So much has been told about Elvis—by those who knew him well and those who said they did but did not. I hope to give a better idea of what he was as a man and what our 14 years together were like.
Nothing in my upbringing could have prepared me for our life. When we met, I was an impressionable 14 years old. He was 24. I was an insecure Air Force brat, unhappily accustomed to moving from base to base. One day while rummaging through old family keepsakes, I had learned that the man I had always called Daddy—Capt. Joseph Paul Beaulieu—had actually adopted me after his marriage to my mother, Ann [Iversen]. My real father, Lt. James Wagner, a Navy pilot, had been killed in a plane crash when I was 6 months old. Mother suggested—so as not to endanger our family closeness—that I keep my discovery from the younger children, Michelle and Don (Jeff, Tim and Tom hadn’t yet been born). I respected her wishes. Years later, in a delicate discussion, it was brought up at a family gathering. It brought us all closer together.
People always said I was the prettiest girl in school, but I never felt that way. My mother was too shy to talk about the facts of life, so my sex education came when I was in the sixth grade. Some kids were passing around a book that looked like the Bible from the outside, but when you opened it, there were pictures of men making love to women, women making love to each other.
My body was changing and stirring with new feelings. I had gotten looks from boys, and once a picture of me in a tight sweater was stolen from the school bulletin board. Yet I was still a child, embarrassed about my own sexuality. I fantasized endlessly about French kissing, but when the friends who hung around our house played spin the bottle, it would take me half an hour to let a boy kiss my pursed lips.
But in 1959, after my father was assigned to Wiesbaden, West Germany [headquarters of the U.S. Air Force in Europe], I found myself deeply involved with Elvis. Something in his Southern upbringing had taught him that the “right” girl was to be saved for marriage. I was that girl. At the same time, he molded me into his woman. I wore the clothes, hairstyle and makeup of his careful choosing.
My parents became confused and bewildered by our relationship. We tried to make them believe that it was proper and platonic, and they wanted to believe me. Whenever they tried to stop us from seeing each other, I pleaded and cried and made them and myself miserable. In retrospect, I don’t think anything could have stopped me from seeing Elvis.
The story of my life with him really began when I was 11 and living with my family at Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin, Texas.
One night my father came home late for dinner and handed me a record album. “I don’t know what this Elvis guy is all about,” he said, “but he must be something special. I stood in line with half the armed forces at the PX to get this for you; everybody wants it.”
I put the record on the stereo and heard the rocking music of Blue Suede Shoes. The album was titled Elvis Presley. It was his first. Three years later and 5,500 miles away I would meet him.
My father had been transferred overseas, and I found myself lonely and homesick. One warm summer afternoon I was sitting with my brother Don at the Eagles Club, a place where American service families went for dinner and entertainment, when I noticed a handsome man in his 20s staring at me. I’d seen him watching me before, but I’d never paid any attention to him. This time he stood up and walked toward me. He introduced himself as Currie Grant.
He asked where in the States I came from, how I liked Germany, and if I liked Elvis Presley.
“Of course,” I said. “Who doesn’t?”
“I’m a good friend of his. My wife and I go to his house quite often. How would you like to join us one evening?”
Unprepared for such an extraordinary invitation, I became guarded. I told him I’d have to ask my parents. Over the course of the next two weeks, Currie met my parents and my father checked out his credentials. Currie was also in the Air Force and it turned out that my father knew his commanding officer. That seemed to break the ice between them. Currie assured Dad that I’d be well chaperoned when we visited Elvis, who lived off base in a house in Bad Nauheim.
On the appointed night, Currie picked me up and drove me to an ordinary-looking three-story house surrounded by a white picket fence. There was a sign on the gate in German, which translated as: “Autographs between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m. only.”
The plain, almost drab living room was filled with people, but I spotted Elvis immediately. He was handsomer than he appeared in films, younger and more vulnerable looking with his GI haircut. He was in civilian clothes, a bright red sweater and tan slacks, and he was sitting with one leg swung over the arm of a large overstuffed chair, with a cigar dangling from his lips.
As Currie led me over to him, Elvis stood up and smiled. “Well,” he said, “what have we here? What are you, about a junior or senior in high school?”
I blushed and said nothing, not willing to reveal that I was only in the ninth grade.
