1968 Television Special

Rare, original letter from Colonel Tom Parker to Steve Binder at the CBS studio's, regarding payment by check to Steve Binder for the promotion of the Television Special.


This extremely rare and unique letter on METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYER INC letterhead, with a large watermark through the center of the page with the logo of the famous MGM Lion. Dated November 7 1968, from Elvis Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, to director Steve Binder regarding payment of a check for participation in the promotion of the Television Special.


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Elvis, was the title of a 1968 United States television special. It was directed by Steve Binder and produced by Binder and Bones Howe. The executive producer was Bob Finkel, musical director Billy Goldenberg. Sponsored by The Singer Sewing Machine Company, it aired on December 3, 1968 on the NBC television network at 9:00 EST and was seen by 42 percent viewing audience, making it the number one show of the season and giving NBC its highest ratings of the year. The critics gave rave reviews and Elvis was back where he belonged, at the top.

The special is commonly referred to as the '68 Comeback Special, because of subsequent developments in Presley's career, but the soundtrack album was released simply as NBC-TV Special.

The original idea, the one Elvis’ manager, Col. Tom Parker, had in mind, was a Christmas special with Presley singing holiday favorites.

But Binder wanted Presley doing his own songs and doing them alone instead of with guest stars — a departure from Christmas specials of the day.

The real breakthrough, though, was offsetting the big-production numbers with a loose, in-the-round performance — raw and unscripted — before a small audience.

“We’d start shooting at 9 or 10 in the morning and go until we were done, then he’d go into his living quarters and invite friends and they’d jam to all hours of the morning,” Binder recalled. “I was amazed by all the energy, enthusiasm and fun going on after a hard day’s work. And it was like looking through a keyhole at things you were not supposed to see. I thought, ‘This is better than what’s going on on-stage with the pre-planned numbers.”’

Parker hated the idea, but Binder persisted until Parker allowed him to recreate the backstage jam session for the camera, bringing in Presley’s longtime guitarist Scotty Moore and drummer D.J. Fontana and other friends to help make him comfortable (it had been seven years since Presley last did a live concert).

“There was no plan at all. I mean absolutely nothing,” Moore recalled. “He didn’t know what he was going to do. I knew he was going to pull out some of the old songs we’d done, that kind of thing. But that was it.”

Only part of the improvisational footage appeared in the TV special (RCA released a full uncut version later), but it was the highlight. At 33, Presley was handsome and in fine form, telling stories and joking with the musicians.

At first, he seemed nervous. “This is supposed to be like an informal section of the show where we faint or do whatever we want to do, especially me,” he cracked before his first number, “That’s All Right.”

But by “Blue Suede Shoes” he was in control, swapping his acoustic guitar for Moore’s electric and stomping his feet through bluesman Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Want Me to Do.”

Moore said Presley knew what was at stake.

“Because he hadn’t been touring — he had gotten into the movie thing — I know his feeling was ’I’m getting back before the public this way,”’ he said.

That night in ’68, he was a young man fighting to re-establish himself.

“I think it was the honesty,” Binder said of the show’s success, “the fact that he wasn’t controlled, wasn’t reading prepared lines. It was raw and it was powerful, and I think it was who he really was.


Exactly spelt, reads as follows:

November 7, 1968

Mr. Steve Binder
% CBS Studio Center
4024 Radford
Studio City, Calif.

Dear Steve:

Enclosed is the check as per agreement between Colonel Parker and yourself for participation in the promotion on the Television Special.

I am not an elephant but the Colonel never forgets.

(Signed) Colonel
The Colonel

(Ink stamped) RECEIVED NOV 13 1968