PICTURED: Ivor Davis (left) will interview Steve Binder (right) during “Up Close and Personal” on June 30.
by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer
Elvis. Harry Belafonte. Liza Minnelli. Barry Manilow. Diana Ross. Michelle Kwan. The number of famous entertainers — from music and television to comedy and even ice skating — that have worked with Steve Binder is seemingly endless. With more than 100 producing, directing, writing and other credits listed on IMDB, he can boast a career that lasted decades, stretching back to his work in college radio at the University of Southern California. Among his many claims to fame are his efforts to create racially and ethnically diverse programming, and the revival of Elvis Presley’s music career in the late 1960s.
Today Binder, who is still spry and sharp at 90, lives in Oxnard. He answered a few questions for the Ventura County Reporter ahead of his participation in the “Up Close and Personal” series hosted by Ivor Davis at the Museum of Ventura County on June 30.
Where are you from originally?
I was born and raised in Los Angeles. I’m a third generation Los Ageleno, until my wife and I moved to Oxnard.
What kind of music did you listen to during your formative years?
The first music I listened to was very eclectic. The first record my parents gave me was Ballad for Americans sung by Paul Robeson.
When did you first get involved in show business? What inspired you to go that route?
I first got involved in show business while going to college [at USC] and working on their radio station, KUSC-FM and JFAC-AM.When I went into the U.S. Army for two years in Europe, I was able to be an announcer for the American Forces Network.
Some of my early television work was The New Steve Allen Show and The Steve Allen Comedy Hour, [work with] Soupy Sales, Jazz Scene USA, Hullabaloo and The Danny Kaye Show.
One of your claims to fame is producing Elvis: The Comeback Special in 1968. How did you meet Elvis Presley?
I first met Elvis as a director/producer at an exploratory meeting to see if we would be compatible working together. I had just completed directing and producing the Petula Clark and Harry Belafonte Special [Petula,1968] where Petula touched Harry’s forearm and broke the color line in variety primetime television shown worldwide.
What was it like working with such a larger-than-life figure?
I never put Elvis on a pedestal and we worked together as equals with the same goal. We did not remain close after the television special. I never spoke or saw Elvis again after our final goodbye on the ’68 special.
1984’s Diana Ross Worldwide from New York, which you produced, was notable in part because of the torrential rainstorm that happened mid-concert. How did you guys try to manage that situation?
On the Diana Ross Central Park special, I never stopped filming while my star was still on stage. My fear was that she and my staff could be electrocuted because of all the equipment.
You’ve worked with several famous entertainers — Barry Manilow, Liza Minnelli, Chevy Chase, Patti LaBelle and many others. Who were the most memorable, and why?
The most memorable of the entertainers I worked with were Elvis, Lucille Ball, Petula Clark and Harry Belafonte, James Brown, Mick Jagger and Marvin Gaye. They all put their egos aside and gave their all to the success of the program.
What’s one bit of wisdom about the entertainment industry that you’d like to share with our readers?
The entertainment industry is there to entertain the general public, and should be treated as such. It should not be a typical business enterprise. To entertain and inform by being truthful should be the gold standard of the industry.
Up Close and Personal with Steve Binder takes place on Thursday, June 30, 6:30-8 p.m. at the Museum of Ventura County, 100 E. Main St., Ventura. The presentation will be offered in person and via Zoom. For tickets and more information, visit venturamuseum.org/event/ivor-davis-up-close-and-personal-with-steve-binder/.