“Well,” he persisted.
Elvis looked confused. “Ninth what?”
“Grade,” I whispered.
“Ninth grade,” he said and started laughing. “Why, you’re just a baby.”
We made small talk for a while. Then Elvis got up and walked over to the piano and sat down.
He sang Rags to Riches and Are You Lonesome Tonight? and then with his friends singing harmony, At the End of a Rainbow.
I saw Elvis trying to get my attention. I noticed that the less response I showed, the more he began singing just for me. I couldn’t believe that Elvis Presley was trying to impress me.
Still, I never expected to hear from him again. Then, a few days later, the phone rang. It was Currie. He said he’d just got a call from Elvis, who wondered if it was possible for Currie to bring me over that night. The visit was similar to the first, then, on the third visit, after Elvis had finished singing, he came up to me. “I want to be alone with you, Priscilla. Will you come upstairs to my room?”
As he spoke, he was smoothing my hair. “I swear I’ll never do anything to harm you.” He sounded absolutely sincere. “I’ll treat you just like a sister.”
Standing there looking into his eyes, I was drawn to him almost against my will. I believed him. Then I nodded. “All right. I’ll go.”
Upstairs in Elvis’ room, which was as plain and impersonal as the other rooms in the house, I cuddled in his arms as Elvis talked to me about his mother, who had died Aug. 14, 1958, and how deeply he missed her. When it was time for me to go, he kissed me goodbye—my first real kiss. He broke away first, saying, “We have plenty of time, Little One.” He kissed my forehead and sent me home.
By our fourth date, Dad had laid down the law: “If you want to continue seeing Elvis, we’re going to have to meet him.”
Elvis bristled, then agreed, provided he could bring his father along. He arrived in his BMW wearing his Army uniform to impress Dad. There was small talk. Then Dad offered dinner, but Elvis said he didn’t have time. Finally, my father got around to explaining to Elvis the Beaulieu dating rules. If he wanted to see me, Elvis had to pick me up and bring me home. Elvis explained that by the time he got off duty, went home, cleaned up, came to Wiesbaden and back, the evening would be gone. Would it be all right to have his father collect me?
Dad mulled this over, then expressed his concern. “Just what is the intent here? Let’s face it: You’re Elvis Presley. You have women throwing themselves at you. Why my daughter?”
“Well, sir, I happen to be very fond of her. She’s a lot more mature than her age and I enjoy her company. It hasn’t been easy for me, being away from home and all. It gets kinda lonely. I guess you might say I need someone to talk to. You don’t have to worry about her, Captain. I’ll take good care of her.”
Elvis disarmed Dad, just as he did my mother. I joined Elvis as he stood, picked up his hat, and added, “Well, sir, we’ve got a long drive.”
Gradually, a pattern developed. Elvis would call after 7 to let me know that I’d be picked up at 8. I had to dress quickly, trying to find some way to appear older than my age. At times I’d borrow my mother’s clothes and hope everyone would assume I was at least 16. Once I was with Elvis, I never felt that we had enough time alone.
People were always dropping by, standing around the living room talking and laughing, until Elvis came down from his room. As soon as he appeared, the room would become silent until he revealed his mood. No one, including myself, dared joke around unless he laughed and then we all laughed.
Because I had to share the little time I had with Elvis with so many others, I began to feel jealous and possessive. It was only late in the evening, when we were in his bedroom, that I was truly happy.
We had a nightly ritual. At about 10 or 11, Elvis would glance at me and look toward the stairs. Then, naively assuming that nobody knew where I was headed, I’d casually proceed to his bedroom, where I’d lie on his bed, waiting for him to appear. “Sweetness,” he would say, putting his arms around me. “You’re so pretty, Honey.” And then we’d kiss long, deep passionate kisses.
Each night that I was with him he entrusted a little more of himself—his doubts, his secrets, and his frustrations. It was a lot to expect someone my age to understand, but I tried. I listened to his desires to become a great actor like his idols Marlon Brando, James Dean, Karl Malden and Rod Steiger. I was concerned about his fears that he might not regain the popularity he felt he’d lost by serving in the Army.
