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Elvis Presley and Priscilla

On September 13, 1959, fourteen-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu met 24-year-old Elvis Presley at a party, at his home in Bad Nauheim, Germany, which he had rented during his military service. Her presence is said to have made Elvis act like an “awkward, embarrassed” boy-next-door. He composed himself by the end of the evening.  Priscilla’s late return home on the night of that first meeting upset her parents, and they insisted that she never see Elvis again, but his eagerness for another rendezvous and his promise never to bring her home late again led them to relent. Thereafter, Priscilla and Elvis were frequently together until his departure from West Germany in March 1960.

After Elvis’s return to the US, Priscilla managed to stay in touch with him by phone, though they did not see each other again until the summer of 1962, when Priscilla’s parents agreed to let her visit for two weeks. They allowed her to go on the condition Elvis pay for a first-class round trip and arrange for her to be chaperoned at all times, and that she write home every day. Elvis agreed to all these demands, and Priscilla flew to Los Angeles. Elvis told her they were going to Las Vegas and, to confuse her parents he had Priscilla write a postcard for every day they would be away – to be mailed daily from Los Angeles by a member of his staff.

It was during this visit, while on a trip to Las Vegas, that Priscilla first took amphetamines and sleeping pills to keep up with Elvis’s lifestyle. After another visit at Christmas, Priscilla’s parents let her move to Memphis for good in mid-March 1963. Part of the agreement was that they would eventually marry. She would finish her senior year at an all-girls Catholic school, the Immaculate Conception High School, and live with Elvis’ father and stepmother in a separate house a few streets away from the Graceland mansion at 3650 Hermitage Drive, until she graduated in May. However, according to her 1985 autobiography, Elvis and Me, she “spent entire nights with Grandma [Elvis’ grandmother, Minnie Mae Presley] at Graceland and gradually moved her belongings there”. It is believed she had her permanent residence at Graceland as early as May 1963.

Shortly before Christmas 1966, Elvis proposed to Priscilla, after being reminded of the record contract’s RCA “morals clause” by his manager Colonel Parker. Priscilla suggested in a 1973 interview with Ladies’ Home Journal that she and Elvis were quite happy to just live together, but “at that time it wasn’t nice for people to [just] live together”. According to his cook Alberta and friend Marty Lackner, Elvis was reluctant to marry and upset about not having a choice. Others, such as Joe Esposito have asserted that Elvis was excited to marry Priscilla.

The couple married on May 1, 1967, at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas. The wedding, arranged by Parker to maximize publicity, featured very few guests and was over in only eight minutes. It was followed by a quick press conference and a $10,000 breakfast reception, attended by friends, family, and business associates from MGM, RCA, and the William Morris Agency. The wedding caused rifts between Elvis and several of his closest friends, including Red West, who were not invited to the actual wedding ceremony. Although the blame mainly fell on Parker, resentment was held for years to follow.

Following the reception, Priscilla and Elvis boarded a private jet and enjoyed a short honeymoon in Palm Springs. On May 4, they flew back to Memphis and retreated to their private ranch, just over the Mississippi state line, for a three-week break. Many of Elvis’ inner circle joined them, although for the most part the couple were left alone and were able to enjoy each other’s company without the intrusion of the Memphis Mafia. “I loved playing house”, she later remarked; adding, “Here was an opportunity to take care of him myself. No maids or housekeepers to pamper us.” In an attempt to heal rifts, Elvis and Priscilla held another reception at Graceland on May 29 for the friends and family who were unable to attend the original ceremonies.

Soon after, Priscilla found out that she was pregnant. She was upset at such an early pregnancy, certain that it would destroy the closeness she had finally found with Elvis. She had asked him earlier if she could take birth control pills, but Elvis had insisted they were not perfected yet. She considered abortion, and even discussed it with Elvis at one point, but both decided they could not live with themselves if they had gone through with it. Their only child, Lisa Marie, was born exactly nine months after their wedding, on February 1, 1968.

Despite Priscilla’s affair with her dance instructor and Elvis’s on-and-off affairs with his co-stars, the first few years they were married seemed a happy time for the couple. However, when Elvis’s career took off again after his 1968 television special, he was constantly touring and playing in Las Vegas, having affairs whilst Priscilla stayed at home to care for their daughter Lisa Marie.

Priscilla took up karate after Elvis, a keen karate student, convinced her to do so. Priscilla, keen to share her husband’s interests, thought it was a good idea, as a hobby to concentrate on would pass the time she spent alone. Following disruptions from Elvis, Priscilla began taking lessons from Mike Stone, a karate instructor she had met in 1972 backstage at one of Elvis’ concerts She soon began an affair with him.

Priscilla and Elvis separated on February 24, 1972, and filed for legal separation on July 26. To avoid Priscilla having to make her home address available on public records, risking the security of her and Lisa Marie, Elvis filed for divorce, on his 38th birthday, January 8, 1973. The divorce was finalized on October 9, 1973.

The couple agreed to share custody of their daughter, and Priscilla was awarded an outright cash payment of $725,000 as well as spousal support, child support, 5% of Elvis’ new publishing companies and half the income from the sale of their Beverly Hills home. Originally the couple had agreed upon a much smaller settlement; a $100,000 lump payment, $1,000 a month spousal support, and $500 a month child support. Priscilla was keen to make it on her own and prove that her marriage to Elvis was not about money. After consulting her new lawyers, her demands increased, pointing out that a star of Elvis’ stature could easily afford more for his former wife and child.

Information provided by Linda Zabriskie Johnson

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