If you regularly follow other Elvis websites or blogs, you probably already know about the passing of Alfred Wertheimer, the iconic photographer who snapped over 4,000 photographs of Elvis in 1956. The remaining circle of folks with a connection to Elvis shrunk again Sunday when Al died of natural causes at age 85.
Fitting tributes to Al Wertheimer are all over the internet, but most tell you the same information everyone else has. You may feel like you’ve heard it all already, but please don’t skip this article. In 2006 and 2010 I had six lengthy telephone interviews with Al, a total of 8-1/2 hours, and he really told me some stuff. Enough to result in eight ElvisBlog articles, a six-page spread in Elvis The Magazine, and the forward to Al’s book, Elvis: The Early Years. Here they are in chronological order.
The Al Wertheimer Interview – ElvisBlog, June 4, 2006:
Darwin Lamm, the editor of Elvis The Magazine set up a phone interview between me and Al Wertheimer so I could get material for an article celebrating the 50th anniversary of him taking all the photos of Elvis.
Actually, I had two interviews with Al on successive nights totaling 5-1/2 hours.
The best paragraph in this blog post was a thumbnail description of Al‘s experience with Elvis:
During Al Wertheimer’s odyssey, Elvis performed two live concerts, did a rehearsal and two live TV shows, and recorded “Hound Dog” and “Don’t Be Cruel.” Elvis moved around between three states: New York, Virginia, New York, and Tennessee. There was nearly fifty hours of train travel linking it all together, none of which Al had to share with any other photographers.
This blog article was pretty much a tease for future posts about Al as well as the magazine article, but it hopefully it whetted the readers’ appetites for more.
Click on the article title above to read the whole post.
Elvis Departs for Germany – ElvisBlog, June 18, 2006:
One thing omitted from most Al Wertheimer biographies is that he also photographed Elvis a second time in 1958 when he boarded an Army troop ship for the trip to Germany. Al was one of 250 reporters, photographers and cameramen, so his photographs weren’t much different than those taken by others.
However, Al told me about some of the things he witnessed that day, like this:
The ship had four decks and soon Elvis appeared on the top one – along with Col. Parker. Wertheimer wondered to himself, “What is Parker doing on a troop ship?” To give something to Elvis, it turned out. Elvis opened a box from Parker, and guess what it contained? Dozens of playing-card-sized autographed photos of Elvis. Then, Elvis flipped then one-by-one over the railing, and they fluttered down to lucky fans standing on the dock four decks below as the band played “Hound Dog.” Just your average troop deployment.
For more of Al’s memories and thoughts about this day, click on the title of the blog article above.
Alfred Wertheimer – But His Friends Call Him Al – ElvisBlog, July 18, 2006:
I have referred to Alfred Wertheimer as Al several times so far. This old blog post explains why that is. But the fun part of this article is about the time Elvis took Al for a ride around Memphis on his Harley:
Although Wertheimer had taken almost 4,000 photos of Elvis during the previous week, he had no shots of himself and Elvis together. He tried to correct that while they zipped along on the cycle. He held the camera out as far as he could with one hand and shot back toward their faces. It was a big guessing game as to the proper angle and alignment, so Wertheimer moved the camera around and kept snapping until he ran out of film.
When he developed the prints and discovered his guesses at the correct shooting-backward camera positions were all wrong. He got Elvis’ cap, his nose, and a few full-face shots of Elvis, but none contained his own face, too. Oh well, at least he got to ride on the Harley with Elvis. How many people can say that?
Elvis and Al also ran out of gas on that Harley ride. To read about that and other good stuff, click on the title above.
Al Wertheimer: Have Photos, Will Travel – ElvisBlog, December 9, 2007:
This post resulted from a two-page letter Al sent me outlining his recent travels to Holland, Paris, and China in support of various projects with his Elvis photos.
I also used the occasion to tell about the time that Al inadvertently caused an article I wrote specifically for the 25th Anniversary issue of Elvis The Magazine to get bumped.
…. a four-page picture spread of six photos Al Wertheimer took of Elvis back in 1956… those four-pages were originally supposed to be mine. I had a lengthy article already approved and submitted with art-work at the graphic designer for lay-out. Then, a week before the magazine went to the printer, editor Darwin Lamm acquired six new Al Wertheimer pictures. Of course, he wanted to get them into the issue, but he needed a lot of space so the photos could be presented large size. Guess whose article got cut? It killed me not to be in the biggest and best issue in the magazine’s history.
