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iBy Sandra Shevey - Ladies Home Journal - August, 1973.
Priscilla Presley : My Life With and Without Elvis Presley
After five years as the wife of the superstar singer Elvis Presley, Priscilla Beaulieu Presley is as much of a mystery woman as she was the day she married him - May 1, 1967. In this, her first interview, she talks about Elvis - their romance, marriage, and divorce - and her life today as a woman alone.
Priscilla Ann Beaulieu married Elvis Aron Presley on May 1, 1967, in Las Vegas, Nev. She was 21; he was 32. The wedding culminated a seven-year romance. At the time of the wedding, Elvis was earning $4,000,000 as an actor-singer. On February 1, 1968, the couple had their child - a daughter, Lisa Marie. In August, 1972, the Presleys suddenly separated, and on January 8, of this year, Elvis filed for divorce, giving Priscilla custody of their daughter. As they wait for the divorce to become final, Elvis lives in the $550,000 Holmby Hills estate he once shared with his wife; Priscilla and Lisa live in a large, five-room penthouse apartment overlooking a small marina on the Pacific Palisades. Alimony payments have not yet been worked out, but on all counts the divorce is completely amicable.
After five years as the wife of one of the world's most famous entertainers, Priscilla Ann Beaulieu remains a mystery. She was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on May 24, 1945 to Ann Iversen and Lieutenant Joseph P. Beaulieu of the United States Air Force.
When she was ten, her father - by then Captain Beaulieu - was transferred to Austin, Tex. Four years later, Captain Beaulieu took his family to his new post in Weisbaden, Germany, not far from Bad Nauheim, where draftee Elvis Presley was serving on the United States Army's 3rd Armored Division. It was there that Sgt. Presley 25, met Priscilla, 14. The rest is history. Today Priscilla Beaulieu Presley looks forward to a new life of her own. To find out more about her - who she is, where she has been, and where she is going - the Journal talked with her at her penthouse apartment, where the name on the bell reads: Beaulieu
The apartment décor is sheer and soft: billowy organdy curtains, calico sofas. There is a conspicuous lack of anything masculine. Curiously, too, there's not a photograph or a memento in view to suggest that the apartment's occupant had been the wife of Elvis Presley. A Raggedy Ann doll resting on a chair tells us a child lives here - but there is no child in the apartment now. The smell of jasmine wafts into the living room as Priscilla enters from the kitchen carrying a tea tray complete with small sandwiches, wafers, and jam. She is five feet, two inches tall, 110 pounds, and stylishy dressed in a splashy, purple print blouse and pants. More impressive than who she is or what she's wearing is her aristocratic bearing. Everything about her suggests grace and poise; she is beautiful. Indeed one could say that Priscilla is the most beautifully kept secret in Hollywood, for outside the inner circle of Presley pals, few people knew what Elvis' wife really looked like.
Because this is her first interview, I had thought she might be nervous, but she handles herself with ease and confidence. As she pours tea, she says that she is reluctant to talk about her life with Elvis. Her desire to protect her own privacy is as strong as her impulse to shelter him. It is not a new role for Priscilla. She has guarded her life with Presley since she first met him. Even before she got to Germany, Priscilla had thought about what it would be like to meet Elvis. 'I didn't have great fantasies about meeting him', she recalls laughingly, 'but I do remember that when my father told us he was being sent to Weisbaden Air Base, I mentioned jokingly that Elvis was stationed nearby and maybe we would get a chance to meet him. My mother said 'I wouldn't let you walk across the street to see Elvis Presley', which seems funny now, doesn't it?'
'Then, a week and a half after I got to Germany, I was eating in a little place where most of the military kids went, and a guy asked if I wanted to meet Elvis Presley. I said, 'Fine' thinking it was all a joke. For my so-called date with Elvis, I didn't dress up; I just wore a little sailor dress, because I still didn't believe it. And the next thing I knew I was on my way to Elvis' house, which he shared with his father, Vernon Presley'.
'Three or four of Elvis' friends were with their dates, and a couple of girls dropped by. It was a very casual evening - a family atmosphere. Elvis was sitting in a chair when I arrived and he got up and shook my hand. Then reality hit me, and I thought, 'What am I doing here?' Priscilla recalls that her parents were waiting up when she got home. 'They asked me how it was, and I told them exactly what had happened: that Elvis was very nice and warm and cordial, but that I never thought I'd see him again. Then he called.
