In 1956, Elvis Presley was on the verge of becoming a rock and roll icon when Alfred Wertheimer was assigned to photograph him. Among the photos he snapped is the playful and affectionate scene of Elvis romancing a beautiful mystery lady, an iconic snapshot which later became the "The Kiss."
It all began with a phone call that young Elvis Presley received in 1956. On the other end was a mystery lady who called out of the blue, dared by her friends to get a date with the singer unknown to her at the time. Soon, after flirting over the phone for around half an hour, the two made plans to meet in Richmond, Virginia. Unknown to them then, their meeting would lead to a series of photographs showing the flirtatious and frolicsome side of the soon-to-be ‘King’.
The best known from the series by photographer Alfred Wertheimer was dubbed “The Kiss”, showing Elvis and his “date for the day” playfully darting out their tongues. It was a good catch for Wertheimer, who at first thought about letting the two just have their private moment when he spotted them at the end of a narrow hallway. Eventually, reminding himself that he’s a photojournalist with a camera, he decided to continue taking photos. After all, if Elvis didn’t want him there, he’d be asked to leave. After a few takes, he went closer, positioned himself along the railing to get a better angle, and took the iconic snapshot.
The remarkable photographer tells the story behind the photo in a recent Vanity Fair feature:
“They’re just getting into the preliminaries of negotiating the kiss. He’s been wanting to kiss the girl all afternoon. He met her at the hotel. He tried to kiss her earlier, in the cab. He put his arms around her neck and squeezed—in a loving way. Then he tried to relax her by messing up her hair. Finally he gets her in a private space, but now this photographer is getting in there to mess things up.
I’m on the landing, and she finally gets around to saying, ‘And I bet you can’t kiss me, Elvis.’ And she sticks out her tongue, and he says, ‘I bet you I can.’ He approaches, overshoots the mark, and bends her nose. O.K., so now I’ve got a picture of him bending her nose. He backs up, and then he very gently comes in and sticks out his tongue. They touch for about a tenth of a second. And he finally consummates the kiss."
The identity of the rock star’s lovely date for the day remained a mystery even to Wertheimer until 55 years later, when Barbara Gray—-then Bobbi Owens—now 75, recently stepped out and shared her story to the world. The first time she saw Elvis, she thought he was “beautiful”, and the two eventually grew closer during their date. However, she also admitted during an interview with The Today Show that she didn’t feel attracted as much as the rock star probably was towards her.
“He had sparks, but I didn’t even know who he was… He’s a very funny kid, he was very silly and we were running around chasing each other, just being young.”
Let’s go back to 1956 and take a look at some more photos of Elvis and Barbara being their young and playful selves:
More articles about Elvis on Lomography.com!
- Elvis at 21: Photographs by Al Wertheimer
- Elvis Presley and His Cinematic Impersonators
- Midweek Movies: Jailhouse Rock
- Elvis Rumble
Sources and additional readings:
The Elvis-Kiss Mystery—Solved! (Vanity Fair)
The King and I: Mystery woman in iconic Elvis Presley 'Kiss' photo revealed - 55 years later (Daily Mail)
Mystery woman in Elvis Presley photos identified (The Edge)