DOMINIC JOSEPH FONTANA
March 15, 1931 – June 13, 2018
D.J. Fontana was an American musician best known as the drummer for Elvis Presley for 14 years. He played on over 460 RCA cuts with Elvis. He was a guest of the Memphis Film Festival in 1980 and 1983. He was the entertainer for both years.
Nicknamed "D. J.", Fontana was employed by the Louisiana Hayride to be an in-house drummer on its Saturday night radio broadcast. In October 1954 he was hired to play drums for Presley, and that marked the beginning of a fifteen-year relationship. He performed on the NBC television special known as the " '68 Comeback Special".
Fontana joined a band (originally assembled by Sam Phillips without a drummer) consisting of Scotty Moore (lead guitar), Bill Black (bass) and Elvis Presley (rhythm guitar), calling themselves "The Blue Moon Boys". This became the band that would perform and record the vast majority of the Elvis Presley hits of the 1950s (some also including piano and backing vocals from the Jordanaires) including "Heartbreak Hotel", "Hound Dog", "Don't Be Cruel", and "Jailhouse Rock". The band also toured extensively and performed on several television appearances including "The Ed Sullivan Show" through 1956 and 1957.
"Armed with accuracy, power, swing, dynamics, great time and - the biggest compliment of all - simplicity whenever it was best, D.J. rocked the greatest singer and the greatest songs.... ever. He did it year after year, record after classic record. In a world of one trick ponies and lucky "Rock Stars," D.J. is the real deal." ~ Stan Lynch
"I learned the value of simplicity at the Hayride. I heard Scotty and Bill and Elvis one night and knew that I couldn't mess up that sound. That's why I always play what I feel. If that won't work, I just won't do it again. I think the simple approach comes from my hearing so much big band music. I mixed it with rockabilly." ~ D.J. Fontana
The band officially broke up in 1958 although Fontana and Elvis still played and recorded together regularly throughout the 1960s. Moore would sometimes join them. Moore and Fontana have also performed together without Presley, including a 2002 recording of "That's All Right (Mama) with Paul McCartney. After 1958, Black never played with the band again; he died in 1965.
In 1983, Fontana published a book in pictorial form titled D. J. Fontana Remembers Elvis about his years playing with Presley. Fontana's Life and Times weekly phonecasting debuted on July 3, 2007. Fontana's pioneering contribution to the genre has been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in Nashville, which inducted him on January 14, 2009.
On April 4, 2009, Fontana was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland in the sidemen category.
Fontana has been portrayed by Ed Begley, Jr. in the film Elvis (1979) and by Eric William Pierson in the CBS mini-series Elvis (2005).
January 24, 1920-May 24, 2018
Jerry Maren, was an American actor who played a Munchkin member of the Lollipop Guild in the 1939 MGM film, "The Wizard of Oz". He became the last surviving Munchkin following the death of Ruth Duccini on January 16, 2014, and was also the last surviving cast member with a speaking or singing role. Mr. Maren was a 2001 Memphis Film Festival guest.
In The Wizard of Oz, he played the green-garbed member of the Lollipop Guild handing a lollipop to Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland). Maren was eighteen/nineteen years old when he shot his scenes for "The Wizard of Oz" in the latter part of 1938 and early 1939. At that time he stood just three feet six inches. (Hormone treatments would allow Maren to grow to a height of four feet six inches later in life.)
After "The Wizard of Oz", Maren continued acting, and appeared in many movies and television shows. Some of these appearances were in: "Our Gang" (comedy shorts), "At The Circus" (Marx Brothers 1939), and "Battle for the Planet of the Apes" (1973). He is also featured, along with fellow Munchkin Billy Curtis, in American International Pictures' release "Little Cigars" (1973), about a gang of "midgets" on a crime spree.
In the 1950s Maren worked as a Little Oscar for the Oscar Mayer Company and as Buster Brown in television and radio commercials. Later he joined his friend Billy Barty in organizing 'Little People of America'. Maren has also portrayed Mayor McCheese and The Hamburglar in commercials for McDonald's.
This page is to honor the passings of our favorite stars of stage, screen and television. Some of the stars we have had the honor of their presence at our festival.
Some of these stars were behind the scenes as well as in front of the camera. They will be missed.
(Please note: Passings are changed month to month.)