'At first, my parents said that I shouldn't date Elvis, that I was too young, which was true. My mother felt that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; and besides, it was not harming me. Finally she prevailed upon Dad to consent. But he set up a 12 o'clock curfew'. 'Each date with Elvis was the same. Usually he'd have his father pick me up in a car. Elvis' mother [Gladys Presley] had died in 1958. In Germany, Vernon was dating a pretty blonde named Devanda 'Dee' Elliot. Sometimes they would join us and some friends for a movie or something'.
'No', she says thoughtfully, 'I was never impressed with dating Elvis. Perhaps I thought that it was all a dream. Or maybe it was because Elvis was very down to earth. He made me comfortable.
Elvis fit in with everybody, too'. Obviously, Elvis measured up to Priscilla's expectations, but she is reluctant to go into detail. Yet she admits that their romance blossomed steadily.
'Elvis was not aggressive with me, he never pushed. He was very gentle'.
One of Priscilla's outstanding qualities is her sensitivity to Elvis. During the whole time she dated him she never breathed a word to anyone. When I ask why, she looks at me and says, 'Oh, there were many possible reasons. I felt that he was publicized so much already; it was my own life, my own business. Or maybe it was because Elvis is so self-protective. He's his own man, a very understanding, compassionate person, and he accepts people fully. But as far as his personal life is concerned, he's very secretive'.
Her intuitive sense about Presley may be why the relationship survived after he left Germany. 'When Elvis was discharged from the Army, I was still in Wiesbaden. I had no idea that I'd ever see him again. I was dumbfounded when he asked me to spend Christmas in Memphis - and then he asked if I could remain there'. She hesitates. 'Of course, my Mom and Dad said definitely, no. But Elvis called and talked to them, and I finished my senior year at the Immaculate Conception High School in Memphis'.
During her stay in Memphis, Priscilla lived with Vernon and Dee (who had since married) and Dee's three young sons, in the east wing of the Presley's famed estate, Graceland. Vernon and Dee looked after her and helped her to adjust to the kind of fishbowl life she would be leading.
Although at that time Elvis and Priscilla never talked of marriage, Priscilla - or Cilla, as Elvis calls her - never felt awkward about the situation. 'First of all, Elvis would now have asked me to come if there wasn't a reason. I believed that he cared for me, and that he wouldn't have taken the responsibility of pulling me out of school and putting me into another if he wasn't making some commitment. Anyway, he's not the kind of person to take advantage of anybody. So I felt very secure. As I said, I had no idea that we were going to be married, but I had faith that things would handle themselves. I did not think that at any time I would be deserted or neglected, because Elvis had assured my parents that no harm would come to me'.
During her four-year stay, Priscilla led a Cinderella existence. Her every dream became a reality. When he was home, Elvis tried to make up for the time he'd been away; he gave her little presents. 'It was difficult for Elvis to buy for me, and a lot times he would just tell me to get what I wanted, which I liked. He gave me all of the cars that I have had. We started out with a little red Corvair, then a Chevrolet, a Toronado, an Eldorado, and then the Mercedes, a white one, which I drive now'. When she was not driving her own car, Presley chauffeured her in a Lincoln Continental equipped with a little TV and a bar. 'It only served soft drinks, because Elvis doesn't drink or smoke'. She looks puzzled. 'Well, recently I think he has begun to smoke a pipe'. Priscilla was waited upon. 'We had a day cook and a night cook, who prepared simple American food'.
Wooed In Style
She was wooed with elegance and style. 'Elvis would rent an entire theater, invite friends, and we would talk loudly to each other without worrying that the manager would throw us out'. The memory of those halcyon days lingers. 'Elvis loved good, action-packed movies, some Westerns. And he loved A Shot in the Dark with Peter Sellers. No, Elvis never showed his own movies'. She stops abruptly, not wanting to betray a trust. 'He just preferred not to see them. Maybe he didn't say a line right or he thought that his hair didn't look good, or that he appeared fat. He just didn't want to see himself. He's very self-critical'.
Occasionally Priscilla would visit Elvis in Hollywood, but she was careful to stay away from the set when he was shooting. 'I didn't think that he could do his best if I was around. I felt that was his job, his business, and it was not my place to be there. Most of the time I stayed in Memphis and occupied my time at the dance studio, or went to dinner with a girl friend. I was perfectly happy the way it was'.
She took a self-improvement course at the Patricia Stevens Finishing School, and although she stresses that it wasn't to compete with Elvis' starlet friends, she confides that it made her feel better to learn how to apply makeup. Yet when she thinks back on it, she is amused. 'When I went to Patricia Stevens I overdid it with makeup, because at that time I was going through the Cleopatra stage.
