Elvis and Me by Priscilla Presley and Sandra Harmon (1985)
Priscilla directed by Sofia Coppola (2023)
This is about Priscilla Presley’s relationship with Elvis Presley.
Priscilla in high school
I am going to get right into the details of the story beginning with Priscilla’s high school days.
The book begins with the death of Elvis, and from there we see her life before Germany. She tells a story of being a candidate for a school election and she was going against her friend. She valued the friendship more than winning, and she hadn’t even wanted to run in the first place. She was sure she would lose, however she ended up being the winner and she disappointed her dad when she didn’t have an acceptance speech prepared. I wasn’t totally sure why this story was shared. I guess it shows her modesty and lack of confidence and her shyness. As well as highlighting her shame at disappointing her father. Maybe showing her people pleasing side which flared up even more when she begins to date Elvis.
We also learn in the book that around this time she found out that her father was not her birth father. Her biological dad had died in the WW2 when she was a baby, and when the mom remarried, her new husband adopted Priscilla and always treated her as his own daughter. None of this is in the movie.
The movie begins with Priscilla in Germany where she and her parents moved because her father was in the military.
While at a military restaurant that she would hang out at alone after school, a man approaches her and asks her if she would like to meet Elvis. The man is able to convince her parents to let him take her and she goes and meets Elvis. From here, she goes often to see him and eventually her parents says they want to meet him. He is able to win them over to some extent, but they all also know that he only has a few months left before he has to go back to America. They never really get over finding it odd that he is interested in their high school daughter when he is a grown man. Elvis tells her parents that Priscilla is mature for her age, and I gotta say if an older guy says that about you-run for the hills! Nine out of ten times, he isn’t into you for your emotional maturity, rather he likes that you are young and naïve.
I wanted to mention that in the movie, there is only a one year difference between the actors playing Priscilla and Elvis. Even though they are both great, and he is very tall which adds the the power dynamic, I kind of wish they would have had someone older player Elvis.
While she spends time with him, they kiss but it never goes beyond that. He is vulnerable around her as he tells her about his dreams and his struggles. She is of course captivated by him-he is handsome, talented, fun, and charming. When he leaves, he makes her promise to stay innocent (ie stay a virgin) while they are separated. He tells her how important it is that the girl he chooses stays committed to him, which is very hypocritical because he would do whatever he wanted even though he wouldn’t tolerate that from his partner.
She is 14 when they first meet, and through the following years they write letters here and there, but she doesn’t hear from him often.
When she is 16 he is able to get her parents to let her fly to Memphis over the Christmas holiday. He had given her pills before in order to help her stay awake, but while in Memphis he gives her a pill for sleeping and it knocks her out for two days which is shown in the movie. But she starts taking a variety of uppers and downers while she is with him. They also go to Vegas during this time and she starts dressing older and wearing more makeup. In the book, during this time they are playing records of some of his music and she says why he doesn’t make songs like Jailhouse Rock. He gets upset and yells at her that he gets enough opinions and doesn’t need hers too and he storms out, slamming the door. This is the first time she experiences his anger aimed at her and is very shocked. This isn’t in the movie.
Overall though she has a great visit and reluctantly goes back home. Crying the whole flight and showing up to her parents with makeup running down her face.
Moving in with Elvis
When she is in her senior year, they are able to convince her parents to let her live with Elvis in Memphis where she will enroll in a Catholic school there. She assures her parents she will graduate and be responsible.
Elvis will often be gone, working on movies, and she is left alone and bored. She tells Elvis she is thinking of getting an after-school job but he tells her she can’t because when he calls, he needs her to be there. Basically, she can’t have a life outside of him. In both book and movie, Elvis will talk about other women, like costars, who put career before their significant other and how that wouldn’t fly with him. He also doesn’t like women who are physically bigger, or “manish” in any way. We see in both they get in a pillow fight and she ends up hitting Elvis too hard and he then hits her saying he doesn’t want her hitting like a man. The movie also has the scene from the book where years later she again expressed her opinion about one of his songs, and in the book, she says thought now that they had been together so long, he would value her opinion. But again, he gets angry and this time throws a chair at the wall.
Throughout all of this time, they do not have full intercourse even though she wants to. But Elvis tells her he will decide when it is time.
The movie shows really well how lonely and bored she is when he is gone, and how lively and captivating Elvis is when he is around. Again, highlighting why she was so enamored with him. He was also manipulative with her and others, lavishing praise but also quick to anger making her want to please him.
In book and movie she does graduate high school, thanks to a classmate letting her cheat when she says she can meet Elvis. Elvis waits outside during the ceremony and when she comes outside, the nuns are all around getting pictures with him which was a cute and funny scene in the movie.
Priscilla continues to live with Elvis despite her knowing he is having affairs. She gets into horses at one point, and Elvis also gets into it and buys horses for his whole entourage. Graceland isn’t big enough for all of the horses, so they buy a ranch and spend a lot of time there. This isn’t in the movie.
