Elvis Mystery Kisser Found!

- An EIN Spotlight by Ron Brandon -

 

In June 1956 at an Elvis concert in Richmond, Virginia, Alfred Wertheimer snapped some iconic photographs.  One photograph in particular has become quite famous.. a photo of Elvis apparently attempting to kiss a young lady.

Earlier this year EIN contributor Ron Brandon "stumbled upon" the woman who claimed to be the mystery kisser in the photos.

Having lived in Richmond at one time, Brandon was intrigued enough follow through with a full interview - and this led to a phone-call with Mr. Wertheimer, and the mystery kisser - which in the end was sworn to confidentiality....

EIN contributor Ron Brandon describes this amazing story...


Go here to read Ron Brandon's fascinating story of how he recorded Elvis at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair & Dairy Show against Colonel Parker's wishes.


The woman's identity was finally revealed in the August 8, 2011 issue of Vanity Fair magazine in an article by author Alanna Nash. SEE BELOW for the pictures and full Vanity Fair article.


Elvis’ 1956 Mystery Kisser - by: Ron Brandon

Having lived in Tupelo, Mississippi, and Memphis, Tennessee, at the same time as Elvis, I kinda grew up with him, although a few years younger. When I graduated Central High in Memphis, I was offered a job at WTUP radio station in Tupelo. That was in the spring of 1956. And later that year, in the fall, when Elvis returned to Tupelo to perform at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair & Dairy Show, I was the person who recorded the concerts, and the interviews with Elvis and with his Mom and Dad.

So I had some background in the shadow of Elvis, and was familiar with the iconic photographs of Alfred Wertheimer, taken in June of 1956 at an Elvis concert in Richmond, Virginia. As it turned out, there were over forty of the photos of Elvis.. and many of them featured an attractive young lady. One or two of these photographs, in particular, have become quite famous.. photos of Elvis apparently attempting to kiss the young lady. The photos have been reproduced many times over the years, in books, articles, on tv, coffee cups, on the internet, and even in a traveling museum exhibit. But, the thing is, the young lady has never been identified. Mr. Wertheimer has said that a number of women have contacted him over the years, claiming to be the lady he came to identify as the "mystery kisser." However, none had been able to pass his screening of questions pertaining to that day.

Elvis and Bill Black on stage at the Mosque - June 30, 1956
Photo by Diana Nartowicz - courtesy of "Elvis Word for Word" by Jerry Osborne

Imagine my surprise, when motoring to my favorite fast-food restaurant for breakfast one morning in February 2010.. with my radio tuned to a local Charleston, South Carolina, talk station.. that they put a woman on the air who claimed to be the mystery kisser in the photos. That got my attention! She had called in to try to win tickets to an Elvis impersonator concert in town, and had gone on to tell the story of the photos, and claimed to be the person that had been searched for for so many years. I cranked up the volume.. and was really beginning to believe her story.. when she made what I thought was a fatal error. She mispronounced the name of the auditorium in Richmond where the concerts took place.

Having lived in Richmond at one time and promoted many concerts in that very venue, I knew the name all too well. So I phoned in to the station and disputed her claim. She called back and said I was full of #*%!($#@. I was intrigued enough to call the station again, and get her phone number.

A couple of hours later, I phoned her.. and we enjoyed a lengthy get-acquainted conversation. Although I wasn’t totally convinced of her authenticity, I made an appointment to visit with her a couple of days later.

When I arrived, I found her to be a charming and gracious lady.. now 74 years old. She said that she had been 20 years old at the time of the famous pictures, and had had quite a life in the interim years. She said that she had made phone contact with Mr. Wertheimer quite a number of years ago, but had become so frustrated with his questions that she had given up in disgust, and never spoken with him again. After a short time, I asked her permission to record our conversation, and she proceeded to tell her story.

