Opening night, July 31, 1969, was the place to be. Every movie star, every singing star who could be there, was there. I remember very well seeing Cary Grant sitting with his friends in a booth straight back from center stage. Center stage right by the front of the stage was Sammy Davis, Jr. He was so close you could touch him. He drank in everything Elvis did. He was so “into it” that Elvis acknowledged him from the stage and between songs he walked over to him, took off one of his rings, bent over and handed it to Sammy. He was so taken with that generous gesture and showed such appreciation to Elvis for this unexpected gift from the king of rock and roll. Shirley Bassey (Goldfinger) was there, Juliet Prowse as well. Meanwhile, backstage we were making our way to the side of the stage as the comedian was finishing up. We stood around and Elvis was nervous. He didn’t know how that audience would react to him and he needed reassurance. We all were very supportive and encouraging to him. This was a huge gamble on his part but he was always a risk-taker. He blazed trails no one had ever traveled before. True legends like him are willing to take those risks. So he was there and ready to walk on stage as he was torn between the bold and creative man that got him there and the timid and insecure man that held him back.
The comedian walked off stage with a tepid response and there was dead silence for what seemed like an eternity. The lights were out on stage and we walked onstage with the TCB band and the Sweet Inspirations to get in place. Then that plaintive sound of the 2001 A Space Odyssey began. At the end of that last chord, Ronnie Tutt began his drum rift. He had two bass drums and the largest drum kit I’ve ever seen. He used every one of them for this opening. Then James, Jerry, Larry, John, and the orchestra kicked in.
Elvis walked on stage, and you have never seen such an ovation in your life! Every flashbulb in the house went off. It had gone from total darkness to lights flashing everywhere. The Elvis return to live performances had begun.