It was one of the world's biggest stages with sold-out audiences that included John Lennon, George Harrison, Bob Dylan and David Bowie. They were there to see a nervous Elvis Presley. Harrison came backstage in blue jeans and a denim shirt to wish him well. In his dressing room, Elvis "paced like a tiger," says "Memphis Mafia" member Jerry Schilling.
The June 1972 concert at Madison Square Garden was Elvis' first at a New York arena. All but one official photo of the event was lost for 36 years before they were found for a "Great Moments in New York" billboard campaign.
Twenty of the "Lost Photos" of Elvis in a white jumpsuit and cape now are mounted in an exhibition opening Friday at the Sincerely Elvis Museum in Graceland Plaza.
"The only other time I ever had a similar feeling was when I photographed the pope," says George Kalinsky, official photographer for Madison Square Garden. Kalinsky, who will be in Memphis for the opening, visited Elvis' dressing room. He was too nervous to shoot anything before Elvis went onstage. "I wanted to take pictures, but I certainly wasn't going to ask him. I didn't want to do anything that was going to upset anybody."
Elvis already seemed "visibly concerned." It was a concern Schilling describes as "a good positive nervousness, the kind that keeps people on their toes." Elvis, who always paced before going onstage, arrived as late as possible. "He never liked to get to a show more than 10 minutes before show time."
For him, the Garden would become routine. The arena had to add a concert, turning Elvis' appearance into a history-making four sold-out concerts.
For Kalinsky, it confirmed that Elvis was the most charismatic performer to hit the stage. The Garden's official photographer for 40 years, he has shot everyone from Janis Joplin to Pope John Paul II. The billboard campaign put Elvis on a 36-by-76-foot Times Square billboard towering above iconic Kalinsky photos of Frank Sinatra and Jimi Hendrix.
Kalinsky said the 1972 photo "has to be right up there in terms of the great shots" he has made.
In those 40 years, Kalinsky says only Elvis, Sinatra and Tony Bennett could make the fans cry. "But I think it's Elvis who still has more fans than any other performer, dead or alive."
Lost photos of Elvis:
When: Opens at 10 a.m. Friday and runs through Labor Day
Where: Sincerely Elvis Museum, Graceland Plaza