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Exclusive photos of Elvis Presley unveiled

January 8, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Exclusive photos of Elvis Presley's rise to fame were unveiled Friday at the Grammy Museum.To many music fans, Elvis Presley is the king, but when photographer Al Wertheimer first met him, there was no title or throne. He was just a 21-year-old singer and an assignment from a publicist.

"We want you to photograph Elvis Presley, and I said, 'Elvis who?'" Wertheimer said.

That was 1956, and his photos are some of the last images of Presley before he became a household name. It didn't take long for Wertheimer to figure out he was on to something big.

"Now, when you can find a performer that can make the girls cry with their mascara running down their cheek, you've got a winner. Stick with him," said Wertheimer.

Wertheimer's photos are part of a traveling exhibit called, "Elvis at 21." It is on display at L.A.'s Grammy Museum through the end of March. Dozens and dozens of photographs capture the end of Presley's obscurity and the beginning of his last 21 years.

"Elvis at 21, he didn't know it then of course, was right in the middle of his life. And if you take away Elvis Presley, you take away this particular year in American music history then everything implodes because everything that comes afterwards is built on this critical year," said Bob Santelli, the executive director of the Grammy Museum.

It's a look at an American icon, the boy who would become king on the fast track to fame right before his train pulls into the station.