BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE FRANK SINATRA SHOW: “WELCOME HOME ELVIS”

By • Feb 10th, 2004 •

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MVD [Music Video Distributors]. 1960. 60 mins.

Broadcast on March 12th, 1960, as the last in a series of hour long shows for ABC, Frank Sinatra scored a major coup by presenting Elvis Presley in his first TV appearance since his army stint. It had to have monopolized the home viewing public when it occurred, since the rock star was by now a crossover phenomenon, loved by audiences both young and old, and you’d think someone could have done better to preserve it. The quality of the archival tape source is the most miserable I’ve ever seen on a show of this vintage. I guess we could consider ourselves lucky to have it at all. Chuck McCann once told me that after several years of doing his kiddie show, playing Little Orphan Annie, etc., not one episode had even been archived for posterity.

Sinatra seems pretty warm towards his then non-entity of a daughter, Nancy, in this, his first TV appearance with her, and he reflects on her engagement to Tommy Sands. The subsequent marriage lasted five years (’60-’65).

Presley is saved for the third act. Padding out the moments till his appearance are several shudder-inducing ‘Dancing For Dummies’ numbers performed by the Tommy Hansen Dancers, appearances by Sammy Davis Junior, Peter Lawford (so much has been revealed, in docs and in the TV narrative HBO movie, about the Rat Pack, that one feels strange reverberations when Lawford shows up to do a little hoofing with Davis Jr.), Joey Bishop (who did most of the writing for the Rat Pack), and Nancy. It’s shocking to think that they’re all gone but Nancy and Joey. Bishop, with his Tony Curtis voice, the last of the core Rat Pack, is now 86, a long interesting life for someone born at 2 lbs 14 oz, the smallest baby ever delivered at Fordham Hospital, NYC, up till that time.

And of course there’s Sinatra himself, singing a few standards using a ‘time machine’ through-line to illustrate the period of time Elvis was gone. His numbers, backed by the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, and his patter with his buddies, have an improvisatory feel (read: barely rehearsed). To some extent this is the kind of casual mood they always tried for, but it’s loose even for that, almost…unprofessional.

Then came Elvis. Presley, as always on pre-‘68 ‘Comeback Special’ TV, looks both uncomfortable and great. His sideburns may not have grown back, but his pompadour certainly had. And he practically towers over his host. What’s more, he’s in better voice than either Sinatra or Sammy Davis Jr. This disc belongs in the Elvis collection rather than the Sinatra collection, if one has to make the choice. The King sings ‘Fame and Fortune’ and ‘Stuck on You.’

The commercial breaks are also included, and one, featuring John Cameron Swaze – among the greatest reporters of WWII, now reduced to presiding over a porpoise carrying a Timex watch – reminded me of one of the great bloopers of live TV history, which I was fortunate enough to catch when it occurred. Swaze was doing his Timex shtick on the Steve Allen Show, and the night’s promotional stunt consisted of him affixing a watch to one of the blades of an outboard motor, submerging the motor in a tank of water, letting it churn for ten seconds, then stopping it and removing the watch, ostensibly to prove it was still ticking despite the water and the rough usage. However, things did not go as planned. Swaze, after searching in vain for the time piece, declared, “Well, the watch seems to have fallen off. But if we had gotten it, you would have seen that it was still ticking. And next time…” at which point one could hear Steve Allen, off camera, saying “There’ll be no ‘next time’ Swaze…”

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