On “Green Acres,” actor Pat Buttram played Mr. Haney, the devious con man whose deals ultimately end up costing the Douglases more than they bargained for. And as it turns out, Buttram decided to base his portrayal on Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley’s manager.
Buttram had known Parker in the 1940s when Buttram worked at a carnival booth that showed off dancing chickens, according to the Encyclopedia of Television.
As for Parker, he actually got his start on the circus scene, per Biography.com. After serving in the U.S. Army, he moved to Florida and found work with a traveling circus.
While working at the circus, Parker learned how to sell an attraction. In fact, he would go on to refer to Elvis Presley as “my attraction.” And some people later described Parker as a blend of P.T. Barnum and W.C. Fields.
‘Green Acres’ Character Based on a Cutthroat Con Man of a Manager
At a time when the standard rate for managers was 10% to 15%, Parker was taking half of everything Presley earned. A Memphis judge later discovered that Parker had defrauded Presley of about $7 to $8 million, had failed to register Presley’s songs for royalties and had sold away 700 songs for $6.2 million, of which Presley got only $4.6 million, according to Biography.com.
In 1968, Parker was asked if he took half of all Presley’s earnings. His response? “That’s not true at all. He takes 50% of everything I earn.”
In her biography of Parker, “The Colonel,” Alanna Nash details how Parker’s selfishness came at Presley’s expense.
“Whether regarded as a meretricious and evil confidence man, or as a brilliant marketer and strategist, as remarkable as the star he managed, no figure in all of entertainment is more controversial, colorful, or larger than life than Tom Parker,” she wrote.
Parker suffered a stroke in January of 1997 and passed away the following day in a Las Vegas hospital. He was 87.