By now, you know the drill. Click on the title to read about Al’s travels and more.
Writing With Wertheimer – ElvisBlog, August 22, 2010:
I got to brag a little in this article. It told the story of how I was selected to write the forward for Al’s latest book of photographs, Elvis: The Early Years, published by earBooks.
The following snippet mentions ‘my article’ which was the one I wrote for Elvis The Magazine — “Al Wertheimer – 7 Days with Elvis, 4,000 photographs, 50 Years Ago”:
Alfred Wertheimer’s last book, “Elvis at Twenty-One,” 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 forward. To say the least, I am thrilled to be associated with an Alfred Wertheimer project.
The rest of the blog post covered four stories about Al and his Elvis photos: two travelling exhibits, the use of twenty images in the new Cirque du Soleil show Viva Elvis, and Al’s participation in the 2009 Elvis Cruise. Al told a couple of good cruise stories.
Elvis: The Early Years – ElvisBlog, November 14, 2010:
The title of the forward I wrote for this Al Wertheimer book was “Elvis Presley – Before the Opaque Curtain Fell.”
We agreed on a title for the forward that incorporated a line he had written years earlier. When describing how Col. Parker severely restricted media access to Elvis in late 1956, Wertheimer said, “I believed an opaque curtain had been lowered around Elvis.”
Al kindly gave me permission to reproduce the entire forward on this blog post. Be sure to read this one. If you really want to learn about Al Wertheimer, this is for you.
Al Wertheimer Reflects on Photographing “The Kiss” – ElvisBlog, August 20, 2011
This one was fun to write. My 2006 phone interviews with Al were preserved on tape. So, when the news came out revealing who the woman in it was in Al’s iconic photo, “The Kiss,” I remembered he had lovingly related every detail about taking this shot. I asked if I could reproduce it word-for-word on ElvisBlog, and he kindly agreed:
I move in three or four feet, I take another shot. And then I go Hollywood. I say, “Well, this is not too good an angle. I can get a better angle than that.” So, I climb up on the handrail, and now I’m three feet away from them. Elvis is up against the wall while she is sort of in his arms.
And now I’m clicking away and they still don’t see me. Totally oblivious to me. I now get courage, so now I’m doing like acrobatics with my legs, leaning forward. I’m practically on top of their heads.
Of course, Al took many shots during this episode, and he gave me the okay to use three of them that illustrated the narrative.
Please check out all of Al’s recollections and pictures in this blog post.
Al Wertheimer and the Dreaded Tonto Bar – ElvisBlog, March 17, 2012:
By this time, I had been added to a list of email contacts Al would occasionally send stuff to. This post started with a cartoon that he liked and shared with us. When I sent back a thank you to Al, I also included a photo of Elvis on the Steve Allen Show that I had recently found on the internet, and I asked if it was his. It was, but Al said he had a better one and sent it to me. So, that picture ended up on the blog post, too, along with the story about the “Tonto Bar” in it.
Do you know what Elvis is doing here? If you are familiar with his 1956 TV show appearances, you might recognize this shot from the Steve Allen Show. It is from the same night when Elvis had to wear a tux and sing to a real hound dog. Allen had Elvis in a skit about cowboys. Here we see him shooting a dreaded Tonto bar being pulled along the stage on a wire. The skit was pretty lame, but I always enjoy watching Elvis doing it.
As usual, Al informed me of his latest project. So, this blog post includes news of his “Elvis at Twenty-One” touring exhibition sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution.
One other paragraph in this blog post causes me regret:
I keep asking him if I could do another phone interview, this time about his gig as a film photographer at Woodstock, the 1969 three-day festival of love and peace. Al was on the Woodstock staff. Talk about being in a situation that gives you amazing opportunities for memorable events. You know Al has to have some good stories to tell. I’d be very pleased if I can someday write about them.
Well, I never did get to do that interview, but I will always have fond memories of the other ones with Al Wertheimer.
Al often signed his emails
So, I’ll repeat it here.
Be well, Alfred, and say hi to Elvis for us.
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