After hearing the details of her story, I was absolutely convinced that she was, in fact, the "mystery kisser." Her goal was to be identified publicly as this person, and hoped to write a book about this episode and others in her life. I told her that I was acquainted with an author that was internationally famous for several Elvis books, who agreed that I should attempt to make the contact. I played the recording of our conversation for the author, and they quickly became convinced as well that the lady was the real thing. Subsequent conversations led to an agreement for an article in a leading monthly publication. But bringing the article to fruition would hinge on whether or not Mr. Wertheimer agreed that this lady was the mystery kisser, and would then agree to the use of his photographs.

Several weeks of back and forth negotiations took place. There was progress.. and then nothing. Finally, I took the matter in hand.. picked up the phone and called Mr. Wertheimer. A lengthy conversation ensued. He seemed to have a vested interest in protecting the rights to his photographs, and expressed considerable skepticism that this newest applicant was the real McCoy. I agreed that I would attempt to get the mystery lady to concede to speak with him on the phone.. to answer his questions.. and to satisfy him that she was the person in question. That conversation did take place a few days later.

(Right:Elvis during the Richmond rehearsal backstage)

I was on the phone with Mr. Wertheimer and the mystery kisser. They talked for over an hour. The conversation was sworn to confidentiality between the two, but at the conclusion we had high hopes that Mr. Wertheimer would acknowledge and confirm this lady as his Mystery Kisser.

In the interim a number of old photos of this mystery kisser (photos taken in the 50s and 60s) had been sent to Mr. Wertheimer and the magazine folks, for them to use in their process of trying to confirm or deny her identity. In a couple of weeks we had the decision from Mr. Wertheimer. He was prepared to confirm that this lady was, in fact, the mystery kisser in his photographs. However, he wanted a letter of agreement between the two of them regarding settlement of a number of issues, in order to proceed with the article for the magazine. In addition, he wanted a signed "model release" from this lady, releasing to him all rights for the 1956 photos in question.

The agreement was discussed, modified, and swapped back and forth over a period of weeks. And now, after a number of months, the entire process seems to have ground to a dead end. My role was always to assist in confirming the identity of the mystery kisser, and to make the story known to the public. I had sincerely hoped that the two of them would find a way to cooperate and release their story confirming the identity of this lady, and hopefully that will occur in the future.

For now however, here is the story of that few days in June 1956.

On June 28, 1956, Elvis was here in Charleston, South Carolina, and played a concert at College Park, a local baseball stadium. On that date, our mystery kisser lady had joined some friends for a night out. She was 20 years old at the time, divorced, with a child who was living with her mother in Atlanta. She had finalized plans to go to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to visit a boyfriend who was a pilot in the Air Force. In fact, she was to leave the next day. Enjoying cocktails with her friends at a downtown club, the subject of Elvis and the fact that he was in town came up. Kisser had never heard of Elvis, wasn’t familiar with his music, and didn’t even know that he was in town. She had no idea what he looked like, but was told that he was good looking. There was one drawback.. she had been told that he wore mascara. So she thought that he might be "queer", and why would she want to talk to him? But her companion described Elvis to her and egged her on to call him. They knew that he was staying at a downtown hotel, the Francis Marion.

The cocktails were working, kisser took the dare, and called the hotel. (She remembers none of the group that she was with that night. They were apparently out of towners that she was with only on this one occasion) The hotel operator offered no objection and rang the room. A male voice answered and when she asked if he was Elvis, he identified himself as Elvis’ cousin Gene Smith, and asked if she would like to talk to Elvis. She wishes she could remember what they talked about that night, but the alcohol had taken its toll. But she does remember that Elvis told her he was leaving for Richmond the next morning. She told him that she was leaving for Philadelphia the next morning. He said that he had to leave early, but that he wanted to meet her, and would send a car by to pick her up.. and she agreed and gave him her address. She went back to her friends and the party, and promptly forgot all about it.

