Elvis at 21 New York to Memphis

Alfred Wertheimer

....Book review....

Insight Editions, 2006, Hardcover (with dust jacket); 253 pages, Illustrated, ISBN: 13-9781933784014/ISBN: 10-1933784016

Reviewed by Nigel Patterson

The thought of a young Elvis in 1956 conjures up vivid images of a rebellious rock 'n' roll artist ripping up the musical and cultural landscape of America; sending eager teenage girls into rapturous delight; alienating a right wing, conservative establishment; and perplexing millions of parents trying to come to terms with the tensions of separate but intertwined realities - the Cold War aftermath of bloody global hostilities a decade before, and their increasingly independent and affluent offspring.

And the quintessential impact of this time and its principal protagonist were artfully captured and preserved for all-time by one man.....Alfred Wertheimer.

Elvis at 21: New York to Memphis (limited edition shown opposite), the latest photo-journal from Wertheimer is the stand-out book of its type in 2006 and one of the best Elvis book releases in many years!

In fact it is easily the best designed and visually stimulating collection of the famous Wertheimer Elvis photos yet produced. Wertheimer's earlier Elvis '56, while itself impressive on original release, pales in comparison to this incarnation of the photographers' vast Elvis image archive.

The book itself is huge. Measuring 40cms x 28cms (14"x11") it is oversized as most books go, and it weighs a ton. Its size is part of its visual attraction and impact. You cannot help miss it and the extra large pages give added emphasis to the hundreds of exquisite black and white Elvis visuals inside.

With many full page photos of Elvis and a number of fold-out spreads viewers find their senses first excitedly stimulated, and then at times, numbed, as they struggle to fully comprehend the incredible historical significance of the imagery before them. This is a book you experience in the full sense of the word.

Its visuals cascade around you like grand, inspiring canvasses, an offering which, through individual interpretation, reveals new pleasures with every viewing.

Many of the photos are previously unpublished. They appear to include Elvis frolicking in the swimming pool; a great shot of a topless Elvis with Pepsi-Cola bottle firmly in hand; and a nattily attired Elvis sitting down to a hearty (nearly finished) meal of bacon, french fries and milk.

And did you know Elvis could play the piano accordian? Well it certainly seems that he does thanks to a full page image of Elvis tickling this unusual instrument's ivory.

Wertheimer took so many amazing photos of Elvis during his all to brief week or so on the road with The King that it is impossible to do justice to them all.

A two page, back view spread of Elvis and a female companion sitting in a take away food joint is so 1950s atmospheric you can literally sense the smells and feeling of the establishment they are in. Extraordinary stuff!

Elsewhere, there is an uncanny air of something special in a photographed from above shot of the young Hillbilly Cat, guitar in hand at his side, as he is acknowledged on stage; the cover photo used on Peter Guralnick's sublime Last Train To Memphis The Rise of Elvis Presley, takes on new meaning as a wonderfully evocative two page spread; while the amazing Russwood Park stills exude the still air of the evening and delightfully invade each pore of your being with their addictive presence.

For some strange but satisfying reason the Russwood Park photos seem at odds with what has gone before, and for this very reason they have a powerful resonance which sets them apart and fittingly closes the book leaving you not only wondering, but also wanting to revisit the stunning visual treat you have just experienced.

Not surprisingly, the narrative element of Elvis At 21: New York to Memphis is likely to be overshadowed by the book's achingly haunting visuals. Yet the narrative too has real strength.

A foreword by noted Elvis biographer, Peter Guralnick, and an introduction by Chris Murphy, nicely complement Wertheimer's own written opening to each section.

Wertheimer effectively sets the scene for his travels across America with Elvis, bringing to life in words and pictures the electric atmosphere of those seminal moments.

He explains why he changed visual strategy at one point, moving from a series of fairly sharp picture images to a feeling of "controlled bluriness". His openness to inform the reader is impressive and adds considerably to our enjoyment.


