Category Archives: AL WERTHEIMER

FBI Investigates the Strange Elvis Pimple Scam

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If you folks read Elvisblog hoping to find some new things about Elvis, this week you’ll get a really good one.  I will bet you don’t know anything about the South African self-described doctor who threatened to blackmail Elvis and who had his plans thwarted by the FBI.  How about it?  Did you ever hear of this story before?  I hadn’t either, until I was doing research for a story idea and came across a very bizarre tale.


My research was prompted by a realization that next year we will experience celebrations of many 50th anniversaries of major events in Elvis’ life.  1960 was full of them: Elvis’  homecoming from the Army; his first recording session after returning; appearing on the Frank Sinatra TV show; his first movie role since coming back; etc.  I read more about them in the wonderful book Elvis:  Day By Day, by Peter Guralnick and Ernst Jorgensen, which chronicles everything of importance in Elvis’ life.  Then I realized we did not celebrate the 50th anniversary of any Elvis event during 2009, because Elvis spent all of 1959 in the Army. 


Certainly, he put his career on hold that year, but life was never dull for Elvis.  Something must have happened.  I decided to go back exactly fifty years and find out what went on in Elvis’ life in November 1959.  If it was interesting, I’d write about it.  Boy, was it interesting.


The story began in October when Elvis saw a magazine advertisement for weekly herbal skin treatments available in Germany, where he was stationed.  The treatments were offered by a South African, Dr. Laurenz Griessel-Landau, and he hyped them as his miraculous method for reducing enlarged pores and acne.


Even at age twenty-four, Elvis still experienced the lingering effects of his well-known teenage pimple problems.  Famous photographer Al Wertheimer once noted that a German magazine licensed some of his 1956 Elvis photos, but chose to air-brush out the pimples on Elvis’ back.



Photo showing pimple on Elvis’ chest


Elvis liked the sound of the skin treatments and had his secretary contact Dr. Griessel-Landau.  Elvis received an immediate reply, a ten-page letter from the doctor who said he would be delighted to treat Elvis.  In fact, it would cost nothing except the doctor’s expenses, unless it worked to Elvis’ satisfaction.


For the next few weeks Elvis went on maneuvers, so the herbal skin treatments didn’t begin until November.  They lasted for two hours each, several times a week, and they took place in Elvis’ bedroom in his off-base home.  The applications were applied to Elvis’ face and back.  Elvis was positive he could see results, which he displayed to family and friends.  However, no one else could recognize any change.


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Elvis at home in Bad Nauheim, Germany – with fans, father, and grandmother


After about a month, the skin therapy sessions abruptly ended. It seems the good doctor got kind of carried away while he applied the treatments to Elvis’ body.  Elvis accused him of making sexual advances.  Think about it.  We don’t know if Dr. Griessel-Landau was gay or not, but he certainly had maneuvered himself into an enviable position if he was.  He was rubbing lotion on the body of the most handsome guy in the world (Carl Perkins’ words, not mine).


According to Guralnick’s other excellent book, Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley, “Elvis emerged from a session with Dr. Landau in his bedroom with a look of horror on his face.  The sonofabitch was queer he told Lamar and Rex, and he was going to kill the fucking sonofabitch.  Landau was hustled out of the house right away, if only to keep Elvis from actually following through.”


Elvis’ reaction must have enraged the doctor, because he reappeared that night with a letter threatening to blackmail Elvis because of “a sixteen-year-old underage girl” he knew Elvis had been seeing.  Uh, oh.  It wasn’t very smart to challenge Elvis, especially about his special friend Priscilla, who was actually only fourteen at that time.  This was practically a declaration of war, and Elvis came out with his guns blazing.


First, he went to the Army’s Provost Marshal Division.  Good move.  Get the Army’s legal boys involved.  They probably jumped at the chance to go after a foreign slimeball trying to blackmail Elvis Presley.  In fact, they even brought in more reinforcements: the FBI.  The real heavy guns.  It was time to teach this creep it doesn’t pay to mess with “the King.”


Well, the FBI quickly determined Dr. Griessel-Landau wasn’t a real doctor.  He must have seen that things weren’t going too well, so he wrote another letter to Elvis saying he had decided not to take action against the singer.  We can assume Elvis’ attitude was, “Too little, too late.  You’re not getting off that easy.” 


The FBI continued to put big-time pressure on Dr. Griessel-Landau, and soon the phony doctor flew to London and was never heard from again.


So, things worked out well for Elvis… except he still had pimples.




©  2009    Philip R Arnold, Original Elvis Blogmeister   All Rights reserved


Famous Elvis photographer Al Wertheimer seems to show up in my writings several times every year.  Just last week, I wrote about him twice while working on an edition of Elvis…The Magazine celebrating the 20th anniversary of its publishing.  My contribution for this special issue will be “20 Years – 20 Favorites.”  I got to choose my favorite article for each year and to write a couple of paragraphs about each one.


