“Reinventing Elvis”: How “The King” Almost Lost His Crown

On December 3, 1968, Elvis Presley rebounded from eight years of perfunctory Hollywood mediocrity and reclaimed his crown as the unmistakable King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

On the hour-long NBC special “Elvis,” taped in Burbank last June, a slim, black leather-clad Presley, 33, performed in a stripped-down, informal acoustic concert before a small studio audience. Shot with handheld cameras by director Steve Binder, it showed Presley at the peak of his powers as he gleefully sang and chatted with musicians including Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana — the guitarist and drummer who had backed Presley on most of his early hits they met with him again after many years.

“Elvis”, also known as “The ’68 Comeback Special”, was the forefather of “MTV Unplugged” – 20 years earlier.

It’s the subject of one new Paramount+ documentationReinventing Elvis: The ’68 Comeback takes viewers behind the scenes of the original NBC show through the eyes of 90-year-old Binder, who shares candid, emotional behind-the-scenes stories of working with Presley and his notorious family The hard-nosed, seedy manager Col. Tom Parker (referred to here as “The Villain”) who relegated Elvis to a string of ridiculously bad movies in the 1960s to keep the gravy train going.

Reinventing Elvis: The ’68 Comeback is produced by Spencer Proffer (“The Day The Music Died: The Story of Don McLean’s ‘American Pie'”) and directed by John Scheinfeld (“The United States vs. John Lennon”), with Binder and Bruce Gilmer as executive producers.

Elvis Presley in action during the NBC special.  He holds a microphone and wears a black leather outfit while singing.  Spectators can be seen in the background
Elvis in action during the special “The ’68 Comeback” on NBC.
Courtesy of the Everett Collection

Elvis Presley in a color photo during the NBC special.  Dressed all in blue, he's pounding out a rhythm on an acoustic guitar he's holding on one knee.
Elvis sets a beat during the NBC special, which included a (mainly acoustic) mini-concert where he performed many of his hits.
Everett Collection / Everett Collection

“Steve [Binder] “He was the only one Elvis would really listen to,” Proffer told The Post. “This is Steve’s documentary and Elvis is the vehicle that allowed us to tell Steve’s story [the ’68 special] and to stand up to Tom Parker,” said Proffer, who has known Binder since 1968. “Steve refused to be manipulated… [NBC] wanted him to be the guy to bring Elvis forward…and [‘The 68 Comeback Special’] is what he did on his terms and in his own way.”

Binder wrote the photo book Elvis ’68 Comeback: The Story Behind the Special, released last year. The Paramount+ documentary was a chance for him to “visually bring Elvis back to life,” Proffer said.

“Steve is the only living authority on the making of this special – he directed it, he produced it and it was his idea,” he said. “This is not a documentary about Elvis. This is a documentary about Elvis’ return from a place where Col. Parker ruined his career with the bad films he made after the army. Steve saw a side of Elvis, which he illuminated as part of the special by rotating handheld cameras around.

“This is Steve’s documentary and Elvis is the vehicle through which we were able to tell Steve’s story.”

Steve Binder in a recent photo from the Paramount+ documentary about the Elvis Comeback Special.  He has gray hair, is dressed all in black, and is gesturing with his right hand as if to say something.
Steve Binder, who directed Elvis in The ’68 Comeback Special, had Presley’s utmost respect.

Dutch-born, manipulative Parker (he wasn’t a colonel, might have been a felon, and was played by Tom Hanks in Baz Lurhmann’s 2022 film Elvis) envisioned the NBC show as a cheesy Christmas show in which Presley would sing a list of Christmas carols à la Perry Como.

But Binder had other ideas.

As viewers will see in Reinventing Elvis, this involved Presley getting together with Moore, Fontana, Charlie Hodge, Alan Fortas and Lance LeGault and inviting a small studio audience to their mini-concert, much to Parker’s chagrin (he tried to sabotage Binders). to plan).

“It was Steve who said that when he heard Elvis jamming backstage, he instinctively thought Elvis would be more comfortable around his friends,” Proffer said. “So he flew them in on his flimsy plane [network] Budget and put them around and Parker didn’t want that. So he took the tickets and washed them away and Steve went to [fast food place] Bob’s Big Boy and a local radio station and all the people you see [watching the concert] Were people recruited 12 hours before the shooting?”

Proffer said it’s easy to see why the “68 Comeback Special” still resonates 55 years later (Presley died on August 16, 1977 at the age of 42).

Shot of Elvis from the 1968 NBC special. He swings his hips while holding a microphone and singing.  His eyes are closed.
“The King” and his famous hip swing during the NBC special.
Courtesy of the Everett Collection

“It’s organic purity because Elvis was organic for who he was,” Proffer said. “He was a true rocker, a real mover and mover of music, both vocally and musically, and Steve’s job was to be the magnet that pulled that out and handheld it.

“That was Elvis — not the guy who sang in B movies,” Proffer said. “You couldn’t fake that — you couldn’t do it, you could do it with digital tricks, you could do it with AI. There was nothing you could do but capture it, and Steve Binder did just that.

“The general public that thinks Elvis is old news, that remembers him as this fat guy from Las Vegas in overalls, that’s not who he was,” Proffer said. “He was the cool guy who played guitar with his boys and sang in a black leather suit.

“That was Steve’s vision and that’s what this documentary is about.”

Caroline Bleakley

Caroline Bleakley is a USTimeToday U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Caroline Bleakley joined USTimeToday in 2022 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with Caroline Bleakley by emailing carolinebleakley@ustimetoday.com.

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