The next morning, she was all packed with a foot locker ready to go to the train station to catch her train.. about ten in the morning.. when there was a knock at her door. She did not expect to ever hear from Elvis again, but when she answered the door.. there was a little skinny guy, Gene Smith, who said he was there to pick her up to take her to Richmond. She remembers their automobile as a big, white Cadillac convertible.. and she was impressed. They stowed her foot locker in the trunk, and they were off. She doesn’t remember the name of the other guy who was there, but that he was the "road manager".. and that he drove the car.

She relates that they stopped at a service station to fill up with gas before leaving town, and that a song came on the radio.. and she expressed that she thought it was just awful.. with all the echo on it (at the time she was a fan of jazz and pop music, not rock and roll).
Gene told her that that was Elvis.. and she backed up a bit and said that.. it was just the echo that she thought was so offensive.

Gene Smith, Elvis and mystery kisser.
Photo (c) Alfred Wertheimer

On the way, they stopped at a restaurant now known as "South of the Border" near the North and South Carolina borders. In those days it was just a fruit and hamburger stand. She says the three of them sat on the side of the road, busted a watermelon, and ate it with their hands..a really lot of fun. And then they were back on the road to Richmond.

When asked if the guys talked much about Elvis on the way she said no, but she didn’t know anything about him anyway, so it didn’t matter. They were likely thinking "hands off the girls".. the girls were for Elvis.

When arriving in Richmond, they dropped her off at her aunt’s house in a subdivision called Lakeside. They told her they were going to the hotel to join Elvis and would call her and pick her up. (Her aunt is no longer living.. but a cousin still lives there).

The next day, in early afternoon, they called her and told her that they were getting ready to go.. that Elvis was down in the lobby, and had said to call and tell you they were getting ready. But there were too many crowds of kids around the hotel to get their car out, so they would send a taxi for her and pay for it.. which they did. She did not remember the name of the Jefferson Hotel, even though she had heard it recently.

She says the cab pulled up in front of the hotel.. and the same skinny boy that had transported her on the day before was out front. And she remembered that he had a suit bag hanging over his shoulder. And he told her to c’mon and let’s go in.. they went in.. and they walked right in to what she describes as a soda fountain.. and Elvis was sitting with his back to her at the counter. Gene told Elvis that "the girl is here".

When Elvis turned her first thought on seeing him was that he was really nice looking, but she still was not too comfortable with the situation. She says that Elvis gave her a hug, and they sat down, and started to talk. He asked who she was and where she was from, but she assumed that he would have known that from their previous conversation. She says that she was kind of arrogant.. stand offish.. a bit cocky. He asked her if she wanted a beer.. she said no. And he said.. "Well that’s good" because he wouldn’t let his women drink.

She came back with the fact that she was not his woman, and that he didn’t have any right to tell her what to do. He then asked her if she smoked. Again, no. And he said that was good because he did not let his women smoke. She repeated that she was not his woman and it didn’t matter whether she smoked or not.. if she wanted to smoke or have a beer she would. She thinks it perhaps set him off a bit.. got him interested because here was a woman that wasn’t after him. They sat talking for a bit till someone said that the cab was there for the theater.. to go to the theater. Elvis told her to "c’mon.. that she was going to the theater.. to be there for the show" and she said ok. She said he then chased her out the side door and down the street. When asked why she thought he did this she said that he was apparently just being silly because he knew there was a photographer there (her first mention of being aware of Mr. Wertheimer).

They got into the cab and Elvis introduced her to the photographer.. not by name.. but just that he was a photographer taking some pictures. She only found out Mr. Wertheimer’s name much later And she says that the taking of the pictures did not matter to her. She identified others in the cab as Elvis, and his other cousin Junior sitting in the back holding a bass fiddle, and the photographer, and Gene, and the cab driver, in the front seat. She was mystified as to why they had the bass, since she discovered later, that the guy who played it (Bill Black) was not with them.

