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Family Album, A Labor Of Love

By Michael LollarDec 12, 2007

Photographic 'Family Album' was 'labor of love' for Presley close friend George Klein. Elvis Presley and George Klein met in a music class at Humes High School in 1948, and, until now, Klein has resisted urgings to write a book about the rock and roller who took time out to be best man at his wedding. Klein's detailed account of his long friendship with Elvis will be released in the summer as "Elvis: My Best Man," but he puts a toe in the literary world with the new "Elvis Presley: The Family Album," now in bookstores.

The 143-page book (Little Brown & Co.) hits stores as a companion title to "Frank Sinatra: The Family Album," each a photographic essay with captions. Klein provided the captions for the Elvis album, a chronological look at Elvis' life from infancy in Tupelo, Miss., to high school in Memphis to Hollywood and the Oval Office during Elvis' famous summit with President Richard Nixon. Klein says the photo book was initiated by Little Brown & Co., which contacted Graceland. "Graceland called me and asked if I would be editor. I personally picked every photograph in the book with an archivist at Graceland. "Some of the photographs brought a tear to my eye. Some brought back great memories. The book was a labor of love. It was memorable, nostalgic and sentimental all at the same time."

Fellow Memphis Mafia member Jerry Schilling provides a brief forward, helping set a tone for the Elvis photo essay: "Elvis' life has become the stuff of legend, and he is sometimes remembered more as a larger-than-life image than as a real person. But as these amazing photographs make clear again and again, Elvis, for all his accomplishments, was a very real, very talented human being, who came from a very real place and lived through real, fascinating times."

Early in the book, a sixth-grade class picture shows Elvis as the only student in his class wearing a pair of bib overalls. Klein's behind-the-scenes take: "Elvis hated blue jeans, hated overalls, and at one point he just said he didn't want to wear them anymore. So this (the class picture) could have been the beginning of the end of Elvis and overalls." As the book progresses, Elvis' circle of friends grows more urbane. In 1953, he's photographed in a cowboy outfit with cousin Gene Smith at the Mid-South Fair.

Only two years later, he's onstage and on his way to becoming the world's first rock star. The photographs show a more confident, self-assured Elvis as he moved from his early rock career to the Army to Hollywood, says Klein. "He became more polished, more professional, more astute. He educated himself. He had the equivalent of a college degree, he read so much. When you're with Richard Nixon one minute and a movie director the next minute, you're pretty polished. You couldn't put anything over on Elvis."

Klein, 72, says he waited so long to enter the Elvis literary fray because of the glut of Elvis books, including tell-all books by former Memphis Mafia members. "There are so many books. I kept holding off and holding off. I decided that at my age, I had better go ahead. If I'm going to do it I'd better do it now." For his "Best Man" book, Klein says he talked to golfer John Daly, who set him up with his literary agent. He then used the same ghost writer, Chuck Crisafulli, who wrote Schilling's book, "Me And a Guy Named Elvis: My Lifelong Friendship with Elvis Presley."

After the books that told the story of Elvis' drug use and marriage troubles, Klein says he wanted to distance himself. "I wanted the air to sort of clear. I'm not going to say anything negative about Elvis." Look for that same positive theme in "Family Album." Klein says his own favorite among 150 photographs in the book is of him with Elvis during a visit by Elvis to WMC Radio, where Klein was a disk jockey. "It's a real rock and roll picture. We've got our collars turned up and our hair greased back. And I've never seen another disk jockey in the world with a picture of Elvis like that."

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