On May 12, 1960, Elvis Presley made his first TV appearance after his two-year U.S. Army stint concluded. For a princely sum of $125,000, Presley returned to the limelight via Frank Sinatra’s TV variety show. While Sinatra was at the peak of his career during this time, his TV program was widely regarded as a mediocrity unworthy of his talents. Nonetheless, Sinatra hosted Presley’s return to the entertainment industry in what could charitably be described as one of the most f****d up shows in the history of television. As a curio, this is a keeper. As a testament to the charms of Presley and Sinatra, it is a train wreck.

The hour-long “The Frank Sinatra Show — Welcome Home Elvis” clearly did not have Presley’s best interests in mind. For starters, Presley only appears for 30 seconds in the opening musical number and then is absent from the first half of the show. When he finally reappears, he sings two solo numbers and then engages in a disastrous duet with Sinatra. And that’s it. Sinatra closes the show not with his guest of honor, but with a duet with his daughter Nancy!

The theme of the show is to update Presley on what he missed while he was in the Army for two years. To enable this, a “time machine” (consisting of two lithe male dancers and a flat-footed Nancy Sinatra) go through mechanical motions and produce envelopes that Sinatra reads to the camera highlighting the top events of the previous 24 months. Presley obviously didn’t miss much while in uniform, as the “time machine” is used to cue Sinatra performing two songs, Sammy Davis Jr. singing “Come on, Bess” in his Sportin’ Life costume from the film version of “Porgy and Bess,” and the Tommy Hansen Dancers (who?) staging a pair of kitschy numbers: one celebrating the 1958 royal wedding in Tokyo (which Sinatra introduces with a racial slur aimed at the Japanese speech pattern) and one featuring the dancers romping on a beach to a novelty song by the Nutty Squirrels, a second-rate imitation of Alvin and the Chipmunks. Sinatra and his fellow Rat Packers Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford then do a crummy song and comedy routine complete with idiot celebrity imitations and a hipster rewrite of “Shall We Dance?” The absence of Dean Martin is noted with Davis doing a horrible sneak-a-drink imitation of the singer.

When Elvis finally shows up, he is wearing a tight tuxedo and a clearly uncomfortable look. He performs the ballad “Fame and Fortune” stiffly, then loosens up slightly for his classic “Stuck on You” (although his hip-swivel is replaced with eye-crossing and head-shaking). Strangely, Presley only seems relaxed when Sinatra comes out for a song-switching duet in which Ol’ Blue Eyes takes on “Love Me Tender” in a jazzy (and off-key) rendition while the King tries “Witchcraft” and muffs up the lyrics. During this number, Presley’s pompadour begins to fall apart and it seems that his hair is going to completely collapse over his face.

This program is a rarity in that so much talent was brought together for so little results. Beyond Presley, everyone else on screen is lost. Sinatra, who never seemed entirely comfortable in the TV medium, alternates between cocky self-importance and perverse humor; when Joey Bishop announces that Sinatra knew Humpty-Dumpty, Sinatra replies: “She was the tallest woman I ever bought a drink for.” Huh? Bishop (clearly reading from cue cards) drops one bad joke after another. Davis is hampered by horrible material that never allows his trademark vibrancy to shine, and neither Lawford or Nancy Sinatra show any signs of performing skills here. In fact, the only natural talent to shine during this hour is a trick-performing porpoise who makes graceful leaps through the air in a Timex watch commercial.

This show was originally broadcast live and for years it was assumed to have been lost. The sole surviving print is from a kinescope of less-than-satisfactory visual quality. Most likely, the show wasn’t really lost–it was just hiding from shame.

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