But it was fun. I still love to fool around with cosmetics, but not as much as when I was younger. I think every girl goes through that stage. How attractive I thought I looked at the time! Now I see those old pictures of me with all that makeup and I think, 'Oh, how blind I was!'
'I wish that Elvis had said something, but he must have liked it because he never commented. I do think that men is show business like to have women in makeup because they are used to seeing women looking the best that they possibly can. Yet, I don't think it has changed Elvis' impression of me - I was always a little girl to him'. Today, Priscilla's makeup is as flawless as a model's. A light base and natural highlights complement her fragile, fawnlike beauty. Her new natural look involved more than a makeup change. 'The change is from being the person that you think you are to accepting the person that you are. I know who I am, where I stand, and I feel as if I have an identity; I don't have to be or please anybody other than myself'.
For years Elvis and Priscilla seemed content not to marry. Then, in what seemed a totally overnight decision, they were married on May 1, 1967, in a double ring ceremony at the Las Vegas Aladdin Hotel. Priscilla wore a gown of white organza trimmed in seed pearls with lace sleeves and a full train. A three-quarter length tulle veil was held by a crown of rhinestones. Her wedding-engagement ring was a three-carat diamond surrounded by 20 smaller diamonds. Fourteen guests attended the wedding, including Dee and Vernon and the Beaulieus. 'As a wedding present, Elvis flew in my mom and dad from his new post at Fort Ord, Calif. I remember how overwhelmed they were, how happy, too. Of course, they thought it was time. We had been dating for years!
'Although many people thought our wedding was sudden, Elvis and I had been talking about it in stages'. She recalls that his proposal was unceremonious. 'One day he showed me the ring and simply asked me to marry him'. Sensitive to some confusion on my part, she stresses sweetly, 'Even though we were perfectly content the way we were, at that time it wasn't nice for people to live together'.
After a two month honeymoon in Palm Springs, Calif., the couple returned to Elvis' $400,000 mansion in the Trousdale Estates. Presley had just finished the movie Double Trouble and was to start another film on location. Consequently, the first days of their marriage were marked by a hit-and-run lifestyle that was to become their way of life. Even in retrospect Priscilla doesn't complain about it. 'For Elvis to come home from a trip and leave again was routine. At first I wanted to go along and it was difficult for me to understand why I couldn't. Sure I was disappointed, but I got over it. The times that Elvis couldn't make an anniversary became a way of life. I may have been hurt, but it's an adjustment that you make as a wife'.
She continues, 'I kept thinking. 'It's going to work itself out - We'll make it somehow!' I had to, because if you think 'I'm always going to be alone', you'll go crazy. You have to live one day at a time, and hopethat things aren't always going to be like that.
'It was an adjustment, but I kept busy. I began studying karate. I won my green belt and was ready to test for my brown belt when I decided to drop out. I felt karate wasn't very feminine. So I decided to go backinto ballet.
'I had studied ballet years before with a woman named Maylee Kaplan. I enrolled again in her dance company; I stayed for about three-and-a-half years. I danced and worked out every day and did a couple of recitals with them. Elvis didn't mind, so long as I was happy'.
The birth of Lisa Marie Presley on February 1, 1968, in Memphis, was a blessing. Not only did it provide the Presleys with a much wanted child, but the baby gave Priscilla a new outlet for her energies, a love with whom she could spend her days. 'Elvis and I were ecstatic over the birth of our daughter. If the baby had been a boy, we were going to name him John Barron. I liked the name Barron. It has a very strong feeling to it. But when it was a girl, we decided on Lisa Marie - for no special reason, only because it is a very feminine name'. Lisa is a combination of both her parents. 'She definitely has her father's eyes', says Priscilla, 'but she has my features and petiteness'. She adds jokingly, 'You know, the movie magazines have had me having about five miscarriages; I have never had a miscarriage'.
'When the baby got a little older - she's five now - I started going out more with other women whose husbands were in Elvis' group; we'd go to the park, go shopping, or go out for lunch. If Elvis got time off, we'd take a trip, but we were seldom by ourselves. For instance, our stay in Hawaii was supposed to be a cozy family vacation. Elvis had finished filming Blue Hawaii, and he wanted to show me the islands. So we rented a bungalow with a private beach. But with an entourage of twelve people (each guy and his wife), how intimate can you become? I accepted it, but occasionally if I became resentful, Elvis would tease me out of it'.
