Saturday, July 15, 2023

Review Elvis at 21 - New York to Memphis

Insight Editions re-issued the ‘Elvis at 21- New York to Memphis’ photo-book by Alfred Wertheimer. With these images, published so often, is it a simple re-issue, or is there more to discover?
The 290-page photo-book looks and feels like a Deluxe publication; oversized, hardcover with a slipcase, quality paper, a silver metallic print and a solid design which makes you forget that there is some repetition in the photographs, which were sometimes taken just seconds apart.
The metallic print makes the images - 95 percent black and white, many presented full-page - really shine. Wertheimer’s brief, but complete description of where, why and how the pictures were taken, complement the images and the introduction by Peter Guralnick provides the historical backdrop.

Compared to the first edition of this book (released in 2006), this re-issue holds 35 extra pages which really make a difference as they contain additional color pictures and some extra fold-out pages. I first thought that these extras were taken from the ‘The Birth of Rock and Roll’ book (Taschen Verlag, 2015), but they are not. 
Design-wise there is just one remark I can make; the size of the book makes it hard to store it in your cabinet. But with that great cover and Elvis looking straight at you, it is a display item in my collection.
Protecting and marketing their new and expensive investment, RCA Victor assigned the young photographer Alfred Wertheimer to go over to the Dorsey brothers' TV show and start the company's photo file on a rising star he had never heard of, an 21-year-old singer named Elvis Presley. 
Following the young singer on his travels to New York, Richmond, Virginia and back to Memphis, Wertheimer went far beyond what RCA has assigned him for in terms of the types of photographs a few headshots and pictures of live performances for publicity - and amount of pictures he took.
Wertheimer followed Elvis everywhere and caught almost everything Elvis did on film; Elvis traveling, walking the streets of New York, rehearsing, performing live and on TV, recording, shopping, even joining him in the bathroom while he shaved and brushed his teeth, dressing, sleeping, eating, relaxing with family and making a move on some female fans along the way. 

For some the “climax” may be the famous ‘The Kiss’ picture with Barbara Gray, who passed away earlier this year. 

Alfred Wertheimer began his career as a photojournalist in 1951, publishing work in such magazines as Life and Colliers. His photographs are in the permanent collections of the Experience Music Project (Seattle, Washington) and the Folkwang Museum (Essen, Germany). He has photographed such notables as Eleanor Roosevelt, Leonard Bernstein, and Elizabeth Taylor, and worked as a principal cameraman for the documentary Woodstock.
Elvis had already recorded ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, his first single for RCA Victor, and he was beginning to gain some notoriety. But he could still walk the streets of New York city, with Wertheimer as his shadow, following his every move. On capturing these unguarded and everyday moments he commented "When somebody is doing something that is more important than having their photograph taken, you're going to get good pictures". I would add to that is that this gives you authentic pictures. 

Wertheimer did more than capture unguarded moments of a young singer. He was fortunate to be assigned this task during the crucial weeks in Elvis’ life, chronicling the explosion of Elvis’ career. 

Alfred documented Elvis' performances on the Ed Sullivan Show in New York City's Studio 50 as well as his appearance on Tommy Dorsey and Jimmy Dorsey's Stage Show, the recording of classics like ‘Hound Dog’, ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ and ‘Any Way You Want Me’ that defined his career and his performance at Russwood Park in Memphis. The latter not as wild as Luhrmann portrayed it, but still legendary shots!
It is hard to stop leafing through these pages depicting history in the making. Many of these images have become classics, there isn’t a fan out there who hasn’t seen and enjoyed these images.  
Having visited New York last year, walking in the footsteps of the King, this book served as our guide, showing us what happened inside the buildings we couldn’t enter or were gone. It brought back great memories. Wouldn’t we all want to have been Alfred Wertheimer? 
Oddly enough, these great pictures were "lost" for years, only to be rediscovered after Elvis’ death. Since then these photographs of a young man from a suburban family at the precipice of fame, fortune, celebrity and the unknown, became an collective artifact of our cultural history. 
When I first reviewed this book in 2006 I wrote: I can keep this review very short, this is the best Elvis photo-book ever, period! Sorry Ger Rijff. 
Hundreds of pictures of a young Elvis on his way to conquer the world, starting in New York - the city where he would return triumphantly 20 years later at Madison Square Garden - and ending in his home city of Memphis, performing at Russwood Park. In between we see Elvis in eight chapters at home, in the television studio with Steve Allen and recording studio recording ‘Hound Dog’ and ‘Don't Be Cruel’ which both hit the #1 spot simultaneously.

And there's nothing much I need to add to this according to Alfred Wertheimer himself. He stated that these pictures speak for themselves, and he's right. Especially presented on high quality paper with this silver metallic print.

We guys used to browse the Playboy for the fold-out, but this book has its own fold-out pages with some of the best pictures of our man when he was still looking great. Add to this the memories of Alfred Wertheimer himself on the chapters, a well written foreword by Peter Guralnick, an introduction by Chris Murray and you're done.

The conclusion, as stated earlier, is that this is the best Elvis photo-book ever, period! 
Seventeen years later I can only add that this new edition is not just a re-issue, it is an upgrade holding more great color pictures. It ranks in my Top 5 Elvis books, battling for a spot with the ‘The Birth of Rock and Roll’ book which has some great additional design features. 

The one of the best Elvis photo-book got even better!