'I kissed the King:' Mystery woman reflects on famous Elvis photo

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Mystery Woman Reflects on Famous Elvis Presley Photos

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) -- It was the smooch seen around the world. Sixty years ago this summer, Elvis Presley and a young woman were captured on film kissing in a Richmond hallway.

For decades, Barbara Gray, the woman in the picture, went unidentified, but now she is reflecting on kissing The King.

Barbara's brush with Elvis Presley began with a dare.

In June of 1956, Barbara's friends convince her to call Elvis in his hotel room at the Francis Marion Hotel in Charleston. Elvis had just performed in South Carolina before 4,000 screaming fans.

"I didn't really know him or know what he was about," said Barbara. "The operator answered and I said 'Elvis Presley's room please.'"

Barbara said the 21-year-old singer chatted with her for at least an hour. A curious Elvis invited Barbara to his next concert in Virginia. Two days later the pair would meet at the diner in the Hotel Jefferson.

"He just reached out and hugged me," said Barbara. "I didn't know what to say. It was like I was numb."

From her home in South Carolina, the 80-year-old remembers seeing the sultry singer for the first time at The Hotel Jefferson in Richmond.

"Elvis turned around and I almost fainted. He was absolutely gorgeous," said Barbara. "I just melted."

Click below for the famous photos and Barbara today:

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Woman kissing Elvis in mysterious photo comes forward
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Barbara and Elvis flirted over lunch hours before his two concerts at The Mosque.

In a cab ride to the auditorium Barbara says, "He played with me the whole way and it is only three blocks!" At the Mosque Theatre Barbara said Elvis took her out to the hallway just a few feet from the stage where thousands of his fans were waiting. Barbara said the King moved in to canoodle.

"I said no I'm not. He said, 'Yes you are,'" said Barbara. "And he was just quick enough to just lean forward and stick his tongue out and that is how quick it happened."

The seminal moment was captured in a dimly lit hallway at Richmond's Mosque Theatre where not much has changed in the hallway. A series of legendary images show young lovers locked in an embrace.

"Oh yeah. I just laughed at it. I thought it was silly," said Barbara.

In the photo called "The Kiss" Elvis touches tongues with the shapely 20 year-old known then as Bobbi Owens. Critics call it one of the most iconic and erotic photographs in American history.

"Right of the bat he started to embrace me and hug me and said kiss me and I said 'no'," said Barbara. "At least he got a kiss of some kind."

Days after the photos were taken on June 30th, 1956 Elvis would rocket to fame after appearing on national television. Barbara would fade into obscurity.

"We were both drawn to each other because he wasn't going to let me go," said Barbara.

The storied snapshots were the work of free-lance photographer Al Wertheimer hired by RCA to capture Elvis' every move.

"I didn't even notice him and neither did Elvis," said Barbara.

In a 2011 interview, the late-photographer described how he nearly missed The Kiss.

"I come down this staircase and find these two people down this narrow hallway and its Elvis and the girl. And I say to myself, 'Hmmm. I have got to get closer,'" he said.

Following the concert Elvis wanted Barbara to stay with him. Presley would invite Barbara to join him in New York City.

"He was taking me to the train station with him," said Barbara. "I told him that I had a boyfriend that I was going to see."

Barbara turned down the offer and walked out on Elvis.

"I never saw him again," she said.

Since Elvis' death in 1977 the grainy kiss frozen in black and white has tantalized legions of fans.

"Everybody wanted to know who that (girl) was. And nobody knew who that was," said Barbara.

Barbara knew. She wanted to kiss and tell, but said photographer Al Wertheimer rebuffed her claims.

"He said no. That couldn't be me," she said.

Over the years, countless women claimed to be the secret woman in Barbara's high heels that unforgettable day.