Elvis, mystery kisser and "Junior" en route to the Mosque Theatre
Photo (c) Alfred Wertheimer

She mentioned that there were many photos taken during the cab ride to the theater. When they got to the auditorium, Elvis told her that he was going to jump out first because all the kids would crowd around him.. that Gene and Junior would take her in through the back entrance, which they did. She guesses the photographer stayed with Elvis. Later Elvis came in, and for the next several hours.. they were backstage.. and Elvis was getting ready to perform. She spent considerable time talking with the Jordanaires, and with the Flaim Brothers, an opening act (she says she actually became quite good friends with the Flaim Brothers, and later exchanged letters).

She says that there were no big dressing rooms, and that when the Jordanaires were rehearsing, Elvis invited her to walk out in the hallway. So they went into one of the adjacent stairwells, and that’s where the famous pictures were taken.

Her recall is that Elvis kept trying to kiss her, and she kept telling him that she had a boyfriend.. that she was on the way to see her boyfriend.. that he could not, and that she would not, kiss him.

Then, as she describes as part of his silliness.. he stuck his tongue out at me.. and she in return stuck her tongue out at him and they touched.. and that became the most famous photograph of all.

(When asked if she was aware that the photographer was there, she said that she was not. She did remember that Elvis was tall, and that one point she had to stand on a step above him).

After that, they went back into the stage area where the guys were now finished rehearsing.

Later, she recalls an incident where Elvis chased her all the way across the stage.. and she was embarrassed because the audience was yelling (this was between the two shows and apparently some of the audience was in the building).

Between shows at the Mosque - June 30, 1956
Photo courtesy of Ger Rijff from his book 'Long Lonely Highway'

On the other side of the stage he put his arms out around her and held her up against the curtain ropes, and told her that if she didn’t kiss him he wasn’t gonna let her go back across the stage. At this point she did let him kiss her, and he let her go back across the stage (the curtain had now been closed).

More great images from the book "Elvis at 21"
Photo (c) Alfred Wertheimer

At this point Elvis went on stage for the second show (interestingly, in all of our conversations she never mentions watching Elvis on stage).. while he was on stage she was talking with the Flaim Brothers. Gene told her that they were sending a car for when Elvis finished that he would go off one side of the stage.. the other side of the stage where she was earlier.. and that he would go right out to the car. Therefore, she and they had to go out now and go around and get in the car to be ready to go to the train station, because Elvis had to go to New York.. to do some tv show, she did not know which one.

Elvis on stage at Richmond - from the BMG 'Close Up' box-set
Photo (c) Alfred Wertheimer

When asked who was in the car she said that she did not think that Alfred, the photographer was.. but that Gene and Junior were. They were in a private car, which took them to the train station. (At this point there was some confusion, because she had seen a picture of Elvis alone in the Richmond train station, and that was not the way she remembered it. She did not remember Elvis being alone.. that she, Gene, and Junior were always with him. Turns out that the picture she remembers and was referring to, was taken by Mr. Wertheimer when Elvis first arrived in Richmond, the day before he met the mystery kisser).

At this point, she went alone with Elvis into his private compartment on the train and he started to get a little friendlier.. apparently finally a time to make his move.. She says that she was getting dizzy just thinking about it.. that she had on a skimpy black dress that was like all the dresses that Marilyn Monroe wore.. a dress that she had made herself. She said that she did not have a bra on.. but did have on one of those little elastic panty girdle things. And Elvis touched that.. and he said.. "Oh I don’t.. I can’t.. I don’t mess with girls that wear girdles". And she said that she was not wearing a girdle but that he was not going to mess with her in any event. He said.. "Oh come on and go with me to New York". She said..no, that she was on her way to Philadelphia. Somebody knocked on the door.. she doesn’t remember who.. said that the train was leaving.. and asked was she going or staying. Elvis said, "No she’s staying".

After those few minutes the train departed with Elvis and entourage, and without her. They had gotten her a cab, and she returned to her aunt’s house. And later to Philadelphia.

