Stamp of Approval Starting today, Americans get to vote on Elvis image


It starts today, the big write-in campaign for Americans to decide how Elvis Presley should look on a 1993 U.S. postage stamp, a dream come true for most of his fans.

But not for Pat Carr.

She sees the vote -- the privilege of a nation to choose between two images of Elvis commissioned by the U.S. Postal Service -- as yet another opportunity for unbelievers to ridicule the King.

To her, pitting the Elvis of "Hound Dog" against the Elvis of "Suspicious Minds" is the latest act in a dishonorable circus staged at her hero's expense since the singer's death in 1977.

And she is very angry.

"I can't emphasize enough how this whole vote business offends me, how it annoys me, how this makes me so upset," said Ms. Carr, a lifelong Baltimore fan and past president of the recently disbanded "Welcome to Our Elvis World" fan club.

"This business of young Elvis or old Elvis, skinny Elvis or fat Elvis -- and the way the media rips into him is inexcusable. . . . It doesn't matter how many billions of records he's sold or how many people he's made happy," she said.

By the start of business today the post office was ready for the campaign with 5 million ballots at mail stations nationwide, almost 5 million more stitched into the pages of the People magazine that hits newstands today, and the promise to accept any vote that arrives postmarked by midnight April 24.

Ms. Carr can live with either sketch. "I don't really care which stamp they pick," she said.

But she claims that true fans, those who consider Elvis a personal friend or a member of their family, would have been much happier if the postal service had considered the wishes of Pat Geiger, the 72-year-old Vermont woman who initiated non-stop, nationwide lobbying for the Elvis stamp nine years ago.

Ms. Geiger prefers the oil portrait of Elvis that hangs in the lobby of the Elvis Presley Memorial Shock Trauma Center in Memphis.

The mere consideration of Elvis is postal service history: The first rock and roll stamp, the first stamp put to a public vote, and the first stamp honoring Elvis in his own backyard, years after foreign governments like Germany and Tanzania have.

"I'd vote 10,000 times if I could," said Jean J. Lawson, a 59-year-old Baltimore waitress and devoted fan. "I kind of like the older Elvis better, it's like it's got more character. But really, I'd like it if all of them were printed. That would be my choice."

The preference of Garrett County artist Mark Stutzman was young Elvis, the one who changed the world in 1955.

He's the guy who was given his choice of drawing the young Elvis or the older Elvis and didn't have to think twice about it, leaving the rendering of Elvis, circa Vegas 1973, to Minnesota illustrator John C. Berkey.

Mr. Stutzman can't imagine "that there's going to be someone bigger" in his lifetime than the King of Rock and Roll and said he will vote "more than once if I can" to ensure that his version of Elvis Presley is the one the country licks next year.

"I was trying to portray him the way I think of Elvis -- definitely a sex symbol, in an alluring pose," said Mr. Stutzman. "I wanted to show his eyes strongly and the way he curled his lip when he was singing, and I wanted to show the lock of hair that always fell on his forehead."

An original sketch by Mr. Stutzman was sent back for more work when a woman in Washington the artist referred to as "the Postal Service authenticator" judged the microphone imprecise and the blue of Presley's eyes too searing.

"They wanted me to soften the blue, I made it a little more intense, they said his eyes were more like a gray blue," he said. "But in the photo reference I used, his eyes were all different colors. The authenticator had to call people who knew him to find out what the color was."

To capture the early Elvis is to capsulize an era and Mr. Stutzman pursued it "even down to the coloration. I went with the hot pink and the yellow suit; I thought those were indicative."

He said: "I wanted to show as much of a performance shot as possible, clutching the microphone, the way he leaned over to play to his audiences so well. But it had to be without looking strained because he was always so cool."

So cool.

Virginia Baker knows it.

"I'm used to the young Elvis but as I become 70, I gotta have the older Elvis, too. Here's a guy that can look you right in the eye, my kind of man!" said Miss Baker, who runs Baltimore's annual Elvis Day celebration on the anniversary of the singer's Aug. 16 death. "I enjoy his music like I did in the beginning. The tunes made you happy and they're permanent."

A promoter worthy of Barnum and chief of the city's "Adventures In Fun" programs, Miss Baker has asked the post office to send her cardboard blow-ups of the two stamps to use in this year's Elvis celebration at the foot of Broadway.

She hasn't heard back yet.

Up the road from Miss Baker's office in the Broadway Recreation Pier is a little saloon at the corner of Fleet and Port streets, a veritable Graceland on the Patapsco known as Miss Bonnie's Elvis Shrine.

There, proprietor Lavonda "Bonnie" Hunt can stand behind the bar and look in any direction to see her hero. She likes to say: "Wherever I turn, he's always looking at me."

And she is convinced her bar has "better pictures" than either stamp.

But Miss Baker doesn't understand the fuss.

"What the heck," she says. "As long as we got Elvis, we don't care."

If you want to vote . . .

You can vote for the Elvis stamp of your choice today through midnight April 24.

Ballots are available at post offices nationwide and in the April 13 issue of People magazine. Votes will also be accepted by letter and postcard. You may vote as many times as you like.

Ballots should be mailed to Elvis Poll, P.O. Box Elvis, Memphis, Tenn., 38101-1001.

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