At ease, sideburns
When Elvis Presley reported to be inducted into the Army on this day, March 24, in 1958, his legions of fans weren’t exactly taken by surprise. It had been early 1957 when TIME reported that he was likely to go:
Tooling up to a Memphis induction center in his li’l ol’ unpretentious cream-colored Cadillac, Dreamboat Groaner Elvis Presley, a hulking 21, went bravely inside, peeled off his inconspicuous scarlet and black jacket and other trappings, permitted medicos to examine him. The doctors’ verdict: a fine broth of a lad, pelvis and all, eligible for drafting—probably to serve in some special services division, tote some such gone weapon as a guitar. Before rolling off in his Caddie, Elvis allowed that the intelligence test he had taken was a breeze. Groaned the bobby-soxers’ golden calf: “Di’nt seem hard a’tall. Ah’m sure Ah passed!” (He did.)
But the big question wasn’t whether he would pass the test. The big question was what the Army would do about his hair.
About a month after Presley was declared draft-eligible, lawmakers like New Jersey Senator Clifford Case were investigating, on their constituents’ behalves, whether the singer could get an exemption to buzz-cut regulations that would allow him to keep his sideburns and pompadour. Though the Army did not make an official statement on the matter, officials did declare that he would not receive any special treatment.
The singer was originally ordered to report for a draft-board physical on Jan. 20, 1958, but he ended up getting a “hardship deferment” in order to finish making a movie. (The hardship was the studio’s, which had already invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the picture, not his own.) He finally reported to the Army in March — but, by then, the hair question had already been at least partially resolved.
As TIME reported late that February, he “jumped the clippers by getting a ‘normal’ haircut that shortened his sideburns a good inch, left him still looking much too dreamy for the Army.”
And that was that. When Sergeant Presley’s two years of service ended, he announced that, though he would return to rock ‘n’ roll, his sideburns were gone for good.