Elvis and Me

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First edition (publ. Putnam)

Elvis and Me is a 1985 biography written by Priscilla Presley (with ghostwriter Sandra Harmon). In the book, Priscilla talks about meeting Elvis Presley, their marriage, and the factors that led up to the couple's divorce.[1] The book rights were purchased in 1987, and in 1988 it was made into a television movie written by Joyce Eliason, directed by Larry Peerce, and starring Dale Midkiff as Elvis and Susan Walters as Priscilla.[2]

Elements in the story[edit]

Memphis: Elvis' family and Graceland[edit]

Priscilla Beaulieu Presley writes that Elvis did not approve of his father's relationship with divorcee Dee Stanley and did not attend their wedding. After the marriage Elvis bought a home on Dolan Drive in Memphis where Vernon Presley and his new wife resided. On the rare occasions Dee Stanley-Presley came to Graceland, Elvis did his best to at least be civil towards his stepmother.

Priscilla describes how her father reluctantly allowed her to live in Memphis, Tennessee to be near Elvis. The initial arrangement was that Priscilla would live with Vernon Presley and his wife while attending a Memphis school. Contrary to this arrangement, Priscilla gradually moved in with Elvis.

The nights with Elvis[edit]

Her descriptions of the nights she spent with Elvis before their marriage suggest that the star was not overtly sexual towards her. The couple kissed and engaged in petting, but Elvis always stopped the make out sessions before it led to actual intercourse.

While describing a "cleansing period" in Elvis's life, Priscilla claims that "Any sexual temptations were against everything he was striving for, and he did not wish to betray me, the girl waiting for him at home who was preparing to be his wife."

According to her account, Elvis told her that they had to wait until they were married before having intercourse. He said, "I'm not saying we can't do other things. It's just the actual encounter. I want to save it." Priscilla adds, "Fearful of not pleasing him—of destroying my image as his little girl—I resigned myself to the long wait. Instead of consummating our love in the usual way, he began teaching me other means of pleasing him. We had a strong connection, much of it sexual. The two of us created some exciting and wild times."

Daily life with Elvis[edit]

Priscilla notes that prescription drugs were present from the first time she visited Elvis Presley in America. He took placidyls to get to sleep in ever increasing doses. Elvis would wake up at his normal time around 4:00 in the afternoon, but would be groggy and irritable for a few hours from the heavy dose of pills. He then began taking Dexedrine in order to wake up.

Elvis liked old movie classics revolving around family or struggles to survive in the world such as Les Misérables, Wuthering Heights, It's a Wonderful Life, Mr. Skeffington, Miracle on 34th Street, Letter from an Unknown Woman and his favorite, The Way of All Flesh, the story of a self-sacrificing father.

Priscilla's book describes several episodes involving Elvis' explosive temper and his jealous nature; including how he went into a rage and threatened to fire a male employee (Memphis Mafia member Jerry Schilling), who supposedly acted too "friendly" with Priscilla.

Affairs with other women[edit]

Conversely, she writes about Presley's double standard for his own behavior. His promiscuity with other women led to several confrontations. Priscilla says she was aware he had been dating Anita Wood, a girl from Memphis, when they first met in Germany and that he had continued the relationship for nearly two years following his discharge from the Army. When he asked Priscilla to move to Memphis he told her the relationship with Wood was over, but she describes later finding a packet of love letters from Wood in the attic at Graceland. However, according to Elvis's own words, he did not make love to Anita Wood the whole four years he was with her. "Just to a point," he said, "then I stopped. It was difficult for her too, but that's just how I feel."

Presley admitted he had a number of affairs with some of the women who co-starred in his films, but all the relationships were before he met Priscilla and "meant nothing." Nevertheless, she understood these affairs were going on while he was professing love to Anita Wood.

In a televised interview on January 14, 2005, with Larry King on CNN's Larry King Live, Anita Wood said that following media reports of a girlfriend in Germany, Elvis "had me believing that she (Priscilla) was just a friend and her daddy was in the Army with him, and there was nothing to it whatsoever."

Priscilla also writes of other times she became suspicious of Elvis' promiscuity. One such time was when Elvis released "(Marie's the Name) His Latest Flame", Priscilla wondered at that time if Elvis was dating a girl named Marie.

