Authors: Suzanne Finstad
Also by Suzanne Finstad
WARREN BEATTY: A PRIVATE MAN
NATASHA: THE BIOGRAPHY OF NATALIE WOOD
SLEEPING WITH THE DEVIL
HEIR NOT APPARENT
Copyright © 1997 by Suzanne Finstad
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Three Rivers Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
Three Rivers Press and the Tugboat design are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Harmony Books, New York, in 1997.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Child bride: the untold story of Priscilla Beaulieu Presley / by Suzanne Finstad.—1st ed.
1. Presley, Priscilla Beaulieu. 2. Motion pictures actors and actresses—
United States—Biography. I. Title.
For Natalie & Lisa & Paige
and for my grandmother, Edel
I think it is important to clarify that while Priscilla Beaulieu Presley agreed to be interviewed for this book, she in no way cooperated with or participated in the preparation of this book, and she has not endorsed
, nor does she authorize it.
had no idea, when I conceived of writing a biography of Priscilla Beaulieu Presley in the summer of 1995, that I would be opening a Pandora’s box.
In the then eighteen years since the death of Elvis Presley, a virtual cottage industry had arisen: a veritable library of Presley books, feature films, television movies, television series, documentaries, a university course, even a religion. Elvis Presley had transcended legend to become what one journalist I interviewed compared with popular culture’s secular equivalent of a saint.
As his once notorious child bride, the woman with whom millions of Elvis fans have a love-hate relationship, Priscilla Presley seemed, to me, an important cultural icon in her own right, yet curiously little was known about her. Priscilla’s life has always been veiled in mystery. As a teenager, she was cloistered at Graceland, trailed by whispers labeling her Elvis Presley’s Lolita. Once married to Elvis, Priscilla retained her status as “Hollywood’s best-kept secret,” virtually unrecognized apart from Elvis. When Presley died, she was mentioned in passing in the Elvis biographies—often the first sections to which readers would turn, eager for more information about the King’s mystery child bride. Of all the fascination surrounding Elvis, his bizarre courtship of fourteen-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu held the greatest intrigue. What was the
reason the parents of a ninth-grade girl permitted their daughter to date, then live with, a rock star?
What spell did Priscilla cast over Elvis that drew him to her, and kept him attached? Those were the unanswered, burning questions of Elvis mythology. As proof, when Priscilla wrote her own memoir over a decade ago, it became an immediate publishing sensation.
Yet the story still had not been told. Priscilla’s autobiography revealed next to nothing about her life before or after Elvis and contained no recollections from anyone but Priscilla. My intention was to research and write a definitive biography of Priscilla Presley, consort to arguably the greatest cultural icon of modern history, to fill a gap in the existing Elvis archives. I had no reason, at the time, to suspect that her book or the story she told were anything other than true, merely incomplete.
As I started on what would become two years of intensive research, clues began to surface suggesting that the story Priscilla told of her life was not as it was. Priscilla Presley, I discovered, was a woman of many and profound secrets, beginning when she was a child of three and continuing ever after. Deep in the attic of her past was a closet door, behind which were skeletons unimagined. Putting together the pieces of her hidden life was tantamount to solving a Rubik’s cube.
What I uncovered, in part, was that the legend of Elvis-and-Priscilla rooted in Priscilla’s memoirs and repeated as fact in countless Elvis biographies was an elaborate fiction created by Priscilla as a result of a series of byzantine, occasionally traumatic events leading up to her meeting with Elvis and continuing afterward. The real story is infinitely more powerful than the myth and, ultimately, tragic; the true Priscilla more complex. Priscilla Beaulieu Presley is not, and never was, the fragile, demure child-woman she has come to personify; she is, in a word, a
, a woman of indomitable will and almost frightening determination.
