Life Magazine - December 1988
It is with an odd tug at the heart that we look at the face of this 20-year-old. She is, after all, the same age as her famous father when, with a whip of his hips and a twist of his lips, he first rocked America. Lisa Marie, or Lisa, as she prefers to be called, is heir to more than Elvis' looks. In 10 years the singer's child also comes into a fortune that will reportedly be as much as $100 million. Until she turned 18, not only Lisa's money but also her daily life was managed by her mother.
Priscilla Beaulieu met Elvis when she was 14, moved in with him at 16, married him at 22, bore his child at 23, divorced him at 28, and became executor of his estate at 32. But Elvis' weightiest bequest was his name and his fame. Priscilla, now 43, has used both well as her own striking looks, to her way to Hollywood. After five seasons on Dallas, she has her first movie role as hit man Ricardo Montalban's assistant in The Naked Gun, a comedy opening this month. but however masterfully she has promoted herself, she just as fiercely protected her young from notoriety. This is the first time that she and Lisa have ever agreed to be photographed and interviewed for an article.
As the two women talked with West Coast bureau chief James Grant, their reminiscences had an added poignancy: Within the week, a pregnant Lisa would marry musician Danny Keough, 23, in a family ceremony at Hollywood's Church of Scientology. Perhaps because Lisa's impending break with childhood, mother was almost always touching daughter, as if she could keep her safe with physical proximity alone. It has not been easy. Life without father is doubly difficult when the adolescent hazards of sex, drugs and rock and roll must be negotiated in public. "I've had problems. I've put my mother through everything," Lisa says. "But now I'm happy with sanity." This series of exclusive interviews in their Beverly Hills home is the Presley's' way of setting the record straight as Lisa prepares to live happily ever after.
"You never know if you're doing the right thing as a parent," says Priscilla. "But now that I see what great kid Lisa has turned out to be, and how happy she is, I can't help not think that, however difficult it was at times, I did a pretty good job. Of course I cried at the wedding. You're just never prepared--I mean, she was my baby, and now she is married and with a child. Where did the time go? Lisa and Danny have talked of marriage all year. He wanted to get his feet on the ground with his career before the commitment. Then they discovered she was pregnant. They want a child. Lisa's been talking babies since bonding to her half brother Navarone. It brought mother instincts out in her that I don't think she knew she had. They decided to get married quickly so they wouldn't have to deal with all the media. She did not want a Sean Penn-Madonna type of circus."
"Danny has got a lot of self-respect," says Lisa "He's really out to do his own thing. People might think that a guy would marry me because of what I have, and all that kind of stuff. That is not the case in this situation, whatsoever. He's got a lot of dignity." "Am I happy?" Priscilla asks "As long as she's happy, I'm right with her. She's a big girl now, with a good head on her shoulders. And I know they'll make great parents. I'm not happy that it was so quick. I envisioned a big wedding with all our friends and family, but we'll make it up. I just wanted her to be able to get away from it all. They planned a honeymoon on a ship in the Caribbean. When her father and I married, we were able to get away from it all at Graceland. Behind those gates the world just went away."
"I had the best times at Graceland," recalls Lisa "I've always loved it there. There's just an incredible feeling about that house even now that it's open to the public. I go there three or four times a year. At night, when we're alone in the house, and the same maids are cooking corn bread and black-eyed peas for us like they always did--it feels just the way it used to, when my dad was alive." "The holidays were very family oriented," says Priscilla. "Elvis' father and wife, cousins and friends were around. Somebody would dress as Santa Claus, and we'd open up presents on Christmas Eve. Elvis and I gave Lisa a golf cart when she was five years old; her little feet could just barely reach the pedals. It's still in the garage."
"My mom and dad remained close even after the divorce when I was five," says Lisa. "They'd come to school for parents' day. They'd talk on the phone. I never felt the pressure of a divorce." "We'd still hold hands," says Priscilla. "Lisa never saw any major trauma between us. No yelling or arguing. You can't explain to a child about a divorce. And we never wanted her to feel the trauma or the effects of it. Elvis was away in Las Vegas or on tour so much of the time even when we were together that there wasn't a big change. When we moved to L.A. in 1970 he had a house down the street. We didn't hate each other; we respected each other. To Elvis, I was like this kid he raised. Our daughter had that love."
