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Elvis Presley : Mosque Theater, Richmond, Va : June 30, 1956

This is familiar ground to Elvis; earlier in the year he'd rocked the state capital's Mosque Theatre twice.

On arriving back in New York, Elvis and his two cousins Junior and Gene Smith take a taxi ride to the Hotel Jefferson. Here he'll have time to rest and prepare for the two concerts scheduled for 5pm and 8pm.

Wertheimer, 'having a foot in the door', decided to take advantage of the opportunity to shoot Elvis again.

On his own, took a train to Richmond to photograph Elvis' two shows at the Mosque Theater.

When asked, what was it about Elvis that made him decide to follow and observe him as a photojournalist, and not for hire? Wertheimer replied that Elvis 'permitted closeness and he made the girls cry'.

'It was a remarkable phenomenon'.

After checking in, Elvis and his cousins go up to their rooms to relax and store away his concert clothes. In the early afternoon, Elvis changes clothes and goes downstairs for a quick snack. Waiting for him is a young lady he'd met while visiting Richmond back in March. All dressed up and excited, she joins Elvis in the coffee shop.

Elvis Presley Video Alfred Wertheimer talks about Photographing Elvis Presley at 21 Pop Up Window (09:07) In this video interview photographer Alfred Wertheimer talks about photographing on this day at the Mosque Theater.

Wertheimer's photographs of Elvis in Richmond taken on June 30 are amazing. His picture (Above) of Elvis with a young woman he had just met, sitting at the Jefferson Hotel lunch counter, called Grilled Cheese 20 cents is a classic look at 1950s America.
Elvis with a young woman he had just met, sitting at the Jefferson Hotel lunch counter - June 30, 1956

Wertheimer's photographs of Elvis in Richmond taken on June 30 are amazing. His picture of Elvis with a young woman, sitting at the Jefferson Hotel lunch counter is a classic look at 1950s America.

At 4.30 pm, Elvis, his cousins and the Richmond Rose take a taxi ride to the Mosque Theatre.

According to Alfred Wertheimer, Elvis arrived at the rear entrance of the Mosque Theatre. 'I had expected Elvis to march directly up the backstage ramp, it was only twenty minutes to showtime, but instead, he laid back and held court with a the few young ladies who had gathered, all primly dressed in their Sunday best and ready with their Brownie cameras. For someone who was moving up pretty fast he never seemed to be in a rush'.

'He always had time for the fans'.

Fans backstage at the Mosque - June 30, 1956
Fans backstage at the Mosque - June 30, 1956

Warming up with the Jordanaires amidst the screams of girls outside - June 30, 1956
Warming up with the Jordanaires amidst the screams of girls outside - June 30, 1956

'Backstage, musicians unpacked their instruments, reporters milled around looking for an opportunity, and young wives and mothers sat against the wall drinking Pepsi and smoking cigarettes.

On stage, under the beam of spotlights, a small brass band rehearsed.

The stage was a shallow blond floor separated from the audience by a think fading red curtain. Elvis wandered around the stage, feeling its size like builder inspecting a piece of land. When he finished his survey he nodded to his musicians in the wings and proceeded toward what could be called the green room'.

They relax by harmonizing on some gospel songs. They have to quit because Elvis can't hear his backing vocals because of the screaming of the fans. While the support acts try to entertain the packed theatre, Elvis has other things to worry about - such as heating up his Richmond babe ...

Wertheimer's 'fly on the wall' approach to photography is dramatically illustrated in a masterpiece image taken that hot summer day called The Kiss. Photographed in low light at the end of a long, narrow passageway under the fire stairs, The Kiss captures the beauty, style, and sex appeal of the young man from Memphis.

Sneaking a kiss moments before going onstage - June 30, 1956
Sneaking a kiss moments before going onstage - June 30, 1956

Photographed in low light at the end of a long, narrow passageway under the fire stairs.

The Kiss captures the beauty, style, and sex appeal of the young man from Memphis.

The act onstage was a square dance troupe. Colonel Parker would hire acts out of various country and western circuits or variety shows and package them with Elvis when he toured the South.

They got little or no billing. On this night the colonel hired Doris and Lee Strom, a dancing team; the Fliam Brothers, musical comedians; and Phil Marquin, a magician.

Elvis was crouched in the wings watching the procession of acts.

Elvis Presley - Waiting in the wings of the Mosque stage - June 30, 1956
Elvis Presley - Waiting in the wings of the Mosque stage - June 30, 1956

After the magician went through his tricks, the curtain closed, the applause fell away and quickly the shouts of 'Where's Elvis?' became a chorus. The comedians went into their routine while behind the curtain Scotty, DJ and Bill set up their instruments. The lights dimmed. A spotlight popped on, and Elvis rushed out onto the stage, propelled. The was an explosion, screaming, screeching, whistling, girls jumping, surging towards the stage.

