The publicist at RCA’s Pop Record Division, Ann Fulchino, called me one day in 1956 and said, “Al, what are you doing on Saturday, March 17th?”
“Why? What’s up?
I’d like you to go down to Studio 50 to photograph Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey’s Stage Show.
Once used for taping radio programs, the CBS studio on Broadway was converted for television broadcasts in 1950 and would be known later as the Ed Sullivan Theater. In those days it was called Studio 50 where, from 1954-1956, Stage Show was broadcast.
"Wonderful. Tommy Dorsey is one of my heroes, like Benny Goodman, Glen Miller, and the whole Big Band era.”
“No, I’m not concerned with Tommy Dorsey, I want you to photograph Elvis Presley.”
After a long silence I said “Elvis who?”
“I’ve never heard of him. What does he do?”
“He’s a singer.”
“When did you guys sign him up?”
“In November of 1955. I’d like you to cover him on the 17th and help me build my photo file on him.”
“Fine, Ann. I’ll be glad to do it.”
I got myself ready on that Saturday and went down to Studio 50 with my camera bag and a tiny little Braun strobe unit. After introducing myself to the doorman, I went looking for Ann, who was backstage somewhere in one of the dressing rooms. “Hello, Ann. How are you?” We gave each other a hug and I asked, “Where is Elvis?"
She dragged me down the hall to another dressing room. We went in, and reflected in the mirror, was Elvis with his feet up on the table and his argyle socks showing. To Elvis’s right was a man in his mid-forties handing Elvis a ring. Apparently a jewelry salesman had talked the singer into buying that ring and was delivering it to him. Interrupting the transaction, Ann introduced me. “Elvis, this is Al Wertheimer. He’s going to be taking some pictures of you for us.” Uninterested in any photographs, Elvis grunted, “Okay, fine.”
I pulled out my camera and started to shoot him inspecting the diamond-studded horseshoe ring adorned with a horse’s head. Holding it and looking at it from a distance, Elvis seemed content with his new piece of jewelry while the salesman unsuccessfully tried to interest him in some more. Once they both left the room, Elvis began wandering around backstage greeting a few people and checking out the buffet table. Tagging along like a little dog, I just kept snapping.
Eventually, he got tired of being backstage with all the smoke-filled confusion and the June Taylor dancers rehearsing for that evening’s show. His rehearsal wasn’t going to begin for another twenty minutes, so he decided to refresh himself. Stepping outside of the stage door into ta very cold March day, Elvis was greeted by a group of people wearing heavy coats and shawls over their heads. Even in the freezing temperature, there were five or six girls out there very happy to see him. They just wanted to talk to Elvis, and he liked being around women. He certainly was more comfortable with them than in that scene backstage.
After signing some autographs, he went back inside and was called to the telephone. His finger in his ear, Elvis answered with a “Yeah, hello,” followed by a short conversation. As soon as he hung up the phone, someone from the television crew came up to him and said, “Mr. Presley. you’re wanted for group rehearsal.” Elvis rounded up the guys who were working with him at the time- Scotty Moore, Bill Black, and DJ Fontana. They rehearsed two songs, “Heartbreak Hotel” (which would be come his first gold record) and “Blue Sued Shoes,” from about noon until five P.M.
Excerpt from Elvis by Alfred Wertheimer.