In reconstructing her life, I retraced Priscilla’s footsteps from birth in Brooklyn, New York, to childhood in Connecticut, Texas, Maine, New Mexico, Germany, and Memphis, even sleeping in the bedroom where she first stayed at the Vernon Presley house adjacent to Graceland in March of 1963. I scoured virtually every book available on the Presleys, which number in the hundreds; haunted libraries and flea markets in search of the seemingly infinite magazine articles about Elvis, Priscilla, or Lisa; listened to Elvis Presley’s music; watched his movies; screened documentaries; hunted for and scrutinized vintage photographs;
rented Priscilla Presley pictures; pored through probate, divorce, and other civil court records and archives; immersed myself in Scientology literature; and interviewed close to three hundred people, each of whom held various pieces of the puzzle that were Elvis and Priscilla.
As my research deepened, I noticed a parallel between one of Elvis’s signature songs, the hauntingly beautiful “Are You Lonesome Tonight?,” and his ultimately doomed relationship with Priscilla. Elvis recorded the song in the spring of 1960, shortly after he returned from Germany, where he had just met Priscilla Beaulieu. Many who knew Elvis felt the song personified him, for he harbored, from birth, a deep, inexplicable loneliness, something Priscilla, as a child, shared with him, part of what bonded them initially. The spoken verse, which was inspired by Jacque’s speech in Act Two of Shakespeare’s
As You Like It
, was eerily prophetic of Elvis Presley’s unfolding relationship with Priscilla Beaulieu. Elvis, who placed a mystical importance on such things, would have appreciated the symbolism.
What is personal integrity?
Personal integrity is knowing what you know—
What you know is what you know—
And to have the courage to know and say what you have observed.
And that is integrity
And there is no other integrity.
L. RON HUBBARD
The truth shall set you free, man.
n March of 1963, Priscilla Ann Beaulieu was at the crossroads of her life. Though just seventeen, a senior in high school, she was faced with a decision that she knew, with a child’s wisdom, would forever alter the course of her destiny, and she had a strange foreboding.
She was desperately in love, as only a teenager can be—a forbidden love—locked in conflict with her parents, especially her mother, Ann Beaulieu. Elvis Presley—the twenty-eight-year-old rock-and-roll idol and movie star, the most famous sex symbol in the world—held the seventeen-year-old in thrall and wanted her to move into his compound in Memphis as his girlfriend-in-waiting while she finished high school and came of age.
But Elvis was not the object of Priscilla Beaulieu’s teenage fancy that fateful spring. She was breathless over the handsome eighteen-year-old star of her high school football team. She did not want to leave her life in Germany for a dubious future with a rock star. It was
Beaulieu, her mother, who was obsessed with the idea of Priscilla moving to Graceland to become Elvis Presley’s de facto child bride.
Both mother and daughter feared that Priscilla might be making the greatest mistake of her life: Priscilla, if she went to Graceland; Ann, if she stayed. In the end, Priscilla deferred to her
mother, as she habitually did. She packed her bags for Graceland with barely a good-bye to the boy she left behind.
As this tale implies, it would be difficult to tell Priscilla’s story without beginning with her mother’s, for their lives and their destinies would always be linked in mysterious ways, ways understood only by Priscilla and Ann. They were bound together by secrets, secrets only Ann fully understood.
Ann, as would her famous daughter, began life with a different name: Anna. Anna Lillian Iversen. As a child, she was called Rooney, short for Annie Rooney. Where that nickname came from—possibly a 1920s cartoon character—the Iversens would not reveal to outsiders. They were Norwegians who considered the most trivial family detail “personal and private.” Ann’s family history, they still maintain, is nobody else’s business. Outside the family, and even to Ann, it is a forbidden topic.
There was nothing of portent in her early life. Anna Iversen was the youngest of three children, all of whom were born in March, each two years apart: Albert Junior in 1922, James in 1924, Anna in 1926. Their father, Albert Iversen, was Nordic-handsome—big, strapping, and blond; their mother, Lorraine, was a petite mix of Scotch-Irish and English, “a pretty little peanut,” in the words of Anna’s maternal cousin Margaret. The year before Anna was born, Albert and Lorraine Iversen set up permanent residence in New London, Connecticut, a picturesque working-class town on the eastern seaboard known chiefly as a base for the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard. Albert, in keeping with his potent physical presence and ego, joined the police force.