Elvis Presley - June 30, 1956 - Mosque Theatre, Richmond
Elvis Presley - June 30, 1956 - Mosque Theatre, Richmond

After the first show was over, somebody gave him a Pepsi, and as soon as he joined the present, the momentum of his nervous energy sent him back to center stage where he sat down and started playing with the drums. A reporter in bowtie and glasses pulled up a chair and asked questions like he was covering a fire and Elvis was the fire chief. As the reporter filled in the answers to his prepared questions, Elvis fiddled with the drumsticks, tapping them on his hands, setting them down, them picking them up and bumping them against his chin. At the drums the black sapphires and diamond studded horseshoe rings glittered as he tapped gently at the snare, careful not to upset the two Cokes on the tom tom.

'I can't play', he drawled. 'I learned this when I was in the ROTC in a Memphis High School'

Reporter Gene Miller interviewing Elvis Presley - June 30, 1956
Reporter Gene Miller interviewing Elvis - June 30, 1956

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Elvis and young fan - June 30, 1956

Offstage, Elvis is quiet likable and a little aloof conversationally.

If he is awed by his catapult to fame, it is well insulated with nonchalance. He is careful to say 'sir'. On several occasions he added, 'I don't mean to be smart'. An hour and a half later he publicly dedicated a song to the New York Press, 'You Ain't Nothing but a Hound Dog'. A few days ago he bit the finger of a woman reporter in Charleston, S.C. 'I was sitting in my car and she stuck her hand in and grabbed my coat and said 'I got a deadline! I got a deadline!' so I bit her finger. I was just being friendly, but she tried to make a big deal'

The curtain went up on the empty Mosque and Elvis jumped into the orchestra pit to the piano. He played a little boogie and Dragner's dum de-dum dum. The young ushers and two girls rushed to the front row. 'Hi, ladies', he said with a grin. 'Hi, man'. The ushers told him thet he wouldn't get mobbed. 'It isn't so bad. I enjoy it'. Pointing to the ceiling, he said, 'They can jump to the lights if they want to, That's okay with me'.

Elvis' favorite pastime is watching movies. He also likes pool shooting, swimming and motorcycle riding. 'I hate to sound like I'm bragging, but I don't have much time.' He talked to the ushers for 10 minutes. The crowd began to wander in and Elvis climbed back onto the stage and the curtain came down again.

Elvis in the orchestra pit at the piano - June 30, 1956
Elvis in the orchestra pit at the piano - June 30, 1956

Before the screaming started Elvis Aron Presley, 21, ambled over to the drum set in the center of the Mosque stage. His white, knit tie was yanked loose and his shirt was ringing wet. The first show was over. He had finished an interview with the London Mirror and had a couple of hours to kill before the next show. Presley, a Tupelo, Miss. boy who drove a pickup truck for an electric company until 1954, is America's newest adolescent sensation, a sort of Rock 'n' Roll Caruso. To his followers, he's a 'living doll'. To his critics he's 'vulgar' and 'indecent'. To the Jukebox merchants he's the hottest rage since Frankie Boy (Sinatra), vintage 1943.

Elvis back at the drums in between shows at the Mosque - June 30, 1956
Elvis back at the drums in between shows at the Mosque - June 30, 1956

The show started and Elvis headed for the dressing room.

It took him about five minutes to get his hair combed just right.

Elvis' performances that evening left the audiences in a frenzy.

Screams, waves of screams, drenched the Mosque. Elvis squirmed. Elvis sang. Elvis reeled back and forth.
Elvis Presley Lyrics
'Heartbreak Hotel', Elvis Presley Lyrics'Blue Suede Shoes', Elvis Presley Lyrics'Long Tall Sally' reverberated in a fantastic cacophony of squeals, screeches and screams. Swivel-hipped, quivering and panting, he gyrated across the stage dragging the microphone in a death grip. He sang 'Hi want you! Hi need you! Hi luh-huh-huh-huv yew-hew!' His loud intense baritone soared over the deafening thud-thud-thud rock 'n' roll beat.

He staggered, stalked and wiggled his fingers in voodoo fashion. His hair was in his eyes. His face twisted in agony. He stopped chewing his chewing gum. Still, clinging to the mike, he sprawled almost prone as amateur girl photographers rushed into the orchestra pit. The flashbulbs exploded like a swarm of monstrous fireflies.

When it was all over, three teen-age girls, obviously weakened emotionally, stood by a side door.

They babbled happily. Big tears streamed down their cheeks.

After the show they left for New York by train and then back to Memphis for a performance at Russwood Park on the 4th of July. After the Memphis performance Al Wertheimer would only see Elvis again one more time, when he was in the Army and sailed for Germany from Brooklyn, New York in 1958.

Bill Black and Elvis Presley onstage at the Mosque
Bill Black and Elvis Presley onstage at the Mosque

Elvis, on his knee, closing the show, in front of the foot lights, sings to his 3000 mostly teenage female fans, who were delighted by his presence and his music. He left them in tears of joy.

Elvis Presley - June 30, 1956 - Mosque Theatre, Richmond

(Photos © Alfred Wertheimer. All rights reserved.)

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