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IMAGE OF GYRATING ELVIS FINALLY PAYS OFF

This is a tale about a young Buffalo News photographer, the King of Rock 'n' Roll, a hustling music manager and a forgotten picture that has become a symbol of an icon.

Today in Memphis, on a wall in Graceland, is a huge poster depicting Elvis Presley during a 1957 performance in Buffalo. That picture is labeled by Elvis Presley Enterprises as depicting "the artist of the century."

Forty-four years have passed since that April night in Memorial Auditorium but thanks to a photograph by Robert L. Smith, Elvis' moment in Buffalo may live forever.

It all began on April Fools' Day, 1957.

Smith was early in his long career of taking pictures for The News. A couple of policemen he had met invited him backstage to the Elvis concert and he brought his camera along.

"I wasn't an Elvis fan; I didn't know much about him, he was still new," Smith said.

His two sisters-in-law, Joan Januszkiewicz and Kathryn Bova, then in high school, were more enthused. "It was exciting to meet Elvis," Januszkiewicz said. "We got backstage and he kissed us. He was very polite."

While backstage, Smith took pictures of Elvis kissing the women and performing on stage. He had about nine shots left in his camera when he went out front to get some concert photos.

One of them was of Elvis gyrating in front of the microphone.

After the show, Smith went back to the darkroom and developed his negatives. As soon as he saw the one of Elvis, he sensed it was special.

"I knew immediately it was a great picture," Smith said. "Just the image; Elvis is so young and the way his legs and body are positioned. It captures what he was all about."

The photo ran in The Buffalo News. Smith then sent a copy to Col. Tom Parker, Elvis' manager.

"I never heard from him and I never heard anything about the picture again," Smith said. Parker was notorious for his hustling style and making money off Presley and anyone or anything connected to him.

Eventually, Smith became best known for his sports photographs.

He began covering Buffalo Bills home games in the team's first year in 1960 and still does so as the team's official photographer.

Smith, now 71, retired from The News six years ago and released a book of Bills' pictures called "A View Through the Lens of Robert L. Smith." After it was published, Smith began work on other projects and sorting through old negatives.

That's when Smith happened on the Elvis picture and made a poster of it, for his home, and to sell locally.

Earlier this year a friend came to visit and noticed the poster. He told Smith the same picture was on display at Graceland and also on merchandise sold there.

Smith, who had a copyright on the photo, traveled down to Graceland and sure enough, there was his picture of Elvis. It was also on all kinds of merchandise, from T-shirts to telephones. It is also used on credit cards, Christmas ornaments, coffee mugs and is on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. "My picture is everywhere," Smith said.

It didn't take long for him to alert Elvis Presley Enterprises that it was his picture. After months of negotiations, Smith agreed to a deal with EPE, giving them rights to the photo.

He won't say how much money was involved but Smith does say, "it wasn't millions."

"I wanted to be happy with the deal and I am," Smith said.

He is allowed to sell a poster of his picture at Graceland and thinks it will be a hot item next year, the 25th anniversary of Elvis' death.

e-mail: aviolanti@buffnews.com

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