In light of the Baz Luhrmann movie, Elvis, and the legal issues it raised regarding Col. Parker’s relationship with Elvis, and even the lawsuit following Elvis’ death, we are publishing some documents related to this lawsuit, beginning with extracts of the complaint filed by the Presley estate against Col. Parker.
To provide some history, an investigation into the relationship between the estate and Parker was ordered by Probate Judge, Joseph Evans, shortly after the death of Elvis’ father, Vernon Presley, in 1979. Following that investigation, which was conducted by Lisa Marie’s guardian ad litem, Blanchard Tual, the Probate Court of Shelby County, Tennessee ordered the cessation of all payments to Parker. The judge also directed the estate to bring suit against Parker regarding his improper management practices related to Elvis and his estate. The suit was also to name RCA as an accomplice.
The following is excerpted from the complaint filed by the Presley estate against Colonel Parker (with links to related documents on PresLaw):
Complaint Against Colonel Thomas A. Parker
In February, 1955, Elvis met Parker for the first time when Parker assisted Elvis’s then manager, Bob Neal, in arranging a concert for Elvis in Carlsbad, New Mexico. At all times referred to herein, Elvis was without knowledge or understanding of the business and financial aspects, customs, and usages of the music and entertainment industries, whereas Parker held himself to possess, and upon information and belief, in fact, possessed, expertise in such matters, On August 15, 1955, Elvis and Parker signed their first agreement, pursuant to which Parker agreed to act as “special advisor” to Elvis and Neal in consideration of an annual salary of $2,500.
On November 21, 1955, Parker in Shelby County, Tennessee, caused Elvis, who was still a minor, to enter into a management agreement, pursuant to which Parker agreed to act as Elvis’s “sole and exclusive advisor and personal representative” and to use his “best efforts” to advance and benefit Presley’s career in the entertainment industry, in consideration of which Parker was entitled to receive 25 percent of Elvis’s gross income. At that time, because Elvis was also signed to a management agreement with Neal, pursuant to which Neal was entitled to receive 15 percent of Elvis’s gross income, Parker and Neal on November 21, 1955, entered into a co-management agreement, pursuant to which they agreed to both serve as Elvis’s personal representative and mutually share in the collective 40 percent management commission.
On March 26, 1956, two months after Elvis had reached his majority, Parker caused Elvis to enter into an agreement with Parker, pursuant to which Elvis and Parker ratified their prior management agreement of November 21, 1955, and Elvis appointed Parker his sole and exclusive “advisor, personal representative and manager.”
On January 2, 1967, Parker caused Elvis to enter into an amendment to their existing management agreement, which Elvis executed in Memphis, Tennessee, pursuant to which Parker’s management commission, for no apparent consideration, was increased from 25 percent to 50 percent with respect to a substantial portion of Elvis’s future gross income. Parker served as Elvis’s sole and exclusive personal manager and fiduciary for a twenty-one-year period commencing in 1956 and terminating upon Elvis’s death on August 16, 1977. As a result of this continuing contractual relationship, Parker, at all times relevant, occupied a position of trust and confidence as his sole advisor and manager, and was under a strict fiduciary duty to act solely in Elvis’s best personal and professional interests. As Elvis’s fiduciary, Parker was at all times under the mandate of law required to avoid circumstances in which his personal interests came into contact with the best personal and professional interests of Elvis, and to scrupulously avoid acting in a manner calculated to promote his personal interest to the detriment of Elvis’s personal, financial, and professional interests.
On or about March 1, 1973, Parker, as Elvis’s fiduciary, caused Elvis to execute six interrelated agreements between RCA on the one hand, and Elvis and/or Parker on the other hand.
The buyout agreements called for a total purchase price of $5,400,000 payable (at) $2,800,000 to Elvis and $2,600,000 to Parker. As a result of the buyout agreement, Elvis relinquished all of his rights to further royalties from the continued marketing and sales of records embodying his pre-March 1, 1973, recorded performances.
As a result of the six agreements, which agreements were negotiated by Parker on his own behalf and purportedly on behalf of Elvis as Elvis’s personal manager and fiduciary, RCA agreed to pay the following amounts to Elvis and Parker. To Elvis: $4,650,000; to Parker: $6,200,000, plus 10 percent of the net profits of RCA tours.
As a result of the six agreements, Parker arranged for himself to receive $1,550,000 more than Elvis plus 10 percent of RCA’s net profits from tours.
With respect to the six agreements Parker breached his fiduciary duty to Elvis and/or his duty of loyalty and reasonable care by, among other things: a) Causing Elvis to acknowledge or execute agreements which were not in his best interest, including but not limited to agreements with RCA, which collectively provided for Parker to receive 57 percent of all of the capital money due and payable to RCA plus 10 percent of RCA’s net profits from tours, and by structuring the aforesaid agreements in such a manner that the total collective effect of said agreements would be and was to provide Parker substantially more monies than they would provide Elvis. b) Causing Elvis to acknowledge agreements which collectively permitted Parker to self-deal in his role as Elvis’s personal manager in violation of all fundamental precepts and duties owed by a fiduciary to his charge to Elvis’s severe detriment and damage. c) Causing Elvis to execute the agreements without the benefit of individual counsel or business advice. d) Failing to raise any objection to royalty statements, failing to conduct audits of financial books and records for the purpose of verifying the accuracy of royalty statements, and waiving certain claims with respect thereto to Elvis’s damage and detriment.
