A little more than 54 years ago Elvis Presley performed at Memorial Coliseum. You’d probably have to be in your mid-60s to even remember the concert, and if you actually attended the show you’re probably at least 70 today. That’s a long time ago, so let’s just say the King’s 1957 local concert hasn’t been a topic of daily conversation for some time.
Until last week. It seems that Ellenberger Brothers Auctions, which is having a big auction of model trains Sept. 10, stumbled across an odd item that was tossed into the sale at the last minute, almost as an afterthought. The item had nothing to do with trains. It was nothing more than a tin can, actually one of those flat containers used to hold old film reels. On the cover was a little piece of tape with the words “Elvis 1957 Colesium.” Yes, they spelled “coliseum” wrong, but who cares?
Inside was a surprise that could get some Elvis aficionados all shook up: An entire reel of film from that concert. The film, Glenn Ellenberger says, was shot by the father-in-law of the woman who is having the auction. He was an avid photographer and regularly made movies in that period to document local landmark events. No one is sure, but the reel, which is full, might be a film of the entire concert, which only lasted about half an hour, or a good part of it, and how much it could be worth is anybody’s guess. Just to make sure there is no misunderstanding, Ellenberger consulted with other members of the auction company and quickly pulled the film from the sale, deciding a model railroad auction wasn’t the place for what could be a rare piece of early Elvis footage.
Some type of sale will take place later, possibly an online auction. But first, Ellenberger has to find out exactly what he has. I spoke to Cory Cooper, an Elvis expert from Reno, Nev., and he acknowledges it is difficult to even guess what something like this might be worth. It depends on many things: What kind of condition is it in? Does it have sound? How much footage is there? Can you prove that the film was taken in Fort Wayne? How much other film is available from that concert? “It could potentially be a fantastic find,” Cooper said. “Even if it’s not unique, it’s Elvis.”
Jay Gordon, another Elvis expert from Massachusetts, said footage of Elvis from the 1950s is quite rare. Elvis’ managers didn’t bother to record his shows until the 1970s, so there is footage of only a handful of his concerts from the 1950s, which is why you see the same film over and over again in Elvis documentaries. If you know anything about Elvis memorabilia, you know that “it’s Elvis” is enough to cause a buzz. For example, in 1969, Elvis started giving concerts at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas. Cooper said those early concerts weren’t recorded either, but the shows did come with dinner, and menus with Elvis’ picture on them were placed on all the tables. Of course it didn’t occur to many people to save the old menus, but if you did, one of them in good condition can bring $1,200 to $1,500 today, Cooper said. So one can imagine what a film of an entire concert might be worth. For now, Ellenberger – who is keeping the film in a bank vault since he found it late last week – is scrambling around, trying to find experts who can evaluate the quality of the film, whether it has sound and whether there is any other film from that show. The film is not brittle and appears to be in good condition with no deterioration of the images, but then, I’m not a film expert. Gordon cautioned against getting too excited until everything is known about the tape. But Cooper advised, in good condition, “The sky is the limit on what a collector would give.”