It all began with a simple dare 60 years ago. Now 80, Barbara Gray of South Carolina, then 20, accepted her friends' challenge to phone the Francis Marion Hotel where Elvis Presley was staying in June of 1956 after he performed a concert in Charleston. So she did. What happened next has been a mystery for decades.
A Fateful Phone Call
Elvis, 21, hadn't yet hit major stardom, but was on his way. When Barbara--then known as Bobbi Owens--called the hotel and asked to be patched through to Elvis Presley's room, she didn't imagine her call would go through or that The King would even answer. But Barbara spent more than hour on the phone, chatting with Elvis before he invited her to visit him in person at his next concert stop in Virginia.
The two flirted during that lunch before he performed two concerts at The Mosque in town. They shared a cab to the auditorium where Elvis gently teased her the short three blocks to their destination. Barbara couldn't help but feel incredibly special with the attention from The King.
It was there at the concert hall where that fateful photo was snapped by freelance photographer Al Wertheimer, who was hired by RCA to shadow Elvis. Neither one realized he was there. They were so wrapped up in each other, in the moment. Elvis led Barbara to a secluded back hallway a few feet behind the stage where fans were outside waiting. The King slid in for a kiss, but she rebuffed him. "I said, 'No, I'm not. He said, ‘Yes you are.'"
Elvis was just quick enough to just lean forward and stick his tongue out and "that is how quick it happened," Barbara said. Several shots were snapped of the two in the hallway, sharing an intimate moment. The one photo below was called "The Kiss." It has been called one of the most iconic and erotic photographs in American history.
After the concert, Elvis tried to convince the brazen Bobbi Owens, now Barbara, to accompany him to New York City for his next concert stop. Instead of going to the train station with him, she declined and walked away. It's something she regrets to this day.
Just a few days after "The Kiss" had been snapped and Elvis asked her to go along with him, he shot to fame after appearing on national television. To this day, Barbara wonders if she should've gone with him instead of walking away. She'll never know just how different her life might have been.
After Elvis' death in 1977, iconic photos such as "The Kiss" have been floating around, as have the rumors as to who the mystery woman is in the photos. Even though Barbara wanted to share her story, the photographer denied all women's claims that it was them in the photo, a photo that has been widely used on products around the world.
Barbara went on and lived her life, got married, became a business professional. Her secret was spilled in 2011, though, in a Vanity Fair article. She even was given several memorable photos from Al Wertheimer, which she has framed and displayed at her home. Still today, Barbara ponders her decision to walk away from Elvis.
"I thought my gosh, why didn't I go with him. It was wonderful and I'm sure every girl in the world wanted to be me."
Watch this interview with Barbara from WTVR and learn about their whirlwind day.
One Tiny Smooch, A Lifetime Of Memories
Barbara will never know just how different her life might have been had she left Virginia for New York City with Elvis. But for now, she has the memory of a kiss from The King. It was the day she felt like a queen.