Nights when his mood was calm and peaceful, he would describe his ideal woman and tell me how perfectly I fit this image. He liked soft-spoken brunettes with blue eyes. He wanted to mold me to his opinions and preferences. Fidelity was very important to him, especially on the woman’s part.
As the weeks passed, school became a chore. After getting to bed so late, I found it difficult to rise at seven and almost impossible to concentrate. But I knew that if I ever complained about being too tired, or was late for school, my parents would use the fact to put a stop to my seeing Elvis.
My study habits became worse. I was failing algebra and German, and barely passing history and English. At the end of the fall semester, I altered the D-minus grade on my report card to a B-plus, praying my father would never consult the teacher. I kept telling myself that I would do better, that I’d catch up, but my concentration was totally on Elvis.
One night when I went to see him, I tell asleep while waiting for him to finish his karate class. When he came downstairs he saw how exhausted I was. He then led me up to his room, where he placed a handful of small white pills in the palm of my hand. “I want you to take these; they’ll help you stay awake during the day.”
“What are they?” I asked.
“You don’t need to know what they are; they give them to us when we go on maneuvers. If I didn’t have them, I’d never make it through the day myself. But it’s okay, they’re safe.”
Elvis honestly believed he was doing me a favor by giving me the pills, and I’m sure the thought never entered his mind that they could be harmful to him or me.
I didn’t take the pills. I put them in a small box with various items I had started to collect, such as cigar holders and little personal notes he had given me, and hid the box in a drawer.
Later I learned that the pills were Dexedrine, which Elvis had discovered in the Army. Elvis, who was accustomed to living the life of an entertainer and who despised rising at dawn, began taking the pills to get him through the dreary hours of Army life. He told me he’d begun taking sleeping pills shortly before he’d been drafted. He dreaded insomnia and feared sleepwalking, which had plagued him periodically since childhood.
It was March 1, 1960, the night before Elvis was to leave Germany to return to the States. We were lying on his bed, our arms around each other. I was in a state of complete despair.
That night our lovemaking was especially passionate. Would I ever see him again, be in his arms the way I had been nearly every night for the past six months? I could not bear the thought of the night ending and us saying goodbye for what I thought would be the last time. I wept and wept.
For the last time I begged him to consummate our love. It would have been so easy for him. I was young, desperately in love, and he could have taken advantage of me. But he quietly said, “No. Someday we will, Priscilla, but not now. You’re just too young.”
For the two days after Elvis left, I locked myself in my room, unable to eat, unable to sleep. Finally I forced myself to go to school and found myself swamped by reporters and photographers.
“Has he called you since he returned?”
“Did you know he’s seeing Nancy Sinatra?”
They also told me Nancy had met Elvis at the airport. Days passed into weeks and I became more and more resigned that Elvis was now dating Nancy Sinatra. Then, 21 days after he left, the phone rang at 3 o’clock in the morning.
“Hi, Baby. How’s my little girl?”
From then on, I lived in a state of suspended animation, waiting for Elvis’ infrequent calls. He would phone out of the blue after three weeks—or three months. He always did most of the talking, chatting about his current film or co-star. Elvis also mentioned that he wanted me to see Graceland, especially at Christmas. That gave me some hope. I wanted to believe him when he said he still cared for me. But during the periods when I did not hear from him, I couldn’t help but doubt that I would ever see him again. I gleaned every bit of news about Elvis that I could. But each story about Elvis seemed to up-set me all the more. He seemed to be romantically linked with many beautiful starlets in Hollywood—Tuesday Weld and Juliet Prowse among them.
One snowy day in February 1962, I received a call from Elvis. It had been months since we last spoke.
“I’d like to make arrangements for you to visit me in Los Angeles,” he said. “Do you think we can work it out?”
I didn’t think my father could ever be persuaded to let me go. There were several phone calls with Elvis trying to say all the right words to please my parents. I had separate talks with my mother, hoping she’d help me convince Dad.
Once again Elvis met every one of Dad’s demands: that we wait until I was on summer vacation, that Elvis send me a first-class round-trip ticket, that he send my parents an itinerary of my daily activities for the two weeks I’d be in Los Angeles, that I be constantly chaperoned, and that I write my parents every day.
The next few months might as well have been years. I marked off each day on the calendar until we would be together.
