On His 75th, Elvis At 21 : The Picture ShowIn 1956, Alfred Wertheimer had the unique opportunity to photograph Elvis, just as the young musician was gaining popularity. His photos are in a new book and traveling exhibition.
It's weird to think of Elvis as a 75-year-old man. In my mind — in most people's minds — he'll always be in his 20s. That's due, in part, to the iconic images taken by photographers like Alfred Wertheimer.
Starburst. "Not strong enough to reach the stage," the photographer writes, "the flash in the audience highlighted the back of about thirty rows of heads as well. That random flash was in perfect sync with my shutter opening. ... This unexpected lucky moment gave me Starburst. Alfred Wertheimer from Elvis 1956/Welcome Books)
Four Desperate Fans. As Elvis left the Hudson Theater, his fans reached out for an autograph and to touch their idol. NBC Television, Hudson Theater, New York City, July 1, 1956
Elvis and Barbara Hearn. After having taken a shower, Elvis has his high school sweetheart, Barbara Hearn, listen on the phonograph to the acetate disc with cuts of his songs from the New York recording session. 1034 Audubon Drive, Memphis, Tenn., July 4, 1956
Entering The Warwick. Between the afternoon rehearsal and the evening performance of "Stage Show," hosted by Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Elvis returns to his hotel to rest. New York City, March 17, 1956
The Noisy Green Room. Elvis tries to concentrate on rehearsal ... finding it hard to do so because of the screaming of his fans outside the window. He finally went to the window and asked them to be quiet. After his request they were silent. Mosque Theater, Richmond, Va., June 30, 1956
Elvis Reading Fan Mail. Once inside his suite at the Warwick Hotel, Elvis found an envelope containing dozens of fan letters. New York City, March 17, 1956
Segregated Lunch Counter. While waiting for a train to take him from Chattanooga to Memphis, Elvis sits at the lunch counter to have some breakfast. The woman standing in the foreground was waiting for a sandwich that she had ordered; she was not allowed to sit at the counter. Railroad station, Chattanooga, Tenn., July 4, 1956
Washroom, No Towels. Nearing Memphis after a 27-hour trip, Elvis freshens up on the train, only to find there are no more paper towels. Not making a big fuss, he shakes his hands dry. Southern Railroad, July 4, 1956
The Kiss. In the privacy of the narrow hallway under the fire stairs of the Mosque Theater, while other performers are onstage before 3,000 fans in the audience, Elvis concentrates on his date for the day. Mosque Theater, Richmond, Va., June 30, 1956
Going Home. Elvis on the Southern Railroad between Chattanooga and Memphis, Tenn. July 4, 1956
1 of 10
Wertheimer had the unique opportunity to photograph Elvis in 1956, back when the young musician was quickly gaining popularity, when Tennessee lunch counters were still segregated, when America was still getting acquainted with the sound of rock. Hired by RCA Victor, Presley's new label, Wertheimer had access that would never again be equaled — onstage, at home and in transit with Elvis, who was only 21 at the time.
On the 75th anniversary of The King's birthday, Wertheimer's photographs have been compiled in a new book, Elvis 1956. It's the exhibition catalog for a traveling Smithsonian show called Elvis at 21, opening tomorrow at The Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, and at The National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., later this year.
And if you haven't had enough Elvis yet, another cool exhibition opens in D.C. tomorrow. "Echoes of Elvis" examines the pervasive face of Elvis in art and pop culture. Andy Warhol immortalized him and William Eggleston photographed his home. Where have you seen the face of Elvis? Upload your photo to our Flickr pool.
Untitled (Elvis and Priscilla), from the portfolio Graceland by William Eggleston (Eggleston Artistic Trust and Cheim & Reid, New York / Courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum)