Writing With Wertheimer

“Alfred Wertheimer is sometimes called the godfather of rock & roll photography, and he well deserves the title.  As a struggling twenty-six year old free-lance photojournalist in New York City, Wertheimer’s good fortune gained him access to Elvis Presley during that first, heady flush of fame in 1956.  The resulting photos captured the everyday Elvis, relaxed and off-guard during down times.”

The above lines open a 2006 article I wrote for Elvis International magazine titled “Al Wertheimer — 7 Days with Elvis, 4000 Photographs, 50 Years Ago.”  I also added it to the archives of ElvisBlog to provide more content in the early days of the blog when it had little.  I never dreamed that this would pay off big time four years later.

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This photo is a preliminary cover design for Alfred Wertheimer’s third book titled “Elvis: The Early Years.”  It will be published by earBOOKs and will be out in October.  In addition to Wertheimer’s stunning photos of Elvis, the book also contains three CDs with a sizeable selection of Elvis’ songs from 1954 through 1958.  The book is being published with the cooperation of Elvis Presley Enterprises.  If you are interested, go to this Amazon page and click to be notified when it is available.

Alfred Wertheimer’s last book, “Elvis at 21,” contained a foreward by noted Elvis biographer Peter Guralnick.  EarBOOKs’ Editor Astrid Fischer wanted to use somebody new this time, so she did an internet search and found my article.  She liked what she read, and she contacted Alfred Wertheimer to get his opinion.  He told her he “found the text very good.”  Ms. Fischer then contacted me and we worked out a deal for me to write the foreward.  To say the least, I am thrilled to be associated with an Alfred Wertheimer project.

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Alfred Wertheimer and his famous photograph “The Kiss”

(Photo by Tim Mantoani)

Because the foreward would require substantial revisions to my text, plus a new section on the photographing of Elvis’ Army departure for Germany in 1958, I conducted three hours of phone interviews with Al (He prefers Alfred for professional references, but his friends call him Al, and I took this liberty.)  The foreward is now finished and submitted, and the earBOOKS editor calls it “a brilliant job” and “I think your foreword perfectly reflects the spirit of the idea behind this project.”

The reason my four phone interviews with Alfred Wertheimer totaled three hours is because he loves to talk.  He also filled me in on what has been happening in his life the last year, and he has been a very busy man.


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A selection of Wertheimer’s Elvis photographs has been celebrated this year in a travelling exhibit, a joint venture of the Smithsonian Institute and the History Channel.  He attended the opening of Elvis at Twenty One at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles in January 2010 and will attend the October opening at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.  In between, the exhibition has been to the Boca Raton Museum of Art and the Museum of the Shenandoah in Winchester, VA.
Cirque du Soleil licensed twenty of Wertheimer’s photos to incorporate into the new Viva Elvis show in Las Vegas.  The images are mainly used during the transitions between major segments of the show.
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Wertheimer was also one of the famous photographers whose work is featured in the travelling exhibition called “Who Shot Rock and Roll?”  He attended its opening at the Brooklyn Museum last fall.  The exhibition has been at the Brooks Museum in Memphis all summer.
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The most fun event that Wertheimer participated in was the Elvis Cruise last November.  His birthday fell on the last day of the cruise, and he was treated to cake and “Happy Birthday” singing three different times.
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He also conducted a talk in front of 400 people about his experience photographing Elvis back in the 50s.  His talk was supposed to be accompanied by 50 images projected on a screen, but there was a screw up.  As a joke, the staff in charge of the images prepared a joke disc showing Wertheimer getting kissed by various women.  That was a big hit with the audience, but when the correct disc was inserted in the projector, it turned out to be just another copy of the joke disc.  Uh, ohh.  No Elvis photos. 
Wertheimer carried on, describing the photos as well as telling the stories about taking them.  He now has his own version of the old saying “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  On the cruise, he believes “A thousand words became the pictures.”
His other official duty on the cruise was to man a table and sign autographs for any fans who wanted one – and many did.  At one point, Wertheimer estimates the line was 100 people long.  The majority of the ladies wanted their photo taken with him, so he came up with a new rule.  They had to sit on his lap as the pose for the photograph.  Nice work if you can get it.
And, so is writing the foreward for an Alfred Wertheimer book.  Thank you Astrid Fischer and earBOOKs.  Thank you, Al.

(Ed. note:  If you have an interest in viewing or purchasing iconic Elvis photographs by Alfred Wertheimer, please go to Photokunst/com.  Barbara Cox is the contact person for licensing or exhibition information.)
 
©  2010    Philip R Arnold, Original Elvis Blogmeister    All Rights Reserved    www.ElvisBlog.net
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