Oct 22, 2014

By Scott Walker

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The photographer who chronicled the birth of a music legend has died.

Alfred Wertheimer was 26 in 1956 when he was hired by RCA Records to photograph an unknown 21-year-old singer named Elvis Presley. He traveled with Elvis from New York to Memphis by train and produced a series of now-famous black and white portraits.

They became the subject of exhibits at the Smithsonian Institution and the Grammy Museum.

Priscilla Presley said no other photographer ever got as close to Elvis as Wertheimer.

wertheimer elvis 1

Steve Allen made Elvis sing "Hound Dog" to a basset hound on his show.
Steve Allen made Elvis sing “Hound Dog” to a basset hound on his show.

The collection includes shots of Elvis recording his hits, Hound Dog and Don’t Be Cruel, staring out a train window, reading fan mail, and walking alone on a deserted New York street.

In 1956 he could still do that without being mobbed by fans.

Wertheimer says he shot the photos in black and white because RCA wouldn’t pay for the cost of colour film. They weren’t sure whether Elvis would be worth the investment.

Alfred Wertheimer was 85

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