Accordingly, the six agreements are either saturated with or constitute an embodiment of Parker’s mismanagement, self-dealing, overreaching, and breach of trust.
Throughout the course of Elvis’s career and subsequent to Elvis’s death, Parker, by means of self-dealing in breach of the absolute trust which Elvis and later his estate placed in him, and in further breach of his fiduciary obligations and his duty of loyalty and reasonable care as imposed by law, engaged in the exploitation of Elvis in a manner designed to maximize his own private financial gains and profits to the detriment of Elvis’s financial interest and career and to the detriment of his estate. This conduct, in addition to the conduct previously described herein, included among other things: a) Creating corporate vehicles which enabled Parker to acquire and profit from properties to which Parker was not entitled and capture income in excess of Parker’s purported contractual entitlement in the area of music publishing and the merchandising of Elvis’s name and likeness, to the severe financial detriment of Elvis and the estate. b) Causing Presley to enter into disadvantageous contracts with Parker and with a company substantially owned or controlled by Parker. c) Causing Presley, without the benefit of independent counsel or business advise, to enter into the contracts referenced above, which contracts upon information obtained were drafted and prepared by Parker, rendering Parker’s interest in such contracts presumptively invalid under Tennessee law. d) Causing Presley to enter into disadvantageous contracts with third parties in order to accommodate Parker’s personal financial requirements. e) Misusing his position as Elvis’s, and later the estate’s, personal manager and fiduciary by requiring third parties interested in commercially exploiting Presley to compensate Parker personally, which compensation was accepted and utilized by Parker for his own personal financial gain and profit.f) Limiting Elvis’s concert appearances to the territory of the continental United States notwithstanding the enormous demand for and financial gain to be had from such appearances worldwide, which limitation was the result of Parker’s not having secured a passport when he entered the United States and his fear that, once abroad, he would not be permitted reentry into this country. g) Failing to incorporate into recording contracts negotiated on Elvis’s behalf any legal protection which would enable Elvis’s accounting representatives to audit financial books and records for the purposes of verifying the accuracy of royalty statements and payments rendered to him to Elvis’s damage and detriment. h) Failing to provide Elvis with any tax planning to Elvis’s damage and detriment.
Reasoning to have Shelby County, Tennessee as the appropriate jurisdiction for the case . . . possibly because of Elvis’ popularity locally, in his hometown.
Parker, throughout the years, regularly and systematically had dealings with Elvis at Elvis’s business office in Shelby County, Tennessee, conducted discussions of business affairs with Elvis, either in person or by telephone, made payments to Elvis of sums of monies earned pursuant to contracts, rendered accounting statements to Elvis pursuant to contracts, attended public performances by Elvis, and provided, in conjunction therewith, promotional services pursuant to his obligations as personal manager, and made contracts in connection with personal performances by Elvis. b) Following Elvis’s death, Parker made payments and arrangements in Shelby County, Tennessee, for the purpose of continuing his managerial and fiduciary relationship with Elvis.
As a result of the foregoing, Parker breached his fiduciary duty to Presley and to the estate thereafter, and accordingly, all of Parker’s interests, rights, powers, and contracts, oral or written, with Presley and/or the estate, and with Presley and/or the estate and others should be forfeited in favor of the estate.
By reason of the foregoing, Parker breached his fiduciary duty to Presley and the estate thereafter causing Presley and the estate to suffer monetary damage in an amount to be determined by this honorable court and requiring the defendant to provide plaintiffs with a full and complete accounting of all monies received by Parker as a result of the professional activities of Presley.
Parker alleges that in 1967 his relationship with Elvis changed from one of Artist/Manager to that of a joint venture, and as a result, 50 percent of the assets of which the estate is presently comprised, and 50 percent of all income payable to the estate in the future belongs to Parker.
The estate says that no joint venture relationship ever existed between Elvis and Parker. Parker violated his fiduciary duty to Elvis by diverting to himself, for his own private gain and profit and to Elvis’s financial detriment, money substantially in excess of 50 percent of all income generated by Elvis’s personal concert appearances.
Summary of claims against RCA.
RCA, pursuant to its payment obligations under the terms of the recording agreement, acknowledges that it owes royalties to either the estate or Parker in the amount of $152,354.14.
The estate says that, as a result of Parker’s repeated and systematic breaches of fiduciary duty to Elvis, Parker’s interest in all contracts with Presley and/or the estate and with Presley and/or the estate of others is forfeited in favor of the estate and all monies presently or herein after payable by RCA under the terms of the recording agreement, including the $152,000 presently in the possession, custody or control of RCA is payable to the estate.
Parker contends that the $152,000 is payable to him under the expressed terms of the recording agreement. As a result of the foregoing, a substantial controversy concerning the proper distribution of the $152,000 royalty payment and all future royalty payments payable under the recording agreement presently exists between the estate and Parker, requiring judicial resolution by this court.
