Sofia Coppola’s highly anticipated, dreamy-eyed new biopic, Priscilla, is set to chronicle the life of Priscilla Presley, the woman who was thrust into the spotlight as Elvis’s impeccably dressed, bouffanted bride, and emerged from their six-year marriage as a legend in her own right. Adapted from Priscilla’s own 1985 memoir, Elvis and Me, it’ll follow our titular heroine from the age of 15 to 27, depicting her whirlwind romance with the king of rock and roll as well as its fallout in ravishing detail. But how did the pair actually meet, what was their married life really like, and why did their union crumble? Brush up on all the details below, ahead of the film’s premiere at the Venice Film Festival.
How did Priscilla and Elvis actually meet?
A 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu famously met Elvis, then 24, while he was in the midst of his military service in Germany in 1959. In her book, she describes herself then as “a shy, pretty little girl, unhappily accustomed to moving from base to base every two or three years” on account of her stepfather, a US air force officer (her biological father, a US navy pilot, died in a plane crash when Priscilla was only six months old). Following his transfer from Texas to Wiesbaden, in West Germany, one of Elvis’s friends invited Priscilla to a party at the musician’s house. By that point, Elvis was already a superstar with a string of number-one hits under his belt, from ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ to ‘Jailhouse Rock’ and ‘Hound Dog’. By all accounts, he took a liking to her immediately and, in Priscilla’s telling, the pair spent a few hours together in his bedroom, but kept things chaste. When she came home late, her parents were furious and insisted she never see him again. However, he was determined to pursue her—he promised them never to bring her home late again, and they eventually relented. A glimpse of this fortuitous first meeting can be seen in the first teaser for Priscilla.
From then on, and until Elvis’s departure from Germany in the spring of 1960, the pair were frequently together. “The first six months I spent with him were filled with tenderness and affection,” she later wrote. “Blinded by love, I saw none of his faults or weaknesses. He was to become the passion of my life.” Before leaving for the US, she said he told her: “I want you to promise me you’ll stay the way you are. Untouched, as I left you.” At this point in her life, Priscilla was suddenly inundated with interview requests and fan mail, but given Elvis’s numerous other rumored relationships, she was unsure if she’d ever see him again.
What was their early courtship like?
…But, of course, as luck would have it, she did. Priscilla managed to stay in touch with Elvis by phone, and two years later, he invited her to visit him in Los Angeles for two weeks. Her parents agreed on the condition that she be chaperoned, but that wasn’t the case in reality—Elvis took the 16-year-old to Las Vegas instead.
After more visits, Priscilla’s parents allowed her to move to Memphis in 1963. The assumption was that she’d finish high school there and live with Elvis’s father and stepmother in a separate house close to Graceland until she could marry Elvis. In truth, she was always sneaking off to see him, and had effectively made the mansion her permanent residence long before her parents knew or approved. “Day after day I drove to school, attended classes till noon, then returned to Graceland to slip back into bed and cuddle next to Elvis, who was still sound asleep,” she wrote. “I was leading a double life—a schoolgirl by day, a femme fatale at night.” (According to her book, she and Elvis had a penchant for role-playing games in the bedroom and taking polaroids of each other in various costumes—something which also appears in the Priscilla teaser.) Priscilla also spent periods of time alone in Memphis while Elvis went to work in Hollywood. Following reports that he was romantically linked to other women, she confronted him, but he denied the rumors and urged her not to believe everything she read.
When did Elvis propose?
Elvis proposed to Priscilla shortly before the Christmas of 1966, but the primary reason for his decision was less than romantic: His manager, Colonel Tom Parker, had reminded him of the “morals clause” in his record contract, and the pressure was on to make a decision about Priscilla before word spread that he’d been living with her while also chasing a bevy of other women. In a 1973 interview, Priscilla admitted that she and Elvis were quite happy to just be living together, but that wasn’t viewed as socially acceptable.
What was their wedding like?
The pair married in Las Vegas on May 1, 1967, when Priscilla was 21. The wedding took place in a suite at the Aladdin Hotel with around 14 guests in attendance, and was over in just eight minutes. In order to maximize the publicity, Colonel Tom Parker ensured that it was followed by a press conference and champagne breakfast for 100, attended by business associates as well as friends and family. The bride wore a white lace wedding dress with a rhinestone tiara and three-foot tulle veil, and the groom a black paisley silk brocade tuxedo, as they were photographed cutting their five-foot-tall, six-tier wedding cake. Priscilla maintains that despite having done “other things,” the pair didn’t consummate their relationship until their wedding night, a claim which has been questioned by her biographers. After the big day, the Presleys jetted off to Palm Springs for a minimoon and then returned to Graceland, where they held a second reception for those who weren’t able to attend their Vegas celebration.
What was Priscilla and Elvis’s married life like?
Priscilla discovered she was pregnant soon after their wedding and their daughter, Lisa Marie, was born exactly nine months later, on February 1, 1968. “She was so tiny, so beautiful,” Priscilla wrote. “Elvis came into the room and kissed me, thrilled that we had a perfectly normal, healthy baby. He was already in love with her. He watched me holding her and his eyes misted with happiness. Then he took us both in his arms and held us.”
However, this period was tumultuous, too. In Elvis and Me, Priscilla confessed that while her husband was away filming Live a Little, Love a Little, she began taking private dance lessons and found herself attracted to her instructor. They had a brief affair and she said she “came out of it realising I needed much more out of my relationship with Elvis.” Despite her infidelity, not to mention Elvis’s various trysts with his co-stars, the first few years of their marriage seemed largely happy, though it became more strained once Elvis’s career took off again in the wake of his 1968 TV special. While he was on tour, Priscilla remained at home to care for Lisa Marie.
Why did their marriage end?
There were several points of tension in their marriage from this point onwards. In her memoir, Priscilla recalled that Elvis had complete control over her. “He taught me everything: how to dress, how to walk, how to apply make-up and wear my hair, how to behave, how to return love—his way,” she wrote. “Over the years, he became my father, husband, and very nearly God.” She had, for instance, shown an interest in modelling and acting, but Elvis was uneasy about her having her own career. He did, however, encourage her to take up karate, being a keen student of the sport himself. She took lessons from an instructor named Mike Stone, with whom she embarked on another affair. “I still loved Elvis greatly, but over the next few months I knew I would have to make a crucial decision regarding my destiny,” she wrote of that time. She said that Elvis perceived a restlessness in her and, soon after, requested to see her in his hotel room and “forcefully made love to me [saying] ‘This is how a real man makes love to his woman.’”
She later added that she regretted her own choice of words and had overplayed that incident. Still, she wrote, “what really hurt was that he was not sensitive to me as a woman and his attempt at reconciliation had come too late…my physical and emotional needs were unfulfilled. This was not the gentle, understanding man I grew to love.” The couple separated in 1972, and their divorce was finalised in October of 1973. But they remained close, even walking out of the courthouse hand in hand on the day of their divorce. Just four years later, Elvis would die of heart failure at the age of 42. “Elvis was still an essential part of my life,” Priscilla wrote. “Over the last years, we’d become good friends, admitting the mistakes we’d made in the past and just beginning to laugh at our shortcomings. I could not face the reality that I would never see him alive again. He had always been there for me.”
This article was originally published on Vogue.com.