Which Face? Elvis Fans Wonder

January 17, 1992|By Mary Maushard

Putting Elvis Presley on a postage stamp is becoming a sticky situation, even among his fans.

While most of his admirers are thrilled that the first-class stamp will finally be issued next year, many are expressing concern about what it will look like and how it will be distributed. And detractors still are saying that Elvis' drug abuse and lifestyle in later years make him a poor candidate for postage prestige.

Elvis' fans -- and foes, too -- will be able to pick between two original renderings of The King, marking the first time in U.S XTC Postal Service history that a stamp's design is determined by popular vote.

Even that process is taking its licks.

"I do give them credit for letting the fans decide, but I'm not sure you will get the nicest picture," says Pat Carr of Rosedale, a longtime Elvis fan and president of the newly formed Elvis Love Forever Fan Club. "A lot of non-fans and people who don't know very much about Elvis [will vote].

"I don't know how much the Postal Service knows about Elvis," she adds.

Ms. Carr prefers a portrait of Elvis by John Robinette that hangs in the Memphis trauma center named for the star. "It's a picture of Elvis at the peak of his career. He never looked better," she says, describing the portrait as reminiscent of Elvis after his Las Vegas comeback show in 1969.

That likeness is not even in the running.

The pictures that are being considered were done by eight artists commissioned to deliver an Elvis portrait, says Jim Adams, spokesman for the Postal Service in Washington. "Ninety percent of the time," the Postal Service commissions the art for its stamps rather than using existing works, he adds.

Ann Meyers of Chase just wants the stamp to be "a nice picture," showing Elvis in his prime. Ms. Meyers has been president of the Elvis Fever Fan Club for a dozen years.

"I think it's a little silly to argue over what picture they are going to use," says Mike "El," who has been doing Elvis impersonations for 13 years. "When you start arguing over that, you are getting away from the principle of why he is on it."

Elvis did look better in the early '70s than just before his death in 1977, concedes Mike "El," who says he's been an Elvis fan since he was 5 when he first saw him -- "I literally got goose bumps."

Pat Geiger, the Vermont woman who has been leading the Elvis stamp campaign, doesn't have a clear preference. She, too, likes the picture that Ms. Carr is advocating.

Although Ms. Geiger has spent countless dollars and hours pushing for an Elvis stamp, she is a relative latecomer to his loyal legions. "I thought he was a cute kid," she says of the early Elvis. But on Dec. 3, 1968, during a television special, "Lord, I saw what that cute kid had grown into."

What concerns Ms. Geiger about the Elvis stamp is how it will be packaged and distributed. It will be one of five in a "Legends of American Music" series, the Postal Service announced last week.

"I don't like the idea of Elvis being part of a group because he is too unique," says Ms. Geiger, who threatened to ask her post office to tear the Elvis stamps out of the booklet, so she wouldn't have to buy the others.

That won't be necessary, says Mr. Adams of the Postal Service. Sheets of Elvis-only stamps will also be issued, he says.

There's no controversy at Graceland, Elvis' former home and now a monument to the Elvis mystique. "There's a lot of excitement and we're all thrilled," says Todd Morgan, communications director there.

The estate must approve the stamp because of licensing rights, but Mr. Morgan foresees no problem. "It will be a beautiful image; it will be flattering," he is confident.

Elvis' fans are confident, too, that he belongs on a stamp, despite criticism of the star's lifestyle.

"What a bunch of nonsense," says Ms. Carr. "Poor Elvis . . . that's really obnoxious and derogatory and degrading. They are holding him up to standards that no one else was being held up to."

Mike "El" says Elvis' musical, cultural and charitable contributions far outweigh his shortcomings. "Everybody in the world's got something they are not proud of."

Ms. Geiger agrees: "I don't know how they singled out Elvis . . . to be a saint."

If, however, anyone is thinking of canonization, Ms. Carr happily sings The King's praises: "He's an American icon . . . a rags-to-riches story based on talent. He tried to set a good example publicly; he didn't hurt anyone. He's known everywhere by his first name."

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