Our Night With Elvis: Behind the Scenes of His 1968 Special

Elvis: '68 Comeback Special
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Colonel Tom Parker lobbied hard to get Elvis Presley on the November 30, 1968, TV Guide Magazine cover to promote the concert special.

The manager was unsuccessful — a former Presley costar, Viva Las Vegas’s Ann-Margret, landed the coveted spot — but we ran a seven-page story inside. Our access included an invite to Presley’s press conference, at which he wore “a diamond ring as big as a ping-pong ball.”

Elvis is refreshingly candid. Why is he doing TV? “We figured it was about time — before I grow too old.”

Has his audience changed since the first big pre-Beatles impact in 1956, when he and he alone brought on the big swing to rock ’n’ roll? “It doesn’t move as fast as it used to. I think a lot of them are young mothers.”

Has marriage sobered his outlook? “Well, everything has to be considered when you’re married and have a baby.”

Elvis is smiling, but under his breath he is muttering, “Oh, wow!… Not that one again… oh, wow!” He has heard it all before, and he can’t wait to get free.

The special taped a few days later, and Parker personally escorted our writer, Dwight Whitney, to his seat.

He is dragging me down the aisle onto the set, which consists of a platform perhaps 15 feet wide, steps running up four sides of it. The Colonel sits me down on the front step. “Close enough for you?” he says. Presently I am inundated in women, young women streaming down the aisles, squealing, crowding, crushing, beaming, filling up the outer perimeter of the platform. The first thing I know, the musicians are on the platform, Elvis has made his grand entrance, and the whole place is a screaming, rocking, quivering, hysterical mass of flipped-out girlhood.

Elvis is on! Man, is he on! At first it is not so much Elvis taking over the audience as the audience taking over him. As they react, he reacts. The intimate contact has set him off. He growls, grunts, groans, shakes, shimmies, twitches, struts, gasps and flails in a rising crescendo perfectly attuned to the mood of the audience. The sweat breaks out on his forehead, running down his face in little rivers. His hips thrust forward.

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'He was the real deal. Even off the stage. He had a presence. He had charisma,' she recalls.

Suddenly it dawns on me. This is the real Elvis story. This is the language — the only language — he speaks, and he speaks it loud and clear. This man is a performer, one of half a dozen in America today who can step out on a stage and make it his. He transcends any era.

So take away your diamond-dusted Cadillacs, gold lamé suits, blue-painted statuary, side-zippered motorcycle jackets and ping-pong-ball diamonds. This is a driving talent, primitive and pure, and it needs no ornament. This star is an authentic American original.