The year was 1956, and Elvis Presley was on the cusp of super-stardom. 

The then 21-year-old Presley, fresh off of the success of his first film “Love Me Tender,” was set to play at the Cleveland Arena – but the city’s three newspapers happened to all be on strike. Needing press coverage, Presley’s record label called around to local high school newspapers and connected with Lew Allen, a 17-year-old student at Heights High in Cleveland Heights.

“They welcomed me, gave me a press pass and said, come and join us” a now 79-year-old Allen remembers. 

In fact, Allen was the only photographer there that night – meaning, he had an all-access pass to “The King” himself. Allen’s camera captured a youthful Presley backstage at the Arena, enjoying affection from his fans, and on stage, performing his early hits.

“He was a nice guy, he was a sweetheart” says Allen of his chance encounter with rock royalty. 

After studying photography in college, Allen believed the images from that night were nothing special, and stored the negatives in his basement for 40 years. His nephew Bob Shatten found the rare photos and encouraged his uncle to share what are now lauded as some of the most important examples of early Rock and Roll photography. 

Allen’s photos have now been shown around the world, and an exhibition in Liverpool, England ultimately led to a book collaboration with Mike McCartney, brother of another music legend, Paul.

Today, Allen knows just how rare his experience with the legendary musician really was; “It was something that happened to me, by accident. And I loved it and it made a big difference in my life.”

You can purchase Lew Allen’s work at: