Elvis in a history museum? Fort Worth photos are a swivel-hipping hit

Posted Saturday, Jul. 13, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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kennedy A crowd packed a Fort Worth hall for Elvis Presley again Saturday, or the next person they could find.

Elvis best-friend-forever George Klein, a pal from eighth grade until the singer’s 1977 death, talked about the singer’s life and seemingly unlimited loves as part of the touring “Elvis at 21” Smithsonian Institution history exhibit.

In one of the all-time understatements, the 77-year-old Klein told the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History crowd that Presley “had a way with the ladies.”

“Every girl I ever called to see if she would meet Elvis, none of them ever refused,” he said as other museum visitors upstairs were seduced all over by photographer Alfred Wertheimer’s oversize, candid portraits of a hunka-hunka singer at the start of adulthood and fame.

In the audience, Janet Rose, 68, came from Houston to see the exhibit for the second time on a national tour.

“Elvis changed everything,” Rose said.

“He changed music. He changed the culture. He changed the way we thought about life and the world.”

He also changed girlfriends. Often, to hear Klein, a former Memphis radio host and now anchor of satellite radio’s Original Elvis Hour.

For example, one of Klein’s stories began with him at Presley’s Graceland home and calling upstairs to tell him, “Miss Tennessee is here and she brought her sisters.”

The crowd knew right away that story was about how Elvis met Ginger Alden, his fiancée when he died Aug. 16, 1977, after playing racquetball and sitting down long enough to sing Willie Nelson’s Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.

In fact, many in the crowd seemed to know almost every detail about Presley’s life and Klein’s book, Elvis: My Best Man.

Klein talked about being in a car mobbed by Elvis fans once in Canada: “They broke the aerial [antenna], they took the license plate — this guy ran his knife down the side just to get paint scrapings from Elvis’ car. We barely got out of there.”

And he talked about rushing to Graceland after Presley’s death: “I had an 8-track [tape] player going. When I turned in the gates of Graceland, it was right at the end of (I Can’t Help) Falling in Love With You. Just then, the tape broke.”

More than 20,000 visitors have seen the photo and artifact exhibit combining treasures from Graceland with photos by Wertheimer, who was then a 26-year-old freelance photographer. Presley’s death will be remembered at an Aug. 16 candlelight vigil.

The exhibit also includes Star-Telegram photos of Presley’s concerts here over 20 years from what is now Cowtown Coliseum to today’s Fort Worth Convention Center.

Presley also passed through the city countless times on the old highways along Lancaster Avenue and Camp Bowie Boulevard on his way from Tennessee to California or Las Vegas.

Klein began another familiar story: “Elvis told me something about Texas when he was on his way to make the movie Jailhouse Rock [in 1957]. He would call out every town, and he knew every little stop and what was next.

“He said, ‘Man, when I started out, I’d crisscross Texas. Texas was really nice to me.’”

Still is.

Bud Kennedy's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538

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