...there was nothing."
- John Lennon
Elvis would have been 76 today.
The Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery is hosting the Elvis at 21 traveling exhibit of Alfred Wertheimer's photos taken the year Elvis became famous. Well worth a visit (or several), the exhibit's a mixture of quotes and Wertheimer's images, along with explanations behind them.
While the images are just incredible on their own, it's reading the personal situation set-up that gives the whole story and gives such a cool perspective of Elvis behind-the-scenes.
The most endearing for me was a shot of Elvis on the bus, clearly deep in thought, his hands absently holding an Archie comic. Come. On. Kill. Me. Twenty-one years old, reading comics, on the cusp of becoming God's gift to music and women.
And the women! There's an intense set of images where Elvis is totally macking on this chick, lost in her, not paying attention to Wertheimer snapping away. And then of Elvis at a diner, where he charmed the waitress and had his arm around her waist in under 15 flat.
There's the series where Elvis greets a young girl (with white gloves, no less) who got her father to bring her in from Long Island to meet him. They met, Elvis has her hand in his, says some lovely words, and then says he had to go to rehearsal, and takes his leave. Wertheimer kept the camera on her, as she broke down in tears after he left. You can just feel her raw emotion, having just met...Elvis.
I could totally go on (about Elvis ripping up his fan mail after reading it, or how he would get off the train a stop early, so that he could get home quicker, or where he bought his suits, etc.), but there was one image I revisited a couple of times during my one visit. Elvis standing in the waiting room of old Penn Station, surrounded by a very small group of fans.
At that point, he could still walk around the streets of New York pretty much on his own, without being terribly mobbed. But this image was just breathtaking. I was just blown away by the fact that I was looking at this photo decades after it was taken...and that both Elvis and that grand old building are gone.
Can you tell I loved this Elvis at 21 exhibit? And look, I didn't even mention how freakin' hot the man was at 21! Oh, wait. There it went. I know you're not surprised.
I will say that it was pretty funny walking around each hall, watching all the older women look at each photo with a sort of reverence, and faraway smiles. And a giggle or two. With their husbands trailing behind, totally forgotten.
All in all, a snazzy exhibit...and worthy of the cuteboy who would be king.