When asked if she ever say Elvis again, she said that years later he appeared in Philadelphia and that she thought about going to the show.. but was reluctant because she was older then, and thought that she had gained some weight.. so she did not go.

Asked if she followed his career or saw his movies, she said no. At that time, it had not been that big an incident in her life.. although she did remember that he had sent her a Christmas card as she had given him her address.

Later in that year, 1956, when she was back in Charleston.. she remembers that a friend in California called her and told her that she was all over the country in pictures with Elvis Presley. And she went out and got the magazines or newspapers, and there the pictures were, and that was the first time that she ever saw them.

She does relate that many of her friends and family are all familiar with her identity and the pictures with Elvis. And that they never fail to call and tell her when they see her on tv or in magazines.
Unfortunately, she saved nothing from those days.. and in fact, had not seen many of the pictures until recently.

Although I do not have permission to release the old personal photographs of the mystery lady which she furnished to me, she did make available some half a dozen. Without question, there is a remarkable resemblance between her photos and the Wertheimer photos of the mystery kisser and Elvis. She made the comment to me at one time that several of the Elvis fans in Richmond had remarked that they thought she was Kim Novak (a popular actress of that era) and I can readily see why they made that mistake.

In my opinion, the deciding factor in confirming this lady as the mystery kisser, other than her older photos.. was, her height. According to Mr. Wertheimer, the other ladies that had laid claim over the years had been about the same height as Elvis. This lady was just the opposite.. her height was only four feet eleven inches. In the famous photos, you can plainly see that she was wearing 4-inch heels. And on one occasion, was standing on a step above Elvis. Of all the parties involved, it’s my opinion that they are agreed that she is the kisser in question.

I am personally convinced without any reservation whatever, that she is the mystery kisser.

Whether she will ever come forward and identify herself.. who knows.

 

Spotlight by Ron Brandon July 2010.
-Article Copyright EIN, July 2010. Do NOT COPY or distribute.

Click here to comment on this article

Unless noted all images (c) Alfred Wertheimer. His book 'Elvis At 21' is an ESSENTIAL purchase for any Elvis fan. If you do not own a copy please go to the review & purchase details below.

RON BRANDON was the 17 year-old radio engineer for Tupelo's WTUP station who actually recorded the interviews and the famous ELVIS performance at Tupelo Fair in 1956. Go here for incredible story of how this historic Elvis performance happened to be recorded for posterity.

Go here for more infomation about Ron Brandon and his Radio career


Monday 8 AUGUST 2011
The Elvis Kiss Mystery-Revealed!: Vanity Fair in the US has finally identified the mystery woman seen kissing singer Elvis Presley in a backstage theater stairwell in an iconic 1956 photograph. The article by author Alanna Nash describes in detail how Barbara Gray, now 75 and living in Charleston, S.C. didn't reveal her identity for the money or fame.
"I just wanted to get my name on the damn picture," she said.
Gray admitted that she become fed up with being known only as the "unknown woman in the wings" with a young Elvis in a stairwell at the Mosque Theater in Richmond, Virginia.
Photographer Alfred Wertheimer said he never asked for the woman's name when he took the photograph and she never told it to him.
After newspaper coverage of Wertheimer's photography exhibit at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. in early 2010 showed him standing in front of the photograph called "The Kiss," Gray tracked Wertheimer on Facebook and sent him a message.
"I'm the girl. 'The Kiss.' Have a good story for you," she said.
But Wertheimer, who had heard from many women who claimed to be the woman in the photo, didn't respond at first. Gray's claim was aired on local radio station WTMA.
One listener, however, had his doubts. Broadcast veteran Ron Brandon had recorded Presley’s homecoming concert in Tupelo, Mississippi, when Brandon was a 17-year-old engineer at WTUP radio. He got suspicious when the caller mispronounced the name of the Mosque Theatre. But after they finally connected in person, she won him over, and Brandon, in turn, got in touch with Alanna Nash. He thought Nash might be able to authenticate her story since she’d just published a book the month before on Presley’s love life, Baby, Let’s Play House.
While Gray's recollections of the time and place were accurate, the clincher was her height. She is only four feet, 11 inches, the same height as the woman in the picture.
"God he's beautiful," Gray recalled thinking when she met Presley, then 21, at his hotel in Richmond. But she also found him "kind of insecure" with an accent that made him sound like "a goofy guy from the sticks."
On meeting her, Elvis motioned for Bobbi to sit on the vinyl chair next to him, and then gave her a hug before angling closer.
“Would you like something to drink, a beer maybe?” Elvis ventured.
The question threw her. A coffee shop serving beer? Maybe this was just a test. “No,” Bobbi declined.
“That’s good,” Elvis said, “‘cause I don’t let my women drink.”
“I’m not your woman,” Bobbi snipped.
“Do you smoke?” Elvis pushed.
“No,” she fibbed.
“Good. I don’t like my women to smoke, either.”
“I told you I’m not your woman.. . . If I want to smoke and have a beer, I’ll do it.”
Bobbi had his attention; Elvis liked a girl with attitude. . . .
Don't Miss the full Alanna Nash Vanity Fair story Click Here & photos.
Go here for EIN's review of Alanna Nash book 'Baby Let's Play House'
Ron Brandon's part in tracking down Barbara Gray was featured in an EIN article back in July 2010 while negotiations were being held.
and you can CLICK HERE to see the video of Barbara Gray & Alfred Wertheimer talking on the NBC Today Show


