As frequently happens with stars who achieve phenomenal success — in music, film or TV — at some point their fame levels off. Some are able to fight their way back to the top or, at the very least, remain relevant to changing audiences, while others fade away. For a time, it looked like Elvis Presley could have fallen into the latter category.
Throughout the 1960s, he had starred in a number of films that, as time went on, were increasingly poorly made, serving as little more than excuses to get butts into movie theatre seats so that fans would then purchase the soundtrack albums. Unfortunately, by the mid-’60s the quality of the films and the music itself was very much in a downward spiral. And with Elvis’ manager, Colonel Tom Parker, nonetheless deciding that the King would focus his energies on those films rather than touring, future prospects of his career didn’t seem too optimistic. Even with NBC wanting to air a TV special — sponsored by Singer sewing machines — Elvis was uninspired as the initial concept (proposed by the Colonel) would have him singing a number of Christmas songs (thus leading to what was imagined to be brisk sales for a soundtrack album). But enter producer/director Steve Binder, who is also the author of Comeback ’68/Elvis: The Story of the Elvis Special.
By 1968, Steve had directed a number of musical and variety specials that had elevated him to the top of his field, his credits including the concert film T.A.M.I. Show and, with NBC, Hullabaloo and an acclaimed Petula Clark special.
“I got a call from NBC and Bob Finkel, the executive producer, asking if I was available to do the Presley ’68 show,” recalls Steve in an exclusive interview. “The truth is, I wasn’t a Presley fan at the time. I mean, I was amused and curious about him, because of the wiggling of the hips and all of that, but I was a local California guy. I was into the Beach Boys, so I was more curious than I was interested. Besides, I’d already made a deal with the iconic fifties feature film producer Walter Wanger to direct his next motion picture.”
Unfortunately, during the development process, Wanger suffered a fatal heart attack and the project fell apart. In the aftermath, Steve checked with Finkel to see if the Elvis job was still available, but said he had one condition: he wanted to meet with Elvis alone. “I needed to be sure we were compatible,” he reflects, “and that we even wanted to work together.”
Before anything else, though, Binder had to meet with the Colonel.
Please scroll down for the rest of Steve’s reflections of Elvis and the 1968 comeback special.
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