The Ann-Margret affair[edit]

Of the many women involved with Elvis, the one whom Priscilla felt that hers and Elvis' relationship was most threatened by was actress/singer Ann-Margret, who co-starred with Elvis in the film Viva Las Vegas. In her book, Priscilla devotes four pages to the subject (175 to 178). There was a lot of publicity about a romance between Elvis and Ann-Margret during the 1963 filming, and in the following weeks when Elvis returned to record music and prepare for his next film. Despite his denials of an affair, Priscilla went to Los Angeles and stayed with him. Aware Priscilla was there, Ann-Margret took matters into her own hands and suddenly announced to the Los Angeles press that she was engaged to Elvis Presley. The news was picked up by every major newspaper in America and Elvis informed Priscilla that he and Colonel Tom Parker thought it best for her to "go back to Memphis till it calms down." Outraged, Priscilla picked up a vase and hurled it across the room, screaming that Ann-Margret should "keep her ass in Sweden where she belongs." But desperate to please him, she went back to Graceland the next day. Elvis returned two weeks later, admitted to the affair, but promised it was over. Of all the movie stars Elvis Presley worked with, Ann-Margret was the only one to attend his funeral.

The very next line of Priscilla's book says that after the Ann-Margret ordeal she soon suspected there were other women. She began traveling with him but says she would still "get crazed with worry." She was afraid that the moment she was away from him, another woman could slip in. Priscilla relates how her insecurities would lead her to imitate the other woman's appearance (changing her clothes, hairstyle and makeup), to hopefully please him.

If she forcefully challenged Presley on her suspicions he would threaten to send her home to her parents. One such confrontation (about Shelley Fabares, another Presley film co-star) led to a screaming match where he told her to get out. Bags packed, chauffeur ready to take her to the airport, Elvis changed his mind at the last minute and she willingly stayed. (In the TV movie, the confrontation was about the Ann-Margret affair, as opposed to Fabares, as written in the book).

Priscilla writes that it was years later before she realized his tactics were part of a need to control her. This pattern began before they were married, but in her 2005 made-for-television documentary titled Elvis by the Presleys, she admitted he had affairs with other women during their marriage.

The Beatles' shadow, mysticism and drugs[edit]

By 1965 The Beatles had overwhelmed the music industry and Presley’s record sales declined noticeably. Uncertain about who he was and where his career was going, Elvis turned to spiritualism, dragging an uninterested Priscilla with him. He had not performed live for several years and labeled most of his movies a joke. By the time filming was to begin on Clambake (released 1967), Presley's growing distress with the quality of his films led to a despondency accompanied by overeating and his normal 170 pound (77 kg) weight ballooned to 200 lb (91 kg). The movie studio ordered him to lose the weight in a hurry, marking the introduction of diet pills to the already excessive regimen of placidyls and Dexedrine which would eventually kill him.

In his search for a "higher state of consciousness" Presley became fascinated with the occult and metaphysical phenomena. During his spiritual quest everyone around them saw Presley's personality change dramatically from vibrant and playful, to passive and introverted. Presley went through a period of celibacy, in keeping with the teachings of an Indian guru. "He was going through a cleansing period, physically and spiritually... He loved me and deeply wanted to be faithful to me but never felt certain that he could resist temptation. It was a persistent battle, and it even got to the point where he felt he had to resist me." For the next few weeks, Elvis felt the need to withdraw himself from the temptations of sex. He said, "We have to control our desires so they don't control us. If we can control sex, then we can master all other desires." When they were in bed, "he took his usual dose of sleeping pills, handed me mine, and then, fighting off drowsiness from the pills, pored over his metaphysical books." Priscilla was not interested, and recalled Elvis saying "Things will never work out between us, Cilla, because you don't show any interest in me or my philosophies."

When this phase of his life passed, she and Elvis had a bonfire and burned the stacks of magazines and books he had accumulated on the subject. They tried marijuana during this time, but did not like it as it made them ravenously hungry. Although Presley abhorred street drugs, Priscilla tells how they used LSD. While they both thought it had been an "extraordinary experience," they were afraid of it and experimented that one time only.

Marriage, family, and the Nancy Sinatra factor[edit]

Priscilla Ann Beaulieu and Elvis Presley were married on May 1, 1967 in Las Vegas, Nevada. She wrote that being called Mrs. Elvis Presley sounded better than live-in Lolita, teen heartthrob or the other labels given her in the past by some of the press. After the wedding ceremony Frank Sinatra's private jet flew them to their Palm Springs, California home. Romantic that he was, Elvis carried his new bride across the threshold singing "The Hawaiian Wedding Song", then carried her straight to the bedroom.

After a second wedding reception at Graceland for friends and Memphis locals, Priscilla and Elvis went to his ranch near Horn Lake, Mississippi where they locked themselves away for several days of much needed privacy. However the press and the curious lined a fence on the property's perimeter and stood on the tops of cars to take photos.