Finally I arrived in Los Angeles and was picked up by Joe Esposito, one of Elvis’ boys. We drove to Elvis’ house on Bellagio Road, a large home modeled after an Italian villa. We were met by Elvis’ butler, who introduced himself as Jimmy and said, “Mr. P is in the den.” As we walked through the door, I could hear loud music playing and people laughing. Joe led me downstairs.
In the dim light I saw people lounging on a couch and others standing over a jukebox, selecting songs. Then I spotted Elvis, leaning over a pool table, ready to make a shot. He looked up and saw me and after a slight pause his face lit with a smile. “There she is!” he shouted, throwing down his cue stick. “There’s Priscilla!”
He picked me up in his arms and kissed me. I held onto him for as long as I could—until he put me down. “It’s about time,” he said, joking. “Where have you been all my life?”
Playing pool, Elvis laughed and joked around, and when one of the girls bent over the table to attempt a shot, Elvis poked her in the backside with his pool cue. She shrieked in surprise and everyone laughed—everyone except me. I couldn’t help noticing that there had been a slight change in Elvis. He’d left Germany a gentle, sensitive and insecure boy; through the course of the evening I’d see that he now was mischievous and self-confident to the point of cockiness.
He also seemed quick to anger. When a girl cautioned him to watch out for a glass that was perched precariously on the edge of the pool table, he shot her a dirty look, as if to tell her, “Move the glass yourself.”
It was after 12:30 a.m. when Elvis finally sat down next to me. Now it was like the old days in Germany: He was suggesting that we go to his bedroom.
As we lay in the dim light, he soon discovered that I was still a virgin. Relieved and pleased, he told me how much this meant to him. I began kissing him passionately. I wanted him—I was ready to submit entirely to him. Then, abruptly, he stopped.
“Wait a minute, Baby,” he said, speaking softly. “This can get out of hand.”
“Elvis, I want you.”
He put his finger to my lips and whispered, “Not yet, not now. We have a lot to look forward to. I’m not going to spoil you. I just want to keep you the way you are for now. There’ll be a right time and place, and when the moment comes, I’ll know it.”
Later that night he told me that I had to stay with friends of his, George and Shirley Barris. Although I protested, Elvis said, “I don’t want to go back on my promise to your father. Besides, if he found out you were staying with me, he’d make you go right home.” It didn’t make any sense, but I got out of bed and Elvis had Joe drive me over to the Barrises’ house, where I would spend the night.
Later I found out through one of the wives whom I had befriended the reason for my spending that first night with George and Shirley. Apparently Anita Wood, Elvis’ girlfriend from the days way back before he met me, had been sent back to Memphis and Elvis was taking precautions to avoid any awkward situations for himself that might have resulted from late-night phone calls.
After 3 o’clock the next afternoon Elvis called. “How would you like to go to Las Vegas? We could really have fun and I could show you around my favorite places.”
“I’d love to. When?”
“Tonight. We’ll load up the bus and head out about midnight, arrive in the morning, sleep all day, and see the shows and party all night.”
Since I had promised my parents a daily itinerary, I prewrote letters for the time we were gone and had them mailed daily from Los Angeles. Just before midnight, we hit the highway for Las Vegas. I learned that Elvis always preferred driving at night; it was cooler and there was less traffic. He came alive at night. There was a big difference between the daytime and the nocturnal Elvis. When the sun went down another personality took over, and on this particular night he was in great form. On a break between films, away from Colonel [Tom] Parker, free of pressures and responsibilities, he could relax and play.
On the way to Vegas we listened to music, nibbled on snacks, and drank Pepsis. In the front seat, Elvis and Gene Smith, another of his boys, joked in their own language. Elvis would say something and Gene would reply with a complete non sequitur. When conversation lagged, they engaged in surprise attacks, punching each other.
These antics continued throughout most of the drive across the desert. I felt out of sync with the private jokes and crazy high jinks. It was obvious that the boys picked up on Elvis’ every mood. I did not yet fit in.
We arrived around seven in the morning and checked into the Sahara Hotel. Finally we would be able to spend an entire night sleeping together.
Elvis was looking at me. “Do you believe this, Baby? After all this time, here you are. Who’d ever have thought we’d pull this off? Let’s not even think about you going back. We’ll have a good time. We’ll think about the other when the time comes.”
