Elvis Incredible - Interview with Photographer Jean Cummings



Elvis Incredible



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about new photo book ‘Elvis Incredible'

To uncover a rare photo of Elvis is always a treasure, but to uncover two hundred photos (never before seen) almost fifty years later is absolutely incredible! When I had my first look at the photographs of Elvis, taken by Roy Cummings, I was amazed. How could these rare photos taken by a professional photographer in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s be filed away never to be seen? Photos from Tupelo ’56, The Wedding ’67, Las Vegas International Hotel opening ’69, Press Conference ’69, and most important, some candid photos…to die for. After researching further, I found that throughout the years a select number of Roy Cummings photos were seen again and again in the movie and fan magazines as well as newspapers around the world. Hundreds more were filed away never to be seen until now.

Nearly fifty years ago, Jean Cummings and her late husband, Roy, came to America from their native England, and embarked on a grand new adventure in their young lives. Roy had been an official photographer for the London Paladium Theater, and also worked on photo assignments for the London Radio Times. An opportunity arose for Roy to come to the United States to photograph acts getting ready to take their shows to Great Britain.

Jean was a photo-journalist, combining written word with the pictures Roy would capture. This led to choice assignments in the U.S. from fan magazines, motion picture magazines and newspapers.

In 1956 while living in New York, Roy received an assignment from the English Associated Newspaper. He would travel to Tupelo, Mississippi to take photographs of this hot, new, young singer who was driving all the girls wild. Elvis Presley gave a special concert in his hometown. “It was in Tupelo that Roy first met Elvis,” Jean explains “and took photographs, many of which were seen in magazines and newspapers worldwide.”

Jean explained, “It was through the relationship with the Colonel that Roy ended up photographing the wedding; the opening in Las Vegas, The Steve Allen Show, Press Conference and other special events in Elvis’ career.”

All of the photographs in this book were filed away and unpublished, and as Jean says, “I am so excited to share these photos with the fans for the first time.”

The following are excerpts taken from the interview with Darwin Lamm and Jean Cummings.

Elvis International: Over the years, several notable photographers did extensive work with Elvis, but you and your husband seem to be the only English photographers in that group. Tell us about your start in England.

Jean Cummings: We were both in London working for the London Paladium and Radio times before we came to America. When I first met my husband, he was the official photographer for the London Paladium. That was where a lot of American stars performed in the 50’s. You know, Johnnie Ray, Frankie Lane, Guy Mitchell, and Ernie Ford.

Elvis International: And then you came to the United States to expand your work for the Radio Times?

Jean Cummings: We did a lot of work for other newspapers as well. We then started getting assignments for fan magazines and motion picture magazines here in the U.S. working with people like Jane Mansfield, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Roy Rogers and countless others. All the fan magazines were very friendly and ran many of our photos.
Elvis International: How did you get your first assignment to photograph Elvis?

Jean Cummings: When we became aware of Elvis we were in New York. I was doing the writing and Roy was doing the photos. That was in 1956. Elvis was appearing in Tupelo, his hometown, and Roy was assigned to cover the event for the English Associated Newspapers.

Elvis International: What kind of impression did Elvis make on your husband?

Jean Cummings: Roy was very impressed with Elvis and thought he was very talented and a real gentleman. He also felt he had a lot of charisma. Roy also met the Colonel in 1956 and he would continue to send us Christmas cards thereafter.

Elvis International: Where else did Roy take pictures of Elvis in 1956?

Jean Cummings: In New York when he was on the Steve Allen Show. Those candid pictures were from the dressing room at the Steve Allen Show.

Elvis International: Elvis fans can’t seem to get enough new pictures of The King, and they’ll love Roy’s photographs from 1956. Are there any of his first pictures of Elvis that have been lost over the years?

Jean Cummings: Yes, so many of the photos that went to the fan magazines were not returned. Back then you didn’t think of making copies because they were supposed to return them. They should’ve given the photos back to the photographers, because it wasn’t their copyright.

