Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Elvis 1956 by Alfred Wertheimer

When RCA Records hired Alfred Wertheimer to photograph their newly-signed recording star Elvis Presley (1935-1977) performing on the Dorsey Brothers' Stage Show, the photographer had never heard of the twenty-one year old singer, but Wertheimer quickly recognized Presley as a great photographic subject. Within four months he shot hundreds of candid photos of the young Presley on stage, backstage, in hotels, on the street, on trains, and at home. These black-and-white photos have now been collected in Elvis 1956.

In his essay, Wertheimer claims that Presley was very accommodating and seemed oblivious to the photographer trailing him away from the stage. I can accept this for most of the photos, but Presley must have known Wertheimer was taking photos while kissing his "girl for the day" in a stairwell in Richmond, Virginia. How could Wertheimer have squeezed past the couple to get shots from both above and below?

Presley looks very young and unblemished in these evocative photos that seem from the distant past. The singer wears a lot of expensive looking jewelry. My favorite photo may be Presley in a diner with signs that read "grilled cheese 20¢" and "chicken salad 30¢." I also really like the shot of Presley singing "Hound Dog" to a basset hound on the Steve Allen Show.

Elvis 1956 is an attractive volume that may be consumed easily in a single sitting. It is a worthwhile addition to a library biography collection.

Wertheimer, Alfred. Elvis 1956. 2009. Welcome Books. 127p. ISBN 9781599620732.

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