Last Friday, August 4, "Elvis Shot by Bonja", a co-operation between Ed Bonja and the Danish fanclub was released. A good reason to go for an interview with the famous Elvis-photographer. During our behind the scenes conversations Ed Bonja turned out to be a really great guy, and we are proud to present you the results of the interview.
1. Most Elvis-fans know your name from the photos. Can you tell us something about the man behind that name?
I am originally from Chicago, Illinois. I had known Colonel Parker through my uncle, Tom Diskin, since the early 1950's. At that time, and for many years afterwards, my family referred to the Colonel as UNCLE TOM. He didn't start using the COLONEL title until later in his career. We then referred to him as UNCLE COLONEL.
My family moved to California in 1952, and Tom Diskin and the Colonel were frequent visitors to our home. We knew all about Elvis long before others ever heard of him. At the present time, I live in the Los Angeles, California area. I am divorced and have four children who are growing up quickly.
2. Can you tell us in short about your "Elvis history"?
I first worked for the Colonel in 1964, during the filming of Girl Happy. I was listed on the MGM payroll as a secretary to the Colonel.
In June of 1970, the Colonel asked me and my brother, Ron, if we would like to come along on a series of Concert Tours that would be stating in September. I had recently began studying photography in college, and I took my camera on the tour and took some pictures. That was the beginning! I showed the Colonel some of the photos I had taken, and he liked them and began using them on posters, buttons, in photo books and finally, in 1972, on LP Covers -- the first being ELVIS AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN.
In the beginning, I only worked with the Elvis Presley Show on concert tours, because I was still finishing my degree and teaching credential in college. When I completed my teaching credential, I began working on a full-time basis for the Colonel. I was trained by Tom Diskin, and in a short time, I was made Tour Manager. I photographed Elvis on tours from 1970 through 1975. When Elvis put on a lot of weight in later 1975, I decided to stop taking his picture until he slimmed down a little. Unfortunately, that never happened; and that is the reason I don't have any photos of him after 1975. I left Colonel Parker and the Elvis Presley Show on May 1, 1977, because I was on the verge of total "burn-out."
3. Your upcoming (new) book "Elvis Shot by Bonja" is done together with an European fanclub (Elvis Unlimited, Denmark). We enjoy that fans all over the world work together. Can you tell us something about the background of this co-operation?
Regarding my collaboration with Henrik Knudsen on my book, I can honestly say it has been a work in process for the past few years. Actually, I met Henrik in Memphis in 1997, and we developed a mutual friendship. He joined my Photo Club at that time and always complimented me on my photos of Elvis -- so how could I help but like him? Those of us who know Henrik know what a really good and honest person he is -- and talented in what he does in the Elvis World. Henrik first spoke to me very seriously about doing a book with him only this past January.
I thought about it until May of this year and finally said that I would. I met with him in Denmark in mid-May and showed him the photos I had brought for the book.
Over the past few years, we have become very good friends; and, most recently, very close friends. Henrik has a wonderful family, and he and his beautiful wife made me and my son, Ronnie, feel like part of their family. We look forward to doing many more books.
4. More specific about the book: Does it have a theme, or is it "just" a collection of pictures?
Actually, the book is "just" a collection of pictures; however, I have written some text to go with a number of pictures to tell a little something about what was going on when I took a particular picture.
5. Have you any plans ready for future books?
Henrik and I have plans for future books; and, in fact, we have already begun work on book number two which will be officially announced in Memphis during Elvis Week. The second book will be one of candid photos by Sandi Miller and is tentatively entitled ELVIS: CANDID MOMENTS BY SANDI MILLER. I know you have interviewed Sandi in the past and know what a nice person she is. Her photographs have been used by so many people over the years, including Graceland and RCA -- and most of the time without any credit for her. Sandi also has over forty journals of fascinating stories which she kept during her many years as a very close friend of Elvis. Our book number two will really blow everyone's mind.
Sandi also has many great "on-stage" shots of Elvis which will be featured in a book next year. This second book for Henrik and me will be released in October of this year. While in Memphis for Elvis Week this year, we will have a small photo exhibit of several 16" X 20" enlargements of Sandi's work (40cm X 50cm).
6. Do you still have contact with other people from "The King's Court"?
I still have contact with Richard and Angela Hess from "The King's Court." We send e-mails back and forth and talk by telephone once in a while. When I was in new York a few years ago for the Guernsey Rock & Roll Auction, I stayed with Richie & Angela. They are still very good friends of mine and have been since I first met them during the early 1970's. This is another common example of how people become life-long friends through Elvis.
(ed.: although we meant the question more in general, the answer is indeed a good example, so we decided to keep it in this way.)
7. Okay, let's go to our default questions, what, in general, is your favorite Elvis stuff?
My favorite "Elvis stuff" will always be his photos and his music. I sincerely believe both will live forever.
8. Name your favourite Elvis song, movie, album.
My favorite Elvis song is "Young And Beautiful." My favorite Elvis movie is "King Creole." My favorite Elvis album is "Moody Blue."
Interestingly enough, I took all the photos for both the original album and for the remake CD. I like the original cover better. I just wish they had made the photo of Elvis a lot larger.
9. What is your favorite Elvis site?
My favorite and the most interesting Elvis site for me is: ElvisNews.com (ed.: This shows Ed is a nice guy). That is not to say that I don't think very highly of many of the fabulous Elvis sites that we are fortunate enough to have. There really are some very talented people who love Elvis and maintain fantastic sites.
10. How do you remember Elvis' passing?
The news of Elvis' passing was a "shock" to me, but not a surprise. I was home in Los Angeles, asleep, when I received a phone call from a friend of mine, Ron Johnson, who was en route to Portland, Maine, for the opening of the Tour that never was. He had stopped in Memphis to pick up a couple of Elvis' guys and then to continue on to Portland. I had taken Ron to the airport the night before and told him that he should not count on this "job" lasting forever, because we had both seen how Elvis was looking worse and worse as time went on. When I answered the telephone on the morning of August 16, 1977, Ron said to me; "How did you know?" I said; "Ron? How did I know what?" He replied; "Elvis is dead." Even today when I recall this event, the hair on my arms stands straight up and I can still remember, and almost feel that SHOCK all over again.
11. What is your favorite Elvis book written by somebody else?
I really don't have a "favorite" Elvis book, because I have never read any of the hundreds of books put out about Elvis. I usually get a review from my dear friend, Al Dvorin, who lets me know about all the mistakes made in the books as they come out. I have never had an i