RELATED: See more photos of Elvis' life

43 PHOTOS
Elvis through the years
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Elvis through the years
HAWAII - MARCH 1977: Rock and roll singer Elvis Presley with his girlfriend Ginger Alden in March of 1977 in Hawaii. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
ELVIS PRESLEY WEDDING: ... to Priscilla Beaulieu, in Las Vegas, Nevada, on May 01, 1967. (AP-Photo)
The King would have been 80 years old on Friday. January 7th marks what would have been Elvis Presley 's 80th birthday. To commemorate the event, Legacy Recordings have planned a yearlong celebration of Presley's music for modern-day Elvis fans. First up, the singer's The Complete '60s Albums Collection Volumbe One has been released onto iTunes. The set highlights all the LPs Presley recorded between 1960 and 1965 with newly mastered sound for the digital medium.
Rock'n'Roll-Saenger Elvis Presley auf einem undatierten Bild vor dem Schild seines Battaillons in Friedberg, wo er 18 Monate - von 1958 bis 1960 - als Soldat stationiert war. Am 21. November 2004 wird im 'Haus der Geschichte' in Bonn eine Ausstellung "Elvis in Deutschland" eroeffnet. (AP Photo)
Lisa Marie Presley poses for her first picture, safe in the lap of her mother, Priscilla, on February 5, 1968, while proud father, Elvis Presley, beams his approval. The baby is the first child for Elvis and his wife, the former Priscilla Beaulieu. (AP Photo/Perry Aycock)
1967 And the Years That Followed
Elvis Presley during winter shield exercise in Bavaria. (03/01/1960)(AP Photo)
Singer Elvis Presley gestures during a press conference inside his private railroad car at Los Angeles Union Station, California, United States as he arrived on April 20, 1960 to make a movie. (AP Photo/HPM)
Elvis Presley and actress Ann-Margret shown in a publicity photo for the 1964 film, "Viva Las Vegas". (AP Photo)
South African dancer and actress Juliet Prowse has been in America only 18 months, but already she’s beguiled both Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. Here she plays opposite Presley in “G.I. Blues” in Hollywood, Los Angeles on July 6, 1960. Scenes like this have developed into dates, which Juliet successfully has managed to juggle between dates with Sinatra. (AP Photo)
Elvis Presley | January 8, 1935 - August 16, 1977
Elvis Presley pereparing his hair for forthcoming entry into the Army. (1956) (AP Photo)
Elvis Presley shown as a Hollywood star kidnapped in the Middle East in the 1965 film, "Harem Scarem". (AP Photo)
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To GO WITH AFP STORY by Natalie Huet, USA-auction-people-curious Singer Elvis Presley's I.D. bracelet, given to the American rock star in 1963, is on display on September 24, 2010 in New York. The bracelet, a 14k gold band with the name 'Elvis' spelled out in 48 diamonds, was worn daily by Presley before he gave it to his future fiancée, Ginger Alden in 1976, reportedly telling her 'Now everyone will know you belong to me.' The bracelet, estimated at nearly 500,000 USD, will be on sale at Guernsey's Iconic Auction, September 24, 2010 in New York, an auction featuring a wide-ranging collection of items related to historical events and celebrities. AFP PHOTO/NATALIE HUET (Photo credit should read Natalie Huet/AFP/Getty Images)
Elvis Presley poses with wife Priscilla and daughter Lisa Marie, in a room at Baptist hospital in Memphis, Tenn., February 05, 1968. (AP Photo)
Elvis and Priscilla Presley cut their wedding cake after exchanging nuptials in the Aladdin Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas in this 1967 photo. (AP Photo/Las Vegas News Bureau)
Fair Exhibit Youth Talent
Elvis Presley, right, and Horace Logan, left, pose with disc jockey Ed Hamilton backstage at the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport, La., in an undated photo. In October 1954 Logan introduced the teen-age Elvis Presley to America by saying "Ladies and gentlemen, you've never heard of this young man before, but one day you'll be able to tell your children and grandchildren you heard musical history made tonight." (AP Photo/Louisiana Hayride)
Elvis Presley is shown performing in this undated photo at an unknown location. (AP Photo)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 21: An autographed pair of Elvis Presley's original blue suede shoes and a photo of him autographing them on auction at Gotta Have It! store on March 21, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
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An Elvis Presley red velour pullover is seen during the preview day of the 'Icons and Idols' and 'property from the life and career of Johnny Cash' auctions at Julien's Auctions in Beverly Hills, California on November 19. 2010. The auctions will be held in Beverly Hills next December 3 and 4. AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYS (Photo credit should read GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)
Elvis Presley items are seen during the preview day of the 'Icons and Idols' and 'property from the life and career of Johnny Cash' auctions at Julien's Auctions in Beverly Hills, California on November 19. 2010. The auctions will be held in Beverly Hills next December 3 and 4. AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYS (Photo credit should read GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)
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Singer Elvis Presley in an undated photo. (AP Photo)
The grave of Elvis Presley at Graceland, Presley's home in Memphis, Tenn., is seen on Friday, Jan. 8, 2010, Presley's 75th birthday. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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Displayed on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2006, in Beverly Hills, Calif., are two original ticket stubs to the Ed Sullivan show when Elvis Presley appeared in 1956. The stubs are with the original ticket folder. They're expected to auction for $25,000. (AP Photo/Ric Francis)
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Elvis Presley is seen as a honky-tonk performer on the midway in this photo from the 1964 MGM film "Roustabout". (AP Photo)
The file photo from January 21, 1960 shows Elvis Presley in a US Army uniform during his military service in Bad Nauheim, Germany. (AP Photo) ---- Unser Archivfoto vom 21. Jan. 1960 zeigt Elvis Presley in Bad Nauheim, wo er als Soldat der USA-Armee stationiert war. (AP Photo)
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A publicity photo from the 1957 film, "Jailhouse Rock", in which Elvis Presley plays a convict who becomes a rock star. (AP Photo)
Elvis Presley is seen relaxing in 1958. (AP Photo)
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Elvis Presley performs in 1971 at an unknown location. (AP Photo)
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"People always thought it was a tall girl. Nobody realized that I was 4'11''," said Barbara.

