to all: the show’s over, the curtain has fallen, the sun has set, that’s all she wrote, the fat lady has sung, our work here is done, move along, nothing more to see, disperse, beat it, turn the page, hit the road, don’t forget to tip your waitress, pack it up, turn out the lights, das ist alles, time’s up, toodle-oo, exeunt omnes, class dismissed, back to work, don’t let the screen door hit you where the good Lord split you, end of story, that’s all there is there ain’t no more, so long, hasta la vista, you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here, later gator, 30, buh-bye, get lost, ite missa est, the end, finito, Scotty, beam me up.
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