There were many times when being Mrs. Elvis Presley filled Priscilla with pride. 'I felt very flattered when people would stare at me in public, at a restaurant or on an opening night. I guess I'd be less than honest if I didn't say I liked the attention. Yet I never invited it by going to posh places where people go to be seen. That wasn't what I wanted. Maybe Elvis had a lot to do with that because he never associated with movie people. He had always had his own friends from his hometown'.
Another thrill was watching her husband perform. 'I was very happy to see that he was entertaining those people. But I was also worried about someone getting hurt or Elvis getting sued and things like that'.
'How can you be so objective?' I asked. 'Because I know what it is', she replies. 'I know exactly why Elvis is up there on that stage, and it goes beyond seeing him as a superstar. He's a human being, and I can sense when he's nervous or if he's not doing the song as well as he did it the time before. I don't see Elvis as a superstar: I see him as my husband'.
When the Presleys moved into a $550,000 mansion in Holmby Hills (where Presley now lives alone), Elvis was on the road, so Priscilla decorated the house herself. Her favorite room is his den. 'I did it the way he wanted it: antiques, very manly. For the fireplace, I searched everywhere for wrought-iron and irons with eagle heads, and I bought antiques from all over Beverly Hills. I got old books and beautiful antique bar stools, and a desk that was furnished with a telephone and intercom. Elvis liked the room; he spent a lot of time there. The sofa was done in suede - brown suede', she says, and pauses to recall the décor of the other rooms. 'The game room was done all in suede, with pinball machines and a pool table'. Did she feel comfortable amid such masculine .......ily explains, 'After all, you've got to do what a man likes. He's got to live in it, and he's not going to be happy with anything feminine, that's for sure. The kitchen was very country and the breakfast nook was pleated and wicker, which didn't bother Elvis'. Involvement with the house and the joys of raising Lisa Marie still didn't fill the gap of days and weeks when Elvis was away and Priscilla was by herself. 'Someone once said in jest that I should see other men, simply as friends, and that it would take my mind off being alone. But when you're married, you just don't date other men'.
Although a career of her own might have saved the marriage, Elvis did not encourage Priscilla to work. 'It's untrue that we argued about it, or about my becoming an actress. It's funny how rumors get started. The dance studio also had drama classes and I attended one class. Someone started the rumor that I wanted to be an actress, which actually never entered my mind. I did get offers to be in motion pictures, and Elvis left that up to me. But it could never be, especially with a little daughter. Besides, I could never live that life.
I saw how Elvis had to be. I mean, so publicized. I could live my life and do what I wanted, but it was not possible for Elvis to do this. It was a shame'.
More time with Elvis was a continual hope for Priscilla, but it was never to be. 'In mid-1972 I finally realized that things were not going to change - and that we had separate lives completely'.
Priscilla states simply that she had to face the fact that Elvis is what Elvis is, and she is as she is. Would she continue to put up with it? Her answer was no.
On January 8, 1972, Elvis files for divorce. The previous August they had separated, and Priscilla had moved out of their Holmby Hills mansion. There are no recriminations, no hard feelings on either side.
Elvis knows that Priscilla's there if he needs her - if he is sick or in trouble. Priscilla admits that she worries about Lisa Marie. Tenaciously she shields the child from publicity. This afternoon, for instance, she has taken Lisa Marie to visit a neighbor. 'Lisa Marie is so sensitive that a harsh word crushes her, but happily, she seems to have adjusted to the separation of her father and myself'. Priscilla enfolds Lisa's Raggedy Ann doll in her arms. 'She thinks daddy is on a business trip so it works out. And Elvis is no absentee father', Priscilla stresses. 'When he's on tour, he often calls her, and when he's in town, he sees her a lot. She spent last weekend with him, and I took her to watch him perform in Las Vegas for her birthday'.
Priscilla takes pride in saying that she has enrolled her daughter in 'a very exclusive academy where they speak French - and she's only five! I've also been thinking about giving Lisa some religious background, and have been considering the religion of Science. Have you heard anything about it? I really don't know that much about the Church, but I plan to look into it. I want to see for myself if I like it'. She pauses, 'I want Lisa to have a religious foundation, and I feel that I need it, too. I was raised as a Catholic, but I don't really believe that that is the way for me. I think that everybody needs some kind ofsupport, though, and I would like to get into something different - a more realistic religion'.
