It was announced as THE ultimate picture book for 2009. With over 1200 pictures, more than 350 full color pages and detailed, well-researched info on Elvis’s Las Vegas career this just had to be the best release in a long time. But was it worth the wait. And does “ELVIS – the King of Las Vegas” live up to the high expectations?
Let me begin by telling how much I have come to appreciate Pal Granlund (Born 1948, Oslo Norway) over the years. Pal is the proud president of the top notch fanclub ‘Flaming Star’(1966) in Norway and has produced several picture books before. His collection of personal Elvis items ranks among the best in Europe, but here’s what I’ve always admired: Pal is one of the very few fan club presidents who actually saw Elvis in person. Het met him, talked to him, attended shows, was invited to Graceland – back in 1970 for the first time! – and was even present at the now famous Madison Square Garden Press Conference. While most other European fan club presidents didn’t even bother to fly to the States, let alone bring a group – this man did it over and over again. Not surprisingly he is very well liked in both the Elvis community in Europe, as in Memphis. And as manager and owner of Star Media Entertainer, he knows that – just like Elvis – Quality Matters.
So if Pal announces a new book, we start counting the days until the final release. The only thing here, was the scale of the project. “The Las Vegas Years” form the bigger part of Elvis’s career, and can in no way be compared to other themed releases like Inside This Or That Movie-books, the One Show books of Joe Tunzi, the “Elvis ‘69”-book by Ken Sharp or even the Lake Tahoe-book of Sue McCasland. Elvis WAS Vegas, and Vegas was Elvis. He did his first shows in Sin City in April 1956, and closed his last engagement in December 1976. In between that span of 2 decades, Elvis got married in Vegas, filmed in Vegas, spent holidays in Vegas and became part of Vegas.
Although Pal Granlund has thousands and thousands of pictures in his immense collection, it would take him at least a couple of years to chronicle the pictures and do research on them. There may be hundreds of pictures of one show, but just one or two of another – depending on the kind of audience, and on how strict the hotel security handled things that particular afternoon or night. And that’s where Erik Lorentzen steps in, the man behind “The Norwegian Elvis Presley Fan Club” in the sixties. Lorentzen too is an avid fan, and was in the audience during all four of the Square Garden Shows in June 1972. Just like Pal, he was lucky enough to actually meet Elvis before a show. It wasn’t really that hard to do, if you ran an Elvis fanclub and came all the way from Europe. All you needed was some guts and the will to actually see Elvis. To this day, it still blows my mind that the old fan club presidents never even attempted to fly to America, although they had all the opportunities in the world. Perhaps that’s the difference between real fans like Pal Granlund and Erik Lorentzen, and the others merely stepped in the business because there was money to be made.
Be that as it may, the drive that Pal and Erik had in the sixties and seventies when they explored The US has never left them, and if you combine expertise, knowledge, an Elvis passion and quality, you get a team that can move the earth – or at least do a book on the entire Elvis/Vegas era.
“ELVIS – The King of Las Vegas” is more than anything else, a picture book. Hat’s off for the unbelievable research that must have gone into this project. The book starts off with a large marquee advertisement of the Freddy Martin & Band Show at the New Frontier Hotel on April 23rd, 1956… “with the extra added attraction Elvis Presley”, followed by the first known picture of Elvis in Las Vegas, April 1956 – leaning over a car that looks like an early fifties Cadillac. Other pictures of that very first visit are from the famous ‘swimming pool’ photo shoot, the live performance on stage and an evening out with then-girlfriend Dottie Harmony. There’s even a full page shot of Elvis at the Hoover Dam.
Although Elvis’s first show in Vegas was everything but a success, he would soon return, as pictures from May 1960, Januari 1961 and Januari 1962 prove. In that last picture, Elvis – just 27 years old - cuts a huge “Happy Birthday to Elvis” cake at the Sahara hotel – what would become his favorite hotel in the sixties.
That first chapter probably holds most surprises for even the best documented fans. We all know he played shows in 1956 and from 1969 on, but here are pictures of Elvis in Las Vegas in basically every year of his life after 1956: accepting the Best Actor of the Year Award in 1962, posing with Ann-Margaret in July 1963, meeting the Clara Ward Singers in February 1964… To complete this part of the Vegas years, Erik Lorentzen added a day-by day-list of all visits of Elvis to Nevada. Even in 1966, the year Elvis bought the Circle G Ranch down in Mississippi, he flew over for a weekend of Vegas fun, and stayed at the Sahara Hotel. Icing on the cake are news paper interviews published in the Las Vegas Sun.
Other chapter include “The Wedding” with all the known pictures, meeting Tom Jones, Visiting the Construction Site with Alex Shoofey, the 69 Press Conference (man, he looked like a God, didn’t he?) and Miscellaneous.
It can’t hardly be a surprise that the biggest part of the book is dedicated to Elvis’s live performances at the Hilton (or at first International) Hotel, which begins with a page filling gorgeous picture of Elvis on Opening Night, July 31st 1969. And again, all days leading up to that spectacular first show, have been documented with interview quotes by people who were actually there like Eddie Fadal. There are tons of stage pictures, posed pictures, backstage pictures, banner pictures, audience pictures, car pictures, rehearsal pictures – well, you get the point I guess. There’s even a color photo of Elvis at the Landmark Hotel.
We would probably go too much in detail if we would describe the various shows that are listed in this book, but the pictures and reviews range from July 31st 1969 to December 12th, 1976, showing the wide variation of stage outfits and ‘casual worn suits’.
Is the book “perfect”? No it’s not, but the few minors don’t weigh up to the overall result. Some of the pictures are blurry – but there simply aren’t better pictures of those particular shows – and we’ve seen one or two photos pop up twice, maybe the lay-out could have been a bit more ‘Vegas’ and I don’t quite understand the choice of the unusual and actionless picture of the back cover, but that’s about it.
In short, this heavy coffee table book exceeded all of my expectations. The book is limited to 2.000 copies. There is no doubt that it’ll be sold out in just a Matter of Time.