The visual sections are relentless in their commanding presence. They range from the Dorsey Bros Stage Show, Steve Allen Show and Mosque Theater in Richmond, Virginia, to Elvis in the recording studio, train bound from New York to Graceland, and at home. The final spread is wondrous, capturing all the tension and excitement of The King live in front of his hometown fans at Russwood Park in Memphis. It is compelling viewing indeed.

Above: The sensational 'Elvis at 21' Wertheimer book, demonstrating the size of the images against a standard CD.

Symbolising its high production quality, Elvis at 21: New York to Memphis was printed using a quadtone process employing four layers of ink: two blacks, a special warm gray, and a metallic pewter. A dry-trapped spot gloss varnish was used to preserve the density of the original prints.


Not surprisingly, being a high quality release means Elvis at 21: New York to Memphis comes with a high price tag (particularly the limited edition release). However, believe me, it is worth it!

Verdict: Elvis at 21: New York to Memphis by Alfred Wertheimer is a sublime release. Its large sized, evocative images are fresh and alive, and represent a stunning tribute to a young performer on the verge of international superstardom. Highly recommended!

Buy "Elvis at 21: New York to Memphis"

It is available in two editions:

Limited Edition (weighs 17lbs) (see image at top of page)

Limited edition features: 1,500 copies, comes in a clamshell box with a signed photograph and contact sheet, clothbound portfolio case containing four limited edition photographic prints (11 x 14), and an exclusive edition of Elvis Ships Out (a 48 page, cloth bound, 8 x 10, keepsake archive of Elvis' stint in the US Army).

Regular Edition (weighs 6lbs)

Click to comment on this review

Reader Feedback

Mary M.: Your review of the new Alfred Wertheimer book was spot on. It is a beautiful collection of Elvis photographs which takes pride of place on my coffee table. All Elvis fans need to buy this book.

Bronwyn Englund: I too have this wonderful book.

Peter and Barb Philips (USA): We have always admired the reviews on EIN and this is the first time we have written to you. Recently we were shopping for a birthday present for our daughter who like us is a big Elvis fan. We saw Elvis at 21 in Borders and after a quick flip through we were impressed. The price however was beyond our reach and after reading your review we wish we had paid the extra dollars. Is there anywhere we can buy this book below retail price?

EIN Note: Amazon and Barnes & Noble have excellent used book networks which offer new or next to new copies of books at discounted prices

Tania: I enjoyed your review of Alfred Wertheimer's book. If all Elvis books were as good as this we would be so lucky. I think a lot of us forget how good looking and dynamic Elvis was when he was in the 50s. It is so good we have these photos to remember what he meant to us.

Peter Frommen: Alfred Wertheimer's new book is a beauty. It and the Lew Allen overpriced book are the best Elvis books over the last few years.

Wolfgang B (Germany): I enjoy your site very much, it has much good articles and reviews. I will buy this book now I've read what you say about it.

Cynthia Williams (USA): Thank you for your review. I have been waiting for a review of this book and your site is the first I've seen one on. I have been thinking of buying Elvis At 21 for a while now and your review has convinced me to do it.

Brian (England): Wertheimer's book might be OK but it doesn't compare to Lew Allen's sensational book. Why don't you review it.

EIN note: EIN would love to review the Allen book but as we haven't won the lottery yet we do not have the money to afford it.

Beatrice Franklin: EIN always gives new Elvis books a good review. I don't think they can all be that good.

EIN Note: Beatrice, it is true we sometimes choose the best releases to review, but we also call a spade a spade. Check out our recent review of the latest book by Jerry Hopkins, Aloha Elvis.

Chantelle K: Elvis at 21. He was just the dreamiest, most handsome man. My local bookstore has the book and I'm saving madly to buy it. I go in two or three times a week to look through it and some day soon I will take it home with me. It is the best photo book I've ever seen about Elvis.

Beth Peece: One of my all time fave Elvis books was Alfred Wertheimer's Elvis 56. When I heard he had a new book coming out I was so excited. Alfred captured a young, raw Elvis like nobody else ever did. I can't wait to buy this book!!!!!!!!!!!


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