To quote a truism, the higher you go, the farther you have to fall. That was certainly the case for Elvis Presley 50 years ago.
At his career’s start, Elvis was feted as a musical pioneer and adulated by millions of adoring fans captivated by his on-stage charisma. But by 1968, musical tastes had changed drastically.
Presley hadn’t performed in front of a live audience in seven years, his career as a movie star was ebbing and the star was in danger of becoming irrelevant to the entertainment world. Oh, how the mighty had fallen.
Elvis’ manager, Col. Tom Parker, decided it was time to get Elvis back in front of a mass audience. By negotiating for a television special, he envisioned Elvis playing to his strength – being filmed live, and connecting with the studio audience, footage that would then be broadcast and seen by a mass of TV viewers.
Originally called “Singer Presents Elvis” and later, simply “Elvis,” the TV special was at first meant to be a standard Christmas-time special – the kind of conventional seasonal holiday show commonly seen on all three major networks.
But an NBC producer named Steve Binder brought a sharp eye and canny gut instincts to the project, and he encouraged the singer to perform songs closest to his heart, performing many in informal jam sessions – common enough now but innovative 50 years ago.
The program so accurately captured Elvis’s unique spirit and personality, it has since come to be known as “the ’68 Comeback Special.” Its crucial effect in sparking Elvis’ career and renewing interest in his music caught the attention of Brian Newell, founder and artistic director of Maverick Theater.
Newell had already written one play about Presley, in 2003 – a story called “The King” that asked…