In both, we see Elvis hanging out with this spiritual guru guy and he in on a quest for answers to the purpose of life. He expects Priscilla to be into the books but she can’t stand them. In the book Elvis also has moments where he claims to see angels and things. Priscilla later says how she and his crew talked about that, wondering if he was having a nervous breakdown. She concludes though that she thinks he was just bored and depressed and was messing with them.
In the movie, Priscilla expresses her distaste in the books and how she has needs that aren’t being met. Because she is a virgin, he is hesitant to go all the way with her even though she wants to and they have now been living together for years at this point.
In the movie, Colonel Tom Parker tells Elvis to get rid of the books, and he does. In the book, Elvis fell and got a concussion and Parker used this occasion to tell Elvis to get rid of his spiritual guru and to get back to the way things were before. Elvis also asks Priscilla if she would like him to get rid of his spiritual books and she says yes, so he burns them. In both book and movie, we also see that Elvis would have Bible study groups and there would be women around who were flirting with Elvis and he would flirt back even though Priscilla was right there.
Elvis eventually proposes though and when she is 21 and he 31, they are married.
Once married, they officially consummate their love and Priscilla soon becomes pregnant. She hadn’t expected it to happen so early and is sad about how this will change their life. In the book he tells her he will stand by whatever decision she makes, but ultimately, she says she can’t bear the thought of getting rid of his child so she keeps the baby and Lisa Marie is born.
We kind of see this in the movie, but in the book she was set on not gaining much weight during her pregnancy and even when labor began, in real life and in movie, she put on a full face of makeup before going to the hospital. We don’t see the moment Lisa Marie was born, but I think the movie should have shown us that tender, loving moment. In the book it reads, “The man in my hospital room that day was the man I loved and will always love. He didn’t have to try to be strong and decisive or sexy, he wasn’t afraid to show his warmth or vulnerability. He didn’t have to act the part of Elvis Presley, superstar. He was just a man, my husband.”
Both book and movie show when she was seven months pregnant, he told her he thinks they should have a trial separation. In both, Priscilla is in shock and simply says, “Okay, let me know when I should leave.” Elvis later changes his mind, but in the book he doesn’t actually tell her never mind, he just never brings it up again. The book reads, “Within a short time Elvis’s sensitive nature brought him back to his senses. Two days had passed. The idea of a trial separation was never mentioned again. We both acted as if nothing had been-said. It was at times like this that I wished Elvis and I had the ability to truly communicate with each other, to confront our insecurities, fears, and frustrations instead of pretending these feelings weren’t there. We probably would have been surprised at how much understanding we both really had. I could not escape the impact his words had on me, leaving me with a sense of doubt.”
Marriage after Lisa Marie
After Lisa Marie is born, Elvis won’t make love to Priscilla. In the book she talks about how close he was to his own mother and would even sleep in the same bed with her as an adult. “When Elvis’s mother was alive they had been unusually close. Elvis even told her about his amatory adventures, and many nights when she was ill, he would sleep with her. All the girls he took out seriously had to fulfill Gladys’s requirements of the ideal woman. And as with me, Elvis then put the girl on a pedestal, “saving her” until the time was sacred and right. He had his wild times, his flings, but any girl he came home to he had to respect. Now I was a mother and he was uncertain how to treat me.”
At this time Elvis is busy with his career and seems to not be as interested in the unstimulating home life. In book and movie we have a scene where they are taking family photos when Lisa is a toddler, and Lisa is crying because she would rather be with her nanny. Priscilla realizes Lisa loves the nanny more than her own parents and the book reads, “That’s when it hit me. My God, she’s so attached to the nurse that she doesn’t want to leave her. Now I knew I had to find more time to be with her. She had been affected by my own predicament. Busy centering my life around Elvis, even during his absences, I had neglected not only my needs but my daughter’s as well.” This was a great moment in the movie as well and the audience can see what a big realization this moment was for her.
By the time Priscilla was 28, she and Elvis were living separate lives. He was performing in Vegas and was addicted to pills and alcohol. Meanwhile, Priscilla was discovering who she really was and even started doing karate. In real life, the karate instructor, Mike, was a man Elvis recommended to her because he had been into karate in the past. She ends up having an affair with Mike which isn’t shown in the movie. But she is gaining confidence and finding herself for the first time in her life. “The martial arts gave me such confidence and assurance that I began to experience my feelings and express my emotions as never before. Accustomed to suppressing my anger, I could honestly vent it now without the fear of accusations or explosions. I stopped apologizing for my opinions and laughing at jokes I didn’t find amusing. A transformation had begun in which fear and indifference had no place. Along with this new confidence, off came my false eyelashes and heavy makeup, the jewels and flashy clothes. All devices that I’d depended upon for security I now shed…I had a chance to observe marriages outside our immediate circle, where the woman had just as much say as a man in everyday decisions and long-term goals. I was confronted with the harsh realization that living the way I had for so long was very unnatural and detrimental to my well-being.”
She tells Elvis that she is leaving him and he is blindsided. He says, “Maybe another life, another time.” To which she says, maybe, and walks out.