Go here to James Roy's fabulous 'Scotty Moore Official website' which has a marvellous article on the history and performances of Elvis and others at The Mosque Theatre in Richmond.


Elvis at 21: New York to Memphis (Book Review): Finally, a book which does proper justice to the exquisite photographic images of the young King of Rock 'n' Roll captured by Alfred Wertheimer in 1956.

Quite simply this release is an outstanding example of how to present a photo-journal!

Elvis at 21 New York to Memphis was the stand-out book of its type in 2006 and one of the best Elvis book releases in many years!

Join EIN's Nigel Patterson as he explores the absolutely stunning visual feasts this book has to offer. ( Source: EIN, March 2007)


READER'S FEEDBACK

From Nickcat
This is a very interesting bit of information. The article attached is quite interesting too, but I'm a little skeptical about this woman who claims to be the same woman in the famous photo. Her story leaves me with a few questions and leads me to wonder if this isn't just another attempt to gain notoriety just as hundreds have already done in the past.


EIN notes- I was sceptical too. However one can try and read between the lines to see that there is more to this than can be stated in the on-line article. As it says "This led to a phone-call with Mr. Wertheimer, Ron Brandon and the mystery kisser - which in the end was sworn to confidentiality.... "
Wertheimer has always been very keen on copyright and keeping these photos and associated stories within his ownership. From what I know of the complete story, I believe this time the woman is the real deal. There would be more photos that EIN cannot publish that would help confirm it.

From drjohncarpenter
That's kind of neat. "The Kiss" has become one of the most iconic photos of the early rock era.
 
From Steve P
Interesting scoop. While it is from decades in the past and copyright law has changed, perhaps EPE and Wertheimer might owe her money for all that they have made out of the iconic photo. This could be a reason she doesn;t want to reveal herself yet. She would be a great Elvis aquaintance to appear at those EPE Insider's conventions. I hope Wertheimer and she come to some agreement before it is too late.
 
From Jay B
Another example as to why this is the best Elvis site on the internet. There is no other site that continues to offer reviews and articles that are of real value to those of us who love the music and are interested in the man who made it. You're the best.
Jay in Boston
 
From Arjan D  
Thanks for the article on the "mystery kisser!. I really enjoyed that. It's nice to see EIN delivering one scoop after the others, while the others constantly come up with "nonsense-news".
I have heard some stories about Wertheimer being difficult... Bottom line is money I guess... as it usually is.
This is good journalism. You guys really deliver with your website,
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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