Harry Kollatz, Jr. senior writer for Richmond Magazine wrote about Elvis' 1956 visit to the River City and even tried discovering who the mystery girl was in the photo.

"It remained a mystery and Wertheimer liked it that way," said Kollatz. "It is a guy and girl in a stairwell and he happens to be Elvis Presley."

Kollatz finds it ironic that one of the most famous performances in Richmond unfolded off stage.

"In terms of popular cultural history it is a landmark photograph," he said. "There was only one Elvis and only one moment and we got it. That is something we can be proud of."

Kollatz said the image is dripping with mystique.

"When people see that photograph I don't think they're thinking about her. They're thinking about, 'What if that is me,'" he explained.

Throughout the decades Barbara could not escape the smooch.

"Well, I just think it is funny. It is very popular all over the world," she said. "It's on everything. It is not just lunch boxes. It's on jewelry, watches, clocks."

Barbara never sought fame and fortune. The happily-married real estate manager just yearned for recognition as the mystery woman in the photo with Elvis. In 2011, Barbara's veil of anonymity was lifted in a Vanity Fair article.

"He was a wonderful boy," said Barbara.

Eventually Al Wertheimer and Barbara became friends. The photographer even shared some images.

"I don't feel 60. I don't feel 80. I still feel young," Barbara says.

Barbara reflected on her intimate moment with Elvis with a tinge of regret.

"I wish he didn't let me go," said Barbara. Barbara says Elvis in her mind will forever be 21.

"I'm so sorry he is gone but I'm happy where he went to. He is in heaven," she said.

It all started sixty years ago, when the 20-year-old accepted a dare.

"It was a very comfortable day. You know? It was like I knew him all my life," said Barbara.

All of these years later Barbara Gray relishes the day she was the King's Queen.

"I thought, my God, why didn't I go with him," said Barbara. "It was wonderful and I'm sure every girl in the world wanted to be me."

Barbara Gray who was born in Charleston does have roots in Richmond. Her mother's family was from the Lakeside area of Henrico County. She said she enjoys meeting fellow Elvis fans and signing autographs of the famous photo of her kissing Elvis Presley.

If you would like to contact her about obtaining an autographed photo you can reach Barbara Gray at Bobbisgray@yahoo.com.

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