While they planned on having children, they had hoped to wait awhile, and Priscilla was not prepared for her pregnancy. She considered an abortion, in part because Elvis had made derogatory comments in the past about "women using pregnancy as an excuse to let themselves go." Feeling insecure, she dieted to the point that by the time she gave birth, she then weighed less than she had before getting pregnant. During her pregnancy they had made love passionately until she began hearing rumors about Elvis and his co-star on the set of the film Speedway. When Priscilla Presley asked her husband about the stories he dismissed them out of hand, telling her she was being overly sensitive due to her "condition." However, six months into her pregnancy, Nancy Sinatra telephoned Priscilla and said she wanted to give her a baby shower. Priscilla was apprehensive about such a request coming from a woman she hardly knew, but Elvis convinced her to accept the offer. Priscilla went along with it and she and Sinatra got along well together. Everything seemed fine until a week or so later, when Elvis informed her he needed time to think and wanted a trial separation. Numb, all she could say was: "You've got it. Just tell me when to leave." She lived in agony for days, but he changed his mind without ever saying a thing. Two months later, their daughter Lisa Marie was born in Memphis on February 1, 1968.

The '68 Comeback Special to the end[edit]

Free to shape his own career after the MGM motion picture contract expired in 1968, although still required to complete two more films, Presley accepted an offer from the NBC network to do a television special. NBC executives offered "open development" along with a young director named Steve Binder, who was receptive to presenting Presley in a way he could be himself. Elvis Presley's '68 Comeback Special was an enormous success, the highest-rated television special of the year and his closing song titled "If I Can Dream" became his first million-selling record in several years.

The television special motivated Elvis and he began recording at the American Sound Studios in Memphis owned by Chips Moman. Filled with new energy, he recorded so many songs, that RCA Records needed a year and a half to release them all. Included in these sessions were hits such as "Suspicious Minds" which went to No.1 on the Billboard Charts, "In the Ghetto" and "Kentucky Rain." He was signed on to perform for a month at the new International Hotel in Las Vegas. Every show was sold out with thousands turned away at the door. This success led to a five-year contract for appearances twice a year, with the largest fee ever paid to any singer in history. Unfortunately, his renewed popularity brought a large increase in the number of death threats, requiring a significant increase in personal security.

After years of personal unhappiness due to the state of his career, for a time his triumphant return to a live stage brought new vitality to their marriage. However, the renewed stardom, with regular touring around the United States and appearances in Las Vegas, meant he was away from his family more, and renewed the problem of other women in his life. When Elvis suggested Priscilla cut back on her visits to see him, it only added to her anxieties. Things grew worse when she returned to their Palm Springs home and found a number of letters from girls showing they had obviously been there.

Priscilla Presley admits she had two affairs of her own, and the up and down marriage was irreparably broken down by 1972. The last straw came when Elvis, possibly having learned of the second affair with her karate instructor Mike Stone, forced himself on her in his Las Vegas hotel room, telling her, "This is how a real man makes love to a woman."

Separated on February 23, 1972, the Presleys divorced amicably on October 9, 1973, mutually agreeing to share custody of their daughter. Elvis had made another televised special called Elvis: Aloha from Hawaii in January 1973, but after not seeing him for several months prior to the actual court hearing, Priscilla was bewildered by his physical appearance. She remarked on how swollen his hands were when she held them in hers. Less than four years later, Elvis died. After his death, his father Vernon agreed to have Elvis's body reburied to deter thieves.

A different view in Suzanne Finstad's book[edit]

In Suzanne Finstad's book, Child Bride: The Untold Story of Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (1997),[3] a completely different account of Priscilla Presley's life, painted her in a rather negative light and described her as a "wild child" and "sexpot". The sources of this book are several people who knew Elvis and Priscilla well, among them: many friends from Priscilla's childhood and adolescence, Elvis' stepbrother Rick Stanley, Mike Edwards, Elvis' ex-girlfriends and the wives of the Memphis Mafia men. The author writes that Priscilla promised sexual favors in exchange for meeting Elvis with Currie Grant, a married, 27-year-old former Army buddy of the singer, and that she was not a virgin on her wedding night, as she and Elvis had slept together on their second date. The book also says that Priscilla did not want to come to live with Elvis, but that her marriage was part of a mastermind for fame hatched by Priscilla and her mother, and that she never loved Elvis. Finstad takes many quotes that Priscilla has made and calls them a web of lies.

Priscilla denied Currie's allegations and successfully sued him for defamation.[4] She won more than £46,000 in the lawsuit. She had wanted £6m from Grant.[5] Finstad, "too, had been threatened with suits from Priscilla Presley and her church (of Scientology)."[6] Notwithstanding, neither Finstad nor her publisher was a party to the lawsuit.

Personal Jesus[edit]

The song "Personal Jesus" by Depeche Mode (#368 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of "The RS 500 Greatest Songs of All Time"[7]) was inspired by Elvis and Me.[8]

"It's about how Elvis was her [Priscilla Presley's] man and her mentor and how often that happens in love relationships," [Martin] Gore said. "How everybody's heart is like a god in some way."

"Personal Jesus", Rolling Stone 

References[edit]