The man who was responsible for a wealth of iconic early photos of Elvis Presley, Alfred Wertheimer, has died at age 85, the Associated Press reported Oct. 22. Wertheimer’s death was confirmed by Chris Murray, owner of the Govinda Gallery in Washington, D.C., who said Wertheimer died Oct. 19 of natural causes. The gallery has exhibited Wertheimer’s photos.
“There has been no other photographer that Elvis ever allowed to get as up close and personal in his life through photos as he did with Alfred,” Priscilla Presley, Elvis’ ex-wife said in a statement released Tuesday. “I’m deeply saddened by the death of Alfred Wertheimer. He was a dear friend and special soul. I feel he was a gift for all who knew him especially, Elvis Presley.”
Wertheimer was born on Nov. 16, 1929. He first met Elvis Presley in 1956. “I was assigned to photograph a 21-year-old singer who RCA was promoting,” he said in an interview. “It was Elvis Presley, a name I did not recognize when I trekked down to New York City’s Studio 50 (later to be named the Ed Sullivan Theater) to photograph Presley’s appearance on Tommy Dorsey and Jimmy Dorsey’s Stage Show.”
The meeting took place on March 17, 1956. “As a freelance photographer, I got a call from Anne Fulchino, public relations director for RCA Victor, which was Elvis record company,” he said. “She asked me if I had time to come down to Studio 50 in mid Manhattan, New York to photograph the Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey hosted weekly television program ‘Stage Show’.” Wertheimer, a fan of Tommy Dorsey, said he would be happy to photograph them, but then was told he was being asked to take pictures of the young Presley. “At which point my comment was ‘Elvis who?’”
The photographer said he had taken over 2,000 pictures of Presley. He said most of the photos were taken with a split image range finder, model S2, Nikon camera and most were taken with available light. Some of the photos can be seen online.
Among them was “The Kiss,” a photo of Presley getting cozy with a pretty young woman under the stairs at the Mosque Theatre on June 30, 1956. Though Wertheimer said he didn’t ask her name and referred to her as a “mystery woman,” she was revealed in a 2011 article in Vanity Fair. He also photographed other celebrity subjects, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Nina Simone, Paul Anka, Annette Funicello, President John F. Kennedy and wife Jacqueline, and Richard Nixon and wife Patricia.
Wertheimer’s photos were compiled in several books, including “Elvis 1956,” “Elvis at 21: New York to Memphis” and “Elvis ’56: In the Beginning.” A limited edition book, “Alfred Wertheimer: Elvis and the Birth of Rock and Roll,” featured many photos not previously released.