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

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