Summary of claims against Colonel Parker/Boxcar Enterprises.
On May 25, 1963, Parker caused Elvis to enter into a merchandising agreement with Parker in connection with special souvenir folios and pictures. The 1963 merchandising agreement provided that, in recognition of Parker’s creation of special projects in the field of merchandising in furtherance of the “artistry and exposure of Elvis Presley,” such “special projects” would be commercially exploited by Parker with all net profits derived therefrom to be divided 50 percent to Elvis and 50 percent to Colonel Parker.
At some point in time, Parker purports to have signed to Boxcar, a company substantially owned and controlled by Parker, all rights which Parker acquired from Presley relating to the merchandising of Presley’s name and likeness.
Plaintiffs contend that Boxcar’s merchandising rights, which were acquired from Parker, were limited to special merchandising projects in connection with Elvis Presley’s personal appearance tours. Accordingly, upon Presley’s death, Boxcar’s right terminated.
Boxcar contends that it continued to possess the exclusive rights to commercially exploit Presley-related merchandise pursuant to the rights originally acquired by Parker from Presley, whereas the estate claims that such rights are property assets of his estate.
In 1974, Parker formed Boxcar and purported to convey to Boxcar the rights which Parker had acquired from Presley in connection with the marketing and promotion of Presley’s name, image, and likeness.
At the time Boxcar was incorporated, Parker caused the shares of Boxcar to be distributed as follows: Parker 40 percent-worth $8,000, Elvis 15 percent-worth $3,000, George Parkhill 15 percent-worth $3,000, Fred Bienstock 15 percent-worth $3,000, Tom Diskin 15 percent-worth $3,000.
Parkhill and Bienstock thereafter sold their shares of stock to the corporation and said shares were redistributed by Parker as to alter the ownership of Boxcar as follows: Parker 56 percent, Elvis 22 percent, Tom Diskin 22 percent. Parker caused salaries to be paid to Boxcar officers from 1974 through 1976 in the following amounts: 1974-Parker $27,560, Diskin $4,750, Presley $2,750, Parkhill $4,750, Bienstock $2,750. Patty Diskin $1,375, Mary Diskin $1,375. 1975-Parker $24,000, Diskin $6,000, Presley $6,000, Parkhill $6,000. Bienstock $6,000, Patty Diskin $3,000, Mary Diskin $3,000. 1976—Parker $36,000, Diskin $46,448, Presley $10,500, Parkhill $2,500, Bienstock $2,500, Patty Diskin $2,500, Mary Diskin $2,500.
Not only did Elvis possess a small percent of the ownership interest in Boxcar-between 15 and 22 percent-but, in 1974, 1975, and 1976, Elvis received only 6 percent, 11 percent, and 10 percent, respectively, of the distributable salaries.
Boxcar became the vehicle by which Parker diverted to himself approximately 61 percent of all income generated by the distribution and sale of Presley-related merchandise, an amount substantially in excess of Parker’s entitlement under the terms of his merchandising agreement with Elvis Presley, and in violation of Parker’s contractual and fiduciary duties to Presley. At all times relevant, Boxcar had knowledge that the fiduciary relationship existed between Parker and Elvis and that Parker’s conduct in the creation and operation of Boxcar constituted a breach of Parker’s fiduciary duty to Elvis. As a result thereof, Boxcar conspired with Parker and aided and abetted Parker to breach his fiduciary duty to Presley.
Wherefore plaintiffs pray: On the first claim a declaration that all of Parker’s interests, rights, and/or powers in contracts oral or written with Presley and/or the estate, including but not limited to record royalties, song writer royalties, and motion picture and television participation, should be forfeited in favor of the estate. An order requiring Parker to provide plaintiffs with a full and complete accounting of all monies received by Parker as a result of the professional activities of Presley, including but not limited to disclosure of Parker’s income tax returns for the years 1973 to the present. Enjoining Parker from disposing of his assets or property pending final determination of this action and awarding the plaintiffs compensatory damages together with punitive damages all to be determined at the trial of this action. A declaration that no joint venture existed in fact between Parker and Presley or any company substantially owned by Parker or Presley for any purpose so as to entitle Parker to 50 percent of the assets which comprise the estate or 50 percent of future income of the estate. A declaration that all monies presently and hereafter payable by RCA are to be paid to the estate to the exclusion of Parker and that the royalties which are presently due and owing and are within the custody and control of RCA in the amount of $152,000 and all additional royalties herein after to become due be placed to the clerk of this court pending the final determination of this action. A declaration that Boxcar’s rights to commercially exploit the name, image, and/or likeness of Elvis Presley for any purpose are terminated and that the exclusive right to commercially exploit the name, image, and/or likeness of Presley resides in the estate. An order enjoining Boxcar from disposing of its assets pending final determination of this action and an award of compensatory damages together with punitive damages all to be determined following an accounting at the trial of this action. On all claims interest provided by law, costs, reasonable attorney and accounting fees, and such other and further relief as this court deems just and proper.