The King who is taking up space in the rear gallery of the Boca Raton Museum of Art needs no introduction. The show is Elvis at 21: Photographs by Alfred Wertheimer. It was 1956 and Elvis was traveling to and from New York at the beginning of his career. He had just signed with a new label, RCA Victor, and 26-year old freelance photographer Alfred Wertheimer had been hired to shoot what ended up being the only candid photos of Elvis ever taken. (His manager, The Colonel, restricted any access to the singer shortly thereafter.) What struck me, or more precisely, what stunned me, was the extraordinary quality of the photographs and the feelings they inspired in me.
At the start I thought I would give the show a quick run through. What could I see that I hadn’t already seen a thousand times? But I lingered, riveted to the images of this skinny, soft looking kid from Mississippi who looked lost and out of place in the Big City, and at the same time totally aware of his own magnetism.
The pivotal photo for me is “Elvis Greets Fan in White." The girl is wearing glasses. She’s dressed in white from head to toe –dress, hat, gloves. Elvis gives her an autograph. He holds her hand. After he leaves to go into the theatre for rehearsal she completely breaks down. Wertheimer once observed: "Elvis made the girls cry."
The wall label reads: “The girl’s white-gloved propriety reflected the traditional culture that Elvis was shattering. The gloves were coming off.”
Images: Alfred Wertheimer (American, 1929-), Elvis Greets Fan in White, 1956. © Alfred Wertheimer. All rights reserved; Alfred Wertheimer (American, 1929-), Entering the Warwick, 1956. © Alfred Wertheimer. All rights reserved.