Photographer recalls time with young 'King'
By Michael Lollar (
The Commercial Appeal)
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Alfred Wertheimer photographed Elvis Presley in the year that Elvis became the
world's first rock star, a TV sensation and movie star heartthrob, but it had been 55
years since his last visit to Elvis' East Memphis home on Audubon Drive.

The home, Elvis' family and his new swimming pool were a major part of the backdrop
for the 1956 visit and the memories that made Wertheimer, 81, ask to revisit the home.
His stopover Sunday was on his way to Memphis International Airport after talking
about his work during Saturday's opening of an
"Elvis at 21" exhibit at the William J.
Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock.

That exhibit title was Elvis' age when Wertheimer encountered him in 1956. The
photographer remembered his rock star subject as a pensive man in private who
turned into a different personality on stage.
"At home, he was basically relaxed,
thinking. But his stage presence was explosive,"
Wertheimer said.

The New York photographer was the last photographer given unlimited access to Elvis
before his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, took control of almost every aspect of his
star's career.
Wertheimer was hired by RCA Records to shoot publicity photos for Elvis' appearance on the Dorsey brothers' "Stage Show" and "The Steve Allen Show."
RCA told Wertheimer not to bother shooting expensive color film.
"He may just be a flash in the pan," an RCA publicist told him. Elvis had just released
"Heartbreak Hotel." He was big in Memphis, but most of the world was like Wertheimer when RCA asked him to photograph Elvis.

"Elvis who?" Wertheimer asked.

The photographer shot black and white publicity photos in New York then followed as Elvis boarded a train for Memphis. By then, Wertheimer had bought color
film on his own and paid part of his own expenses to continue the photo expedition.
"I was not philosophical at the time. He could make the girls cry,"
Wertheimer said of his decision to shoot more than 2,000 photos. They were destined for national touring exhibitions, books and the Smithsonian Institution.

Wertheimer said the studio gave him the option of earning $50 a day and keeping ownership of his negatives or $300 a day with the studio keeping the
"I chose the $50 a day, which barely covered my expenses. The next thing I knew he was on the cover of TV Guide. That more than made up the
Graceland now manages the photo archive for Wertheimer and uses the images on T-shirts and more than 100 products.

Elvis and his family lived in a housing project and rental houses before moving to the ranch style house on Audubon. They lived there from the spring of 1956
to the spring of 1957 before hordes of fans on the lawn and Elvis' nouveau-riche rock star status sent the family packing, like oil-rich Clampetts, to Graceland.

The Audubon home was privately owned until 2006, when it was bought for $1 million by Nashville record producer Mike Curb. Curb later donated $5 million to
found the Mike Curb Music Institute at Rhodes College, with the home a part of the institute.

Wertheimer's memories were mostly about the startling candor of his subject, who seemed oblivious of the camera and almost totally self-absorbed. He let
Wertheimer photograph him as he primped in the mirror, putting on Vaseline hair tonic.
"He stood there with pimples on his back. He had bad skin. How many
people let a photographer into the bathroom, but he didn't care."

Wertheimer, who brought his own camera on the tour, said he was grateful for the visit and the memories. "I doubt that I'll be here in another 55 years."
Wertheimer talks about the last time he visited Elvis' home on Audubon Drive
back in 1956 when he shot a number of intimate photos of the young singer.