Three years before the TV show, Presley, whose "Jailhouse Rock" was streaking up the national charts, was in Los Angeles to perform at the old Pan Pacific Auditorium.
Backstage, a reporter handed the singer a magazine article in which Sinatra, whose tastes leaned more to the big-band era, lashed out at the rebellious new sound that was sweeping the country.
"Rock 'n' roll smells phony and false," Sinatra declared. "It is sung, played and written for the most part by cretinous goons and by means of its almost imbecilic reiteration, and sly, lewd, in plain fact, dirty lyrics... it manages to be the martial music of every side-burned delinquent on the face of the Earth... . (It) is the most brutal, ugly, desperate, vicious form of expression it has been my misfortune to hear."
The reporter wanted Elvis' reaction.
"I admire the man," Presley said politely. "He's a great success and a fine actor, but I think he shouldn't have said it. He's mistaken about this. This is a trend, just the same as he faced when he started years ago. I consider it the greatest in music."
So the singers must have been wary when Presley, fresh from his U.S. Army duty in Germany, agreed to go on Sinatra's special, which was titled "Frank Sinatra's Welcome Home Party for Elvis Presley."
The show was certainly a win-win situation.
Besides picking up the highest fee for a TV guest spot at the time ($125,000), Elvis, still struggling for credibility among adults, benefited from the prestige of saying hello again to his young fans while standing alongside the most acclaimed singer of the pre-rock era. For Sinatra, the advantage was even more concrete: Presley guaranteed huge ratings -- and sure enough, two-thirds of U.S. sets were tuned to the show.
After two numbers by Presley (not shown on the DVD), Sinatra joined him on stage for a self-conscious medley -- the Presley hit "Love Me Tender" and the Sinatra favorite "Witchcraft."
The surprise is that Presley seems more comfortable than the veteran Sinatra. While the latter seems uncertain about just how to act during the medley, Presley throws in a few of Sinatra's signature stage gestures, including a shake of the shoulders and some snapping of the fingers. Sinatra may have toyed with the idea of shaking his hips a la Elvis but must have thought better of it.
Even if Sinatra wasn't a fan of rock 'n' roll, there is one Sinatra who was thrilled by Presley's presence on the show -- daughter Nancy. Interviewed for the DVD about the telecast, she says: "I was 18 years old and in love with Elvis, totally in love with Elvis. (It) melted my heart to meet him in person."
The emotional high point of the DVD, released by Hart Sharp Video in association with Sinatra Enterprises, comes when Sinatra and his vocal inspiration, Bing Crosby, team on the bittersweet "September Song." Where Presley and Sinatra strained to find common ground, Sinatra and Crosby come across as artists with such mutual respect you can sense them marveling at each other's vocal touches each step of the way.