New portraits of the King


No pop-culture star better exemplifies the rewards and pitfalls of celebrity than Elvis Presley, whose remarkable career has spawned yet another book: "Elvis Presley 1956," published by Harry N. Abrams Inc. It's chock-full of photographs from the pivotal months when the rock 'n' roll pioneer's fame was beginning to skyrocket.

The photos were taken by the late Marvin Israel, an artist and designer who documented Presley's popularity in a couple of Midwestern and Southern cities, then climaxed the project as Presley's first movie, the 1956 western "Love Me Tender." Some of the pictures were published in Seventeen magazine, where Israel was art director. The rest have never been publicly seen until now, making the book a significant event for not only Presley fans but also photography buffs, who may recognize Israel as a mentor to such giants as Richard Avedon and Diane Arbus.

The book was launched earlier this week with an exhibition at New York's Lincoln Center, accompanied by rare screenings of "Love Me Tender" in its original CinemaScope format, providing vivid reminders of Presley's youthful charisma and the scrappy 1950s milieu in which his superstardom emerged.

"Love Me Tender" is no masterpiece - there's no need to eke out a place in the cinematic pantheon for Richard D. Webb, who directed it - but it's a revealing artifact from the period and features four of the singer's perky songs. It's available for home viewing on Fox Video.

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