The movie ends with her leaving Graceland while “I’ll Always Love You Plays” and the movie ends.
The movie doesn’t show Elvis’s death at all, but in the book when she is reflecting on her life with him, we read, “He had been a part of my life for eighteen years. When we met, I had just turned fourteen. The first six months I spent with him were filled with tenderness and affection. Blinded by love, I saw none of his faults or weaknesses. He was to become the passion of my life. He taught me everything: how to dress, how to walk, how to apply makeup and wear my hair, how to behave, how to return love—his way. Over the years he became my father, husband, and very nearly God.”
She is stunned by his death, and even though they were divorced she feels lost with him gone. Near the end of the book she says, “Elvis’s death made me much more aware of my own mortality and that of the people I loved. I realized I’d better start sharing a lot more with the people that I cared about, and every moment that I had with my child or my parents became more precious. I learned from Elvis, often—sadly—from his mistakes. I learned that having too many people around can sap your energies. I learned the price of trying to make everyone happy. Elvis would bestow gifts on some, making others jealous, often creating rivalries and anxieties within the group. I learned to confront people, and to face issues—two steps Elvis had avoided. I learned to take charge of my life. Elvis had been so young when he became a star that he was never able to handle the power and money that accompanied his fame. In many ways, he was a victim, destroyed by the very people who catered to his every want and need. He was a victim, too, of his image.”
In the memoir, I thought Presley balanced the dark truth about Elvis, with her love and compassion for him. He had his own weird family dynamics, then you had leeches that attached to him and sucked him dry as the years went on. Then you had doctors that gave him all kinds of pills. We see through her eyes how lonely he was. He would always turn tv’s on, because it made him feel like there were people around. He bought everything for his entourage, thinking it would keep them near him. His fear of being alone and fear of abandonment caused him to be very controlling and manipulative with everyone. When he was buying horses and trucks for everyone the book reads, “Elvis liked it when everyone was together—on terms he alone specified—and he got upset when they wanted to leave. “Hell, I bought all this stuff,” he said, “and everyone wants to go home.” He resented defections; he’d given the employees everything and they didn’t seem to appreciate it. He discovered that some of the regulars were selling their trucks. They needed the cash more than the El Caminos. Elvis couldn’t imagine the financial struggle most people face and he never understood that the married regulars had to consider responsibilities to their wives and children.”
He wanted to be everyone’s number one priority in order to feel secure.
I also wonder if his mom was physically or sexually abusive in any way. It seems she was emotionally abusive, but I wonder if it ever went further.
The movie shows his substance abuse and his need to control Priscilla and how he groomed her to be what he wanted her to be. But I didn’t think we saw the complexity within him as much as we had in the book. While Coppola does a great job at showing how magnetic he could be and how life was better when he was around, we don’t really see that sadder side of him.
Book vs movie
Coppola’s movies always have such a distinct aesthetic. Like her movies have such vibes. She takes her time with the story, linger on moments, and letting the audience just sit with the characters. Having said that, the pacing of this movie felt odd because the first half we take our time. Yet once Lisa is born, time seems to fly by and the ending feels kind of abrupt. Having said that I did think the movie captures Priscilla as she learns who she is without Elvis deciding for her. The performances are also amazing, I was very impressed with both of the leads. I have been bothered by people using Elordi’s performance to insult Austin Butlers performance from last year though. Even though they play the same person, the movies are vastly different. Butler put his heart and soul into his performance though and I won’t let anyone criticize him on my watch!
I was impressed with Elordi, but as said, I would have liked to see more complexity from him. We mostly saw him gaslight Priscilla and get angry, and then the sweet moments they had. But we didn’t really see the deeper issues he was having. Yes, we see him searching for answers with the Larry guy, but even that just showed how he was controlling and manipulative rather than using it to show how lost he was in life.
Not that there wasn’t any nuance to his performance, maybe I need to watch it a second time to decide how I feel about his portrayal. But these are my opinions based on my first watch. I get though, the movie isn’t meant to be about Elvis, it is about Priscilla so maybe I am going on about this when really that isn’t what matters most here. Also, by this point everyone knows the struggles Elvis was having, so maybe Copppola felt that going over details we are all aware of was unneeded and would have taken away from the focus the movie wanted to have on Priscilla. The more I think about this, I actually am bothered by it less and less and don’t think it was something overlooked but rather done intentionally. Not having any Elvis music was a nice touch too, even though she couldn’t have it for legel reasons. I think that turned out to be a blessing in disguise because his real music may have distracted from the story.
The book was very readable, and she says how difficult it is to condense their relationship down, but she did the best she could. I thought it was a very insightful memoir, that showed her love for him, while also showing the issues they had and the courage she gained to both be a more present mother for Lisa and then eventually leave their marriage. They stayed amicable though and he was still present in Lisa’s life.
It’s hard to say which wins. I think I will say the book simply because there was more nuance. The movie is beautifully shot, has incredible costumes and makeup, fantastic performances, and again, it is just such an aesthetic. If you have read the book, I would highly recommend the movie!