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by Brian Robin

How Did "Million Dollar Quartet" Get Its Name?

It was a throw-away line in the end of a story and a line in a photo caption. From such seemingly innocent actions come the names of hit Broadway musicals.

Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records in Memphis, was eating dinner at a local restaurant on December 4, 1956 when sound technician Jack Clement interrupted his meal. Clement told his boss that his planned recording session of Carl Perkins and pianist Jerry Lee Lewis had suddenly grown by two legends-in-waiting: Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. The pair dropped by unannounced.

Seeing a golden opportunity for some publicity, Phillips finished his meal and hurried back to the studio, where he called Robert Johnson, the entertainment editor for the Memphis Press-Scimitar. Johnson and photographer George Pierce came over, listened to the impromptu jam session that arose from this meeting, and filed a story.

Johnson’s column and Pierce’s accompanying photo of the four music legends and Presley’s then-girlfriend, Marilyn Evans, ran the next afternoon.

The first three lines of the photo caption? “Million Dollar Quartet.”

The last sentence of Johnson’s column? “That quartet could sell a million.”

He wrote it estimating what the salaries of the four would have been. Using Johnson’s story as a guideline, today’s “Million Dollar Quartet” would sell more than $10.6 million. Doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Million Dollar Quartet, book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, original concept and direction by Mutrux, is Outside SCR’s 2022 production at the historic Mission San Juan Capistrano. Directed by James Moye, who played Phillips during the production’s 2011-12 off-Broadway run, Million Dollar Quartet runs July 30-August 21.

About the author

South Coast Repertory

South Coast Repertory is a Tony Award-winning theatre is known for producing classics, contemporary hits and world premieres, for having the largest new-play development program in the nation and for advancing the art of theatre in service to the community. 

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