For 2002, I chose something in the 25th Anniversary (of Elvis’ passing) Edition.  It wasn’t a real article, rather a four-page picture spread of six photos Al Wertheimer took of Elvis back in 1956.  In an ironic twist, it made my select list because those four-pages were originally supposed to be mine.  I had a lengthy article already approved and submitted with art-work to 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.


I mentioned Al Wertheimer again in the pick for 2006.  This time I gave myself some kudos for the eight-page spread I did on Al in the 29th Anniversary Edition.  He gave me a lot of help on this one.  He accommodated me for 5-1/2 hours of phone interviews and supplied eight photos to illustrate my text.  He told me numerous anecdotes that had never appeared before in any magazine.  I think it’s the best article I have ever written.


Now, I can write agout Al Wertheimer again, thanks to a two-page letter he sent me, full of news.  Things are going very well for him these days, and the places he went with his Elvis photos in 2007 are most impressive.  It started in May, when he had a one-man show at the Woulter Gallery in Amsterdam, Holland.


In June and July he participated in a photo show in Paris called The History of Rock and Roll.  Al had a whole room to himself, which included fifty 16” x 20” exhibition quality prints.  These, plus an additional twenty photographs, were sold through the show catalogue and were very popular.  However, Al is most proud that the show’s sponsor, the Foundation Cartier Pour L’art Contemporain, made a considerable purchase of Al’s prints for their permanent collection.


In August, Al was one of the key personalities at Elvisfest and the Elvis Insiders Conference at Elvis Week 2007.  He was so successful selling autographed copies of his new book, Elvis at 21, New York to Memphis, that he had to have an additional 100 copies flown in to cover demand.


In October, Al spent three weeks in China at two photography festivals.  One was in the ancient city of Pingyao, where he was part of five exhibitions curated by Robert Pledge of Contact Press Images.  Al's forty-two Elvis prints got a lot of attention from the camera-happy Chinese.  They love to photograph each other, and everyone wanted a shot of themselves in front of an Elvis picture.


Next, Al went to the city of Chongzhou where he gave two slide lectures at the University of Taiyuan.  He wrote me about an interesting experience he had there.  The Chinese people could not pronounce Wertheimer, so they called him Moh Wang.  Later, he found out that this translates to King Cat, the name they call Elvis in China.  As Al said, “I not only photographed Elvis, I became Elvis, and everyone seemed happy about that.”  Especially Al Wertheimer, I’ll bet.


©  2007   Philip R Arnold   All Rights reserved

Alfred Wertheimer – But His Friends Call Him Al

This will be the third Elvisblog article about Al Wertheimer in the past six weeks.  Normally, I try to mix up the subjects for good variety, but the impression this man made on me was so strong that it pushed other story ideas farther down the list.


The five hours I spent on the phone with Al Wertheimer were as interesting as anything I’ve ever done, and the stories he told me about Elvis are just classic. That resulted in a 2500-word article for Elvis International Magazine, and it could have been longer if not for space limitations.  However, these limitations enabled me to save a good story for Elvisblog.


One of Wertheimer’s most famous photos is Elvis wearing a cool motorcycle cap and sitting on his Harley Davidson.  If you’re an Elvis fan, you’ve seen this picture.  It was taken at Elvis’ first house at 1034 Audubon Drive on July 4th, 1956, minutes before he took a few of the fans for short rides around the area.


Wertheimer finally got up enough nerve to ask if Elvis would take him for a ride, too.  Elvis agreed and off they went.  Not for just a few blocks, but for a good long ride out into the suburbs.  Naturally, Wertheimer took along his camera, but he had already snapped many photos, so there weren’t too many shots left.  And he did not bring any extra rolls of film. 


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.


A few minutes later, Elvis’ Harley ran out of gas.  Wertheimer expressed concern that this could be a problem, because Elvis had a huge holiday concert due to start in a few hours.  However, Elvis told him not to worry, something would happen to solve their problem – and it did.  A young mother and her three-year-old daughter passed them, and she quickly slammed the car to a stop.  She recognized Elvis, just like he figured somebody would.


Once Elvis explained the problem, she drove off, and in short order, she was back with a jerry can of gasoline.  Elvis filled up the Harley’s tank, and they were ready to go.  Elvis never offered to pay for the gas, but when he thanked the lady, he gave her a big kiss (Do you think she would have preferred cash over that?).  He walked around to the other side of the car and kissed the little girl, too.  Wertheimer was so frustrated because he had no film to capture these charming moments.


He was even more frustrated 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?