Elvis International: Your next set of photos came from the wedding of Elvis and Priscilla in 1967. How did Roy happen to be at the wedding?

Jean Cummings: The Colonel and Roy kept in touch from 1956 on, and that was how Roy ended up at the wedding.

Elvis International: Two years later, Elvis returned to the stage after an eight year absence. This time, you were with Roy when he covered Elvis’ opening at the International Hotel (known as the Las Vegas Hilton.)

Jean Cummings: Yes, we were invited to the opening in Las Vegas, and it was amazing. We met the Colonel in the lobby, and that’s when he gave me a stuffed hound dog. The lobby was like a big circus, and the Colonel seemed like the ringmaster. That’s when I met Elvis for the first time. It was backstage, and I remember there were so many people.

Elvis International: Was it nice to see Elvis back in the limelight again?

Jean Cummings: Yes, it was almost like he had disappeared, as far as I could remember. There hadn’t been much going on with Elvis. I guess that was when he was doing movies, but everyone was really excited that Elvis was back doing concerts. I remember he had a whole floor in the hotel, and he was so guarded you couldn’t even get into the elevator.


Elvis International: The tickets to these concerts were extremely hot items. Were they expensive?

Jean Cummings: The Vegas shows at that time were charging about $10 for a show and dinner. They were charging $25 for Elvis performances, which was really expensive. Everyone said, “Do they think they’ll get $25?” You got dinner and Elvis! That was a deal, and that place was packed.

Elvis International: Roy was also taking photographs at the famous press conference Elvis gave in Las Vegas following the performance.

Jean Cummings: Yes. At the the press conference, Elvis remembered Roy from Tupelo. They had a long chat. He seemed so relieved that he got such a wonderful reception opening night. After that, we were invited back to every appearance at the International Hotel.

Elvis International: The fans will love these photos of Elvis from the press conference. They are truly incredible. How did he look to you in person?

Jean Cummings: He was absolutely gorgeous with his black hair. He was wearing a black suit with a pinkish, black and white scarf.

Elvis International: Do you consider yourself an Elvis fan?

Jean Cummings: Oh, yes. I was a fan after I saw him in Vegas. I thought that was terrific. It was the first time I had ever seen him in person. Before that, I had just seen him on some of the television shows.

Elvis International: Any memories of Elvis in Las Vegas?

Jean Cummings: One time in Las Vegas we were there, and Don Rickles was performing in the lounge. Elvis and his whole entourage walked through, and Don stopped the show when he saw Elvis. They were friends, and I remember Elvis gave him his gold watch, which was worth I don’t know how many thousands. We didn’t have a camera with us unfortunately. Elvis left the stage and watched the rest of the show.

Elvis International: You mentioned Sinatra and Dean Martin. What other stars did you and Roy photograph?

Jean Cummings: Assignments over the years included Goldie Hawn, Raquel Welch, William Shatner. We took a lot of pictures of Jayne Mansfield, who was very popular but never made it like Marilyn Monroe. I can’t tell you how many photographs we took of people that never amounted to anything. However, I shot Leonardo Di Caprio in the foreign press office when he was 15. Who would have ever thought? He never really became a star until The Titanic.

Elvis International: So you continue to work.

Jean Cummings: Yes, I’m a member of the Hollywood Foreign Press. I’ve been: Vice President, Executive Secretary, a member of the Board, Chairman of the Board. Now I just basically work on the Golden Globe Awards for a couple of months.

Elvis International: On a more personal note, what kind of person did you find Elvis to be?

Jean Cummings: Elvis was loyal to everyone. He was that kind of person, and he gave everyone gifts. I don’t think Elvis ever said anything nasty about anyone. He was always very polite, open and answered questions.

Elvis International: Jean, thank you for sharing your time
and thoughts with us and all the Elvis fans.

Jean Cummings: It was my pleasure. I hope everyone enjoys the photographs.