Despite the five large rooms, Priscilla runs her household single-handed. 'It's nice not having to cook and serve yourself', she muses, 'but sometimes it can be uncomfortable, because you don't feel like being waited on. I am used to doing things myself. I don't have any servants here by choice; I don't need anyone to help me. As a matter of fact, I've put in a request for a larger apartment in this building, one with a third bedroom so Lisa's friends can stay over - and, when my parents visit. I'd rather have them stay here than go to a hotel. Fortunately, a three bedroom apartment will be available in time for when mother comes this summer'. [Priscilla's parents live in New Jersey with their five other children: Donald 22, Jeffrey, 13, twins Tim and Tom, 10, and Michelle 18.] The Beaulieu's still like Elvis very much and respect him.
'There are no hostilities whatsoever', Priscilla says. 'They feel, I think, that Elvis and I are grown, mature people and that we know exactly what we are doing. As long as I am happy, they don't worry. The same with
Vernon and Dee. They have been so wonderful and understanding'.
Bis & Beau
Probably the most positive thing about the breakup is Priscilla's new career. Sample dress sketches cover the coffee table. Priscilla gathers them up in a burst of enthusiasm. 'They're from a new boutique I've just opened on Robertson Boulevard in Los Angeles', she says, and her excitement is contagious. 'It's called Bis & Beau, for Olivia Bis and Priscilla Beaulieu. It's only been open for a few weeks now and I am amazed that we're doing so well.
Photo at right ... Priscilla in front of the Biz and Beau boutiqe.
Olivia used to make my clothes when I was with Elvis. She also designs for Suzanne Pleshette, Barbara Parkins, and Zsa Zsa Gabor. I discovered her a few years ago. She had the sweetest mother-and- daughter outfit in the window - a white pique and paisley print ensemble, which I bought for one of Elvis' Las Vegas openings.
'After that, Olivia and I worked together on all of my outfits; I'd think up some kooky creation, and she'd fit it to a pattern. After the separation, I had to make up my mind about what I wanted to do, and since I had worked with Olivia for such a long time on my own clothes, I decided to try it professionally. We both do the designing for the shop, and have people who sew for us. The dresses are priced from $65 up, and they are all original and handmade.
'We have specialty gift things too', she emphasizes 'like these watchbands'. She shows me an array of brightly colored swiss-embroidered gingham, plaid, and seersucker watchbands from the drawer of the dining room hutch. 'They're called Mikibeau, a name I made up - it means nothing special, but sounded cute, I thought - and are part of today's costume look'.
In her spare time, Priscilla thinks a lot about life, men, and marriage. 'When you've lived kind of a sheltered life, you're a little hesitant about being out in the world with other men. It's an adjustment. I went through stages where I didn't want to go out, But I'm dating someone now, which is very good because I have a secure feeling. His name is Mike Stone, and he's Hawaiian-born. He's a black belt karate champion', she says proudly.
Pricilla refuses to compare Mike to Elvis although she concedes that Mike is the kind of male to whom she is attracted. 'He's very much of a man to me, and treats me like a woman. I would never go with a guy who wasn't boss. I mean the man would definitely have to be the more dominant person'. She admits that her life with Mike is much freer. 'His schedule is flexible, so we can do things together. We both enjoy riding, and have horses, which we keep at the stables in Huntington Beach. Mike had his horse here and I brought Domino, a gift from Elvis, up from Memphis'. Priscilla insists that there's no possibility of a reconciliation with Presley, but she says she has no notion of marrying Stone. 'I really can't say for the future - I only know about today and how I feel - but I don't have any plans for marriage. I think that there can be a very good relationship between two people that marriage can ruin'.
'In marriage, you can easily take each other for granted. You begin to feel obligated. I see it happening to my friends - every one is divorced - and I saw it happen to me. It's a slow gradual change'. She pauses. 'Whatever it is that marriage does, it changes you. It may be the obligation; it may be the responsibility. People become less sensitive to each other's needs. They do something because they have to, not because they want to. So I would rather be the girlfriend than the wife'.
'For some reason 'wife' is a bad word to me. So much is expected of you. It's a role, and if something doesn't turn out, it's your fault. But I don't feel resentful or regretful. It was an experience. Today, I feel I am a better person than I was ten years ago because I know a lot more, I've learned a lot'.
'Life just kind of does things, you know. I can't change, and Elvis had his work and the things he had to do, and he can't change. One day you realize that it's going to be this way forever. So you have to make adjustments. And when you know where you stand, you no longer have to please anybody but yourself. Then you can begin to live and have an identity without depending on someone else - no matter who that someone else may be'.