Elvis Presley would have turned 79 years old Wednesday, so the flurry of attention yet another Jan. 8 has conjured up is pretty normal — as it has been every year since his 1977 death.
But Vanity Fair has published for the first time an uncropped photograph that, if authentic, would prove a rare artifact indeed: It depicts a young teenage boy posing for a quick pic on a Tupelo, Miss. street that one Elvis expert insists is an authentic image of the King of Rock and Roll himself — long before he sang “Hound Dog” and “Heartbreak Hotel.”
Wade Jones, 50, has been a nearly lifelong Elvis fan, and amid his research received a photograph in 2005 from the late Janelle McComb — a Presley family friend from Tupelo — of what she claimed was a young Elvis.
(We can’t post the photo here, but check it out at Vanity Fair for yourself.)
“I had never seen that image in my life,” Jones told Vanity Fair of the 1948 photograph, adding that it would be the first shot placing Presley (who would have been 13 that year) on the streets of his hometown. “Just his pose, and the fact that he was in a candid situation, surrounded by normal people, was kind of eerie.”
More from Vanity Fair:
The image also appealed to a European fan, who paid $361.68 when Jones, partially obscuring the image to keep it from being copied, listed a print on eBay last August. The auction started an Internet buzz on Elvis-fan message boards. Graceland—Presley’s homestead—contacted Jones about acquiring the original. Media requests poured in. Some believed they’d pinpointed the exact location in the picture—West Main Street, near the Tupelo Hardware store where Gladys Presley bought her son his first guitar. Others denounced the photo as a fake; after all, Jones was the same guy who had once auctioned water from a Styrofoam cup that Elvis had used on stage in Charlotte, and later sent the cup “on tour.” Yes, admits the digital-sensor salesman, but that was all in good fun.
“Elvis” is penned near the right border of the photograph as well. But who wrote that…and who took the photo itself?
McComb died two months after mailing Jones the photo, Vanity Fair reported, but she told Jones that the woman who snapped it was on her way to the drugstore to drop off film for developing and had room in her camera for one more photo; apparently she knew Elvis and asked him to pose. Jones doesn’t recall the photographer’s name, Vanity Fair added.
Others with some clout say the lad in the pic is Elvis, including Billy Smith, Elvis’s first cousin, the magazine noted, as well as British collector Tony Stuchbury: “The body language matches,” he told Vanity Fair. “He put his head back like that in later years. I’ve seen pictures from vacations in ’69/’70 where he looks just like that. I’m convinced the photo is real.”
Roy Turner, a Tupelo historian who helped research the book “Elvis and Gladys” agreed: “There’s no doubt in my mind that it is Elvis.”
Finally, 78-year-old Sam Bell — the last close friend Elvis made in Tupelo, as well as his neighbor and when the Presley family lived for a year at 1010 North Green Street in what Vanity Fair called a well-to-do black community known as the Hill — said the photo is authentic.
“Yeah, I know that’s him,” Bell, who is black, told the magazine. “That’s the way he’d be looking. That’s the way he’d be dressed. And the bike too, that’s what we rode, those type of bikes.”
Bell still lives nearby and pointed out to Vanity Fair a short building on the right side of the photo with an apparent exterior service window: “That was a little cafeteria where you could go and get a milkshake or a soda,” Bell noted, “but the counter wasn’t integrated, so the blacks couldn’t go in and sit down.”
“What makes the photo exceptional,” Turner explained to the magazine, “is that it’s the only pictorial reference to Elvis’s years in North Tupelo, living in the historically black community.” Presley long talked discussed this period of his his life, but biographers have had a difficult time documenting it. “Now,” Turner said, “we can see his story.”
(H/T: Vanity Fair)