ELVIS IN 1956 - RIP Alfred Wertheimer

Alfred Wertheimer, the American photographer who has died aged 84, had the foresight and chutzpah to attach himself to Elvis Presley for several days during the spring and summer of 1956, the year Elvis turned 21. The photographs he took have since become legendary, a remarkable visual record of a defining time for rock’n’roll’s most enduring figure.
         A freelance up for anything, Alfred first saw Elvis on stage on March 17 in New York, on Stage Show, a TV series hosted by the Dorsey Brothers. He’d been hired by RCA’s press department and when he sent a set of contact sheets and six enlargements to RCA’s publicist Ann Fulchino, she set up further photo sessions with Elvis and Alfred, both in New York at recording sessions and at the Mosque in Richmond, Virginia. It was here, on June 30, that he snapped Elvis kissing a girl in the stairwell of the theatre, perhaps the best ‘fly-on-the-wall’ picture of Elvis ever taken. For the next few days Alfred accompanied Elvis everywhere, back to New York for recording sessions, on a 27-hour train ride to Memphis, and with his family in the city where he made his home.

Alfred’s pictures capture Elvis before he became a prisoner of his own celebrity. Soon his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, would put an end to all unmanaged reporting. Soon, the only pictures of Elvis anyone would ever see would be carefully vetted. Alfred was the last man to photograph the man behind the myth.

Many of Alfred’s pictures are well known and have become iconic images of The King, some less so, and all are collected in the book Elvis 1956 which Omnibus Press republished in 2013. We made this book available again not because it was especially commercial – the truth is Elvis books don’t seem to sell much anymore – but because it was simply the very best book of photographs of Elvis Presley there is, every one startling, every one evocative, every one going some way to explain why Elvis in 1956 really was an earthquake. Forget white jump suit Elvis, this is the real thing, the wild young kid who turned music and America upside down, changed the world really.

RIP Alfred, and thanks for being there with Elvis when it mattered. 

1 comment:

Michael Heatley said...

Met him in 1981, a few years after Elvis's death made him take the picture-laden suitcase out from under his bed. Good bloke!