Kudos to Vanity Fair. The magazine unearthed a long-lost photograph that apparently depicts Elvis Presley (and possibly his hovering mother, Gladys) in 1948, standing on the street that divided the black and white sections of his home town of Tupelo, Mississippi. A few months after the photo was taken, his family fled for Memphis.
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So is the picture the real deal? And what’s its significance in the annals of Elvis history?
Alanna Nash, the prize-winning Presley expert whose books have revealed the startling secrets of the singer’s hard-partying “Memphis Mafia” cronies, the women who loved him, and Presley’s manager, Col.
Tom Parker — who, Nash’s research suggests, may have literally gotten away with a murder in his youth — says that, while photos of a teenaged Elvis are rare, “It’s not exactly right to say that no picture from this period exists.” Adds Nash: “We have pix of him a little younger. What we’ve never had is a photo that sets him squarely in his world in Tupelo, particularly when he lived in a predominantly black neighborhood. We’ve never seen him in action on the streets of his hometown as a child, becoming Elvis. Until now — when he is precisely at the crossroads of black-and-white Tupelo, and of leaving Tupelo for his destiny in Memphis.”
So what makes Nash so sure the newly published photo is really Presley? “When Elvis burst upon the national scene in 1956, one of the things that made him ‘cool’ was the fact that he reveled in his outsideness,” Nash explains. “From this photo of a 13-year-old who is most certainly the budding king of rock, we see that from an early age, he had attitude in spades. A woman asks him to pose so she can use the last exposure on her roll of film, and instead of breaking into a goofy grin as most kids would, he tightens his lips, tilts his head back and narrows his eyes to antediluvian slits. This is a stance we saw the adult Elvis take many times. And those long fingers? Classic Elvis. Of course, he’s blond here, as Elvis was until he moved to Memphis.”
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Since any new image of Presley is valuable, how come we had to wait so long to see this one, which was acquired by Elvis fan Wade Jones in 2005 and listed on eBay last August? “He didn’t know the amazing history of the photograph,” says Nash. “No one did until Tupelo historian Roy Turner and I began poking around, and even we were surprised. Wade explained that when he got it, he intended to frame a copy and store the original. He put it away and just never got around to copying it until last year. When he took it to the drugstore, he got a package deal and thought he would sell the extra prints on eBay. He said he never expected the picture to be a huge moneymaker.”
The photo’s opening bid was $7. A print sold for $361.68, and posters of it are available on eBay for $14.99. Its historic value, though, is incalculable.
- This article originally appeared in THR.com.