I wanted to title this article something like “Elvis Takes Al Wertheimer For A Ride” but changed it as a favor to Alfred Wertheimer.  He is known as Al but much prefers Alfred.  He suggested (several times) that a good title for the Elvis International Magazine article would be “Alfred Wertheimer – But His Friends Call Him Al.”  However, I needed to get the 50th anniversary of his photo-taking extravaganza into the title, so I had to decline.  I am very pleased to use his suggestion here on Elvisblog.  Alfred Wertheimer now has one more friend to call him Al.


©  2006   Philip R Arnold


When Elvis was drafted into the Army in 1958, the press reported he would be treated just like any other GI.  Perhaps he was during basic training in Texas, but when it was time for him and 6,000 other soldiers to board a troop ship in New York Harbor, strange things happened.  Col. Parker made sure Elvis’ send-off was a big event.


For one thing, it was estimated that 250 reporters, photographers, and cameramen were on the scene.  One of them was Alfred Wertheimer, who had taken thousands of photos of Elvis back in 1956.  This time, he did not have an exclusive, but he got plenty of good pictures.  He was also in position to see the master marketer, Col. Tom Parker, in action.


Wertheimer didn’t know if the official Army Band was present at all major troop deployments, but they were there the day Elvis shipped off.  Perhaps Col. Parker arranged for their appearance, perhaps not, but he still engineered a first in Army history.  He printed up copies of the music to several Elvis songs and passed them out to all the musicians.  Songs they played that day included “That’s All Right,”  “Hound Dog,”  “Don’t be Cruel,” and others that Wertheimer can’t remember.  No John Phillip Sousa marches to mark this occasion.  Dressed in full Army parade uniforms, the band played Elvis rock & roll.


Elvis held forth with a half-hour press conference.  Who but Col. Parker could have arranged this?  He probably worked out a deal with the Army brass, because Elvis stood in front of big “Join the Army” posters. There was one Army General who would not leave Elvis’ side.  He enjoyed being in the spotlight so much that he hovered around Elvis the entire time.


The hoards of photographers and cameramen wanted to get film of Elvis going up the ramp from the dock to the second deck of the ship.  Five soldiers were selected to join Elvis in the shot to make it look natural.  Of course, Elvis was carrying going-away presents as well as his duffel bag.  He was also in his dress uniform, while the other guys were in fatigues.  When one cameraman flubbed the shot, he asked them to repeat the trek up the ramp.  Wertheimer couldn’t believe it when they actually complied.


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.


Many thanks to Al Wertheimer for sharing this story with me.  It wasn’t used in my Elvis International article about him, because the focus there was his 1956 experience with Elvis.  However, it was a good story I hadn’t heard before, and it deserved to be shared on this blog with other Elvis fans.


©  2006   Philip R Arnold


To my surprise and relief, it has not been hard to come up with a new article for this Elvis blog every week.  There are frequent items about Elvis in the news, and I bump into lots of good things while exploring Elvis links on the internet.  However, Friday night I had a wonderful Elvis experience – on the telephone.


It was a 3-1/2 hour interview with Al Wertheimer.  I hope you all know about the great black-and-white photos he took of Elvis in 1956.  The interview was for a 50th Anniversary article I’m doing for Elvis International, The Magazine, and the deadline is less than a week a way. 


My usual Elvisblog time has been spent working on that, and we had weekend family guests.  It is now 6:30 Sunday night, and I need a quick blog.  So, let me tell you about some of the things I learned during the interview.


Alfred Wertheimer is a 76-year-old New Yorker who seems different from Elvis in many ways.  Yet for seven days in 1956, Al tagged along with Elvis and took pictures.  In no time Elvis trusted him, and soon Elvis didn’t even seem to notice him.  Al was able to capture a huge cache of Elvis photos during casual, off-stage moments.  He had access to Elvis that no later photographers would get, because Col. Parker shortly took the reigns on every aspect of Elvis’ career and installed lots of new rules.


During Al Wertheimer’s odyssey, Elvis performed two live concerts, he rehearsed and did two live TV shows, and he 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.


Legend has it that he took almost 4000 pictures of Elvis, but Al admits that figure is too high.  After culling out unusable ones (too dark, out of focus, etc.), he actually has 2053 to use for new projects.  In the 28 years since Elvis died, Al has made a nice living finding nifty ways to utilize his photographs.


My article about Alfred Wertheimer has a subtitle:  “7 Days with Elvis, 4000 Photos, 50 Years Ago.”  With so much raw material from the interview, this one will be long.  If I can relate all the interesting little stories as well as Al told them, it will be an enjoyable read.  Check out the 29th Anniversary edition of Elvis International, the Magazine.  It will be out in July and offered for sale during “Elvis Week.”


Sorry about this post being so late in the day.  The good news is that I’ve got enough stuff from the interview to write a couple more Al Wertheimer blog articles.  They will be posted early Sunday mornings like normal, so please check back.


©  2006   Philip R Arnold