His words were starting to slur. His reactions slowed down. He pulled me closer and told me, again and again, “I’m glad you’re here…” And then—silence. I looked over at the bottles of pills near the bed and realized I still had competition.
The next day we jumped into a limo and rode around until Elvis spotted a boutique with glamorous gowns of sequins, lace and trills in the window. He greeted the saleswoman with “Hello, ma’am. I’m Elvis Presley and we’re just looking around. Maybe you could show us something that might interest my little friend.”
While the woman went to the back to rummage around for whatever she had in sizes 6 and 4, Elvis was rifling through the racks, pulling out dresses asking me which ones I liked.
I chose a half-dozen gowns with matching shoes and headed for the dressing room. The saleswoman followed. Away from Elvis’ eyes, she treated me like a little kid, but I was so enchanted with the clothes that I didn’t care.
We stayed for more than two hours, while Elvis bought me a black sheath, a midnight blue satin, several lovely silks and chiffons, and a baby blue brocade gown. For each dress there were matching capes, bags and shoes.
Back at our suite, Elvis said to Alan Fortas, another member of his retinue: “See if there’s anyone in the hotel who can do Cilia’s hair and makeup.”
“Hair and makeup?” I said. “What’s wrong with my hair?”
It was long and dark brown, casually combed. But beyond feeling he didn’t like my hair, now I began to think he didn’t like my looks.
“There’s nothing wrong with it, honey. It’s just that this is Las Vegas. Everyone has their hair done. You need to apply more makeup around your eyes—make them stand out more. They’re too plain naturally. I like a lot of makeup.”
Armond, a hairdresser at the hotel, came in and spent nearly two hours creating my new look. He teased and twisted up my hair with one long curl falling in front of my left shoulder. Then he applied makeup so heavily that you couldn’t tell if my eyes were black, blue, or black and blue. That was what Elvis wanted.
When I put on my brocade gown, my transformation from an innocent teenager to a sophisticated siren was complete. I looked like one of the lead dancers in the Folies-Bergère.
“Damn, what happened to Little Cilia,” Elvis said when he saw me. “You look beautiful.”
For the next two weeks, we slept during the day and played at night. If there was a show, we saw it; if there was a casino, we gambled at it. To help me adapt to the fast paced and unusual hours I would join Elvis and the others in taking amphetamines and sleeping pills. Despite whatever misgivings I had about pills, I took them. In order for me to keep up, they became essential.
The day before I was to leave for West Germany, Elvis took me aside and said, “Baby, as much as I hate to say it, we’re gonna have to face it. Our time is up.”
Later, during our lovemaking, Elvis still didn’t enter me.
“I want you back the way you are now,” he whispered just before dawn. “And remember, I’ll always know.”
We were apart for a few months, then Elvis and I spent the Christmas of 1962 together at Graceland. When I returned to Germany and my life as a senior in high school, I began to reveal to mother that Elvis and I loved each other and longed to be together. Finally one day I summoned the courage to tell her that Elvis wanted me to finish school in Memphis. Her response: an unqualified no. She felt it could wait until my father’s tour of duty was over. That would be the end of summer, she said, and there was no need for me to return to Elvis sooner.
Then Elvis called my father. Elvis assured him that if I was permitted to move to Memphis, I wouldn’t live with him at Graceland but with his daddy, Vernon, and his wife, Dee. Elvis promised to enroll me in a good school—he’d choose it himself—and make sure I graduated. He said I’d always be chaperoned and that he’d care for me in every way. Declaring his intentions honorable, he swore that he loved and needed and respected me. In fact, he couldn’t live without me, he said, intimating that one day we’d marry. In that light, there was little my parents could do but say yes, and eventually they did.
Elvis and I planned to live together at Graceland eventually, but I kept my promise at first and moved in with Vernon and Dee in Memphis. Living with them turned out to be difficult. I felt out of place in their home, and did not want to be an intrusion in their personal life. I went to Immaculate Conception High School each morning, and in the afternoons and evenings I began spending more time at Graceland with Elvis’ grandma, often staying all night. Almost unnoticed, I began to move in my things. Elvis was still in Los Angeles filming Fun in Acapulco and by the time he suggested that I move into Graceland I already had.