Elvis manager Tom Parker made first fortune from animal shelter

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1993:

TAMPA, Florida––While playing
Elvis Presley’s longtime manager Colonel
Tom Parker in the recent NBC made-for-TV
movie Elvis & the Colonel, actor Beau
Bridges mentioned to Canadian Press TV
writer Wendy McCann that Parker was “one
of the first people to come up with the con-
cept of a pet cemetery,” as a fundraiser for
an animal shelter he ran in Tampa, Florida.
Since every tabloid needs an occa-
sional Elvis story, even once removed, we
jumped right on it. And it’s as true as any
story involving either the King or the
Colonel; truer than most.

Born as Andreas van Kuijk in
Breda, the Netherlands, in 1909, Parker
was adept at handling animals and teaching
them tricks even in boyhood. At age 19 he
reached the U.S. as a stowaway, took a new
name, concealed his Dutch accent behind a
southern drawl, and spent most of the next
decade as a carnival animal handler. After
several years of running a pony ride conces-
sion at the Tampa fairgrounds, Parker mar-
ried a local woman, Marie Mott, brother of
one-time major league ballplayer Bitsy Mott,
and wangled a more steady job in 1940 as
dogcatcher for the Tampa Humane Society,
now the Humane Society of Tampa Bay.
According to HSTB director of education
Karen Cheeks, the organization has no
archives predating 1985, and little record of
Parker’s doings, but the authors of Elvis &
the Colonel, Dirk Vellenga and Mick
Farren, dug up much more. Apparently
Parker did a good job for the humane soci-
ety, by the standards of the time, enlarging
the cages and boosting adoptions by dress-
ing as Santa Claus to give away puppies at
Christmas. But as he later did with Elvis, he
took his own cut, too.
He “worked the hustle for all it was
worth,” Vallenga and Farren state. “He
pushed the tearjerk quality of unwanted pets
all the way to bathos. He constantly hit the
local press with weepy stories and found a
particularly warm reception from Paul
Wilder, one of the editors of the Tampa
Tribune, who used Parker’s doggy and kitty
stories on a regular basis,” and was rewarded
later with the first exclusive interview with
Presley after Parker made the singer a star.
The articles brought donations of money and
food––and Parker stretched his salary by
trading pet food for items he and his wife
could eat. The pet cemetery “was Parker at
his flamboyant sleaziest,” say Vallenga and
Farren. “He contacted a Tampa stonemason
who would make miniature gravestones for
$15 a pop. In turn, Parker sold them to the
bereaved for $50,” along with equally pricy
floral arrangements and tiny coffins.
Parker left the humane society in
1942 to become animal handler on the set of
the Spencer Tracy/Van Johnson film A Guy
Named Joe, which was made in Tampa, and
the rest is, if not quite accurate history, at
least an enduring legend.
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