"I would see my father all the time--Christmas, Easter, entire summers, weekends. A couple of times I went on tour with him," Lisa says. "If he was going to be settled in one place for a while, like Las Vegas, he'd call for me to come visit for a few days. I'd be sitting in class, and my mom would pull up in the car before school was over. That's when I knew I was going to see him. "He was always up to something, shooting off firecrackers or guns, running around, driving golf carts or snowmobiles. He'd pull me in a sled and scare me to death. On that long steep driveway that goes up to Graceland he'd be pulling me up and falling at the same time. He called me Buttonhead or Yisa. He'd never call me Lisa unless he was mad at me. "One night when I was about five or six, we were watching TV. I looked up at him and said, 'Daddy, Daddy, I don't want you to die.' And he just looked down at me and said, 'O.K., I won't. Don't worry about it.' I said that to him several times when we were alone together. He probably thought I was completely crazy. But I always felt protective of him. I guess I was picking something up. I was nine years old when my father died, so I was pretty aware."
"The day Elvis died, Lisa was visiting him," says Priscilla. "She was supposed to come home to L.A. that day. His right-hand man Joe Esposito called me to tell me the news. Elvis' father, Vernon, sent the plane, the LISA MARIE, to get me. When I got to Graceland I went inside and there was Lisa, driving around in her golf cart. I thought, 'My God, how insensitive can she be?' Then I realized that playing in her own little world was her way of dealing with it. She knew that her father had died, but it hadn't hit her yet." "When Lisa was fourteen, Elvis' drug use was getting a lot of publicity, so we discussed her father's death more thoroughly," says Priscilla. "I was surprised to discover that she knew a lot of details that I had not wanted her to know. When I found out that she knew everything, I was relieved. I didn't want to be the one to alter her perception of her father."
"I used to see my dad take pills, but I was so young that I didn't think anything about it," says Lisa. "All the bad things never changed my love for my dad. There's a certain strong feeling that I have for him that is only for my dad--not for Elvis Presley." "A lot of people say, 'God, she's got her dad's eyes' or 'her dad's nose,'" says Priscilla "I don't have his nose," Lisa says "Well, I don't know," says Priscilla "Do you think?" presses Lisa. "I definitely know that I have my father's temper. Although when I'm angry, I mostly just keep quiet or leave the room. I cannot for the life of me yell at you, Mom. But I can yell at other people." "The most difficult part of being a single parent is being mother, father, friend and disciplinarian for her," says Priscilla. "How could I take my disciplinary action without destroying her trust in me? I dealt with her problems as if they were mine and would give her the best advice I could. "I think my biggest mistake in raising Lisa may have been switching schools on her so many times. I was an Air Force brat who changed schools a lot myself, and I know that gives you a sense of insecurity. Lisa's first school was too social. So I put her in a French school, thinking it would be great if she became bilingual. But it was way to demanding, and I didn't care for the kids she was hanging out with. I sent her to a boarding school close by so she could come home on weekends. That worked out, and she loved it until she found a boyfriend at home. She didn't want to stay at school anymore. So much got in the way of her education because of who she was. The name Presley allowed her to get away with a lot more than most kids."
"The schools in our area were ones where rich kids and celebrities go. I hated those places," says Lisa "I have the opportunity to hang around with people who are famous and have money, but I've never been impressed by that. At those posh schools I turned into a spoiled brat. I didn't want to be like that. I never got along that well in school, because there was nothing I could apply to my own life. I learned much more just going around Europe for a month with a friend this past summer." "And I was worried about drugs," says Priscilla. "There are a lot of drugs in this town--when coke entered the Hollywood picture I tried it a few times. Back then it was considered harmless. But I noticed personality changes I didn't like in myself and realized there is no way this stuff is harmless. "When it came to Lisa experimenting with drugs, I was the typical mother who wasn't looking for the signs. you don't want to believe that your fourteen-year-old daughter is on something. We'd already been through a drug situation with Elvis, and I never thought she would do it. There were times she'd be in kind of a fog or her eyes would be dilated, and I started suspecting something was wrong. There were a lot of indications--she was always tired and would want to sleep. She'd avoid eye contact. I asked her, and she denied it." "I was just in this rebellious stage," says Lisa. "the drugs were part of that. I started out with sedatives and then got into pot. I know that a lot of people would ask me 'Why did you do that if your father died of drugs?' But at that age I didn't look at it like that. I didn't want to confront it. I have to learn things by myself. I learned my lesson, and I won't go near drugs again.
"This one night, I had been up for three days. I was high on cocaine, and I had some more. It was either do it or go to sleep I looked at it, and I decided, 'That's it. I don't want this anymore.' And I flushed it down the toilet. I was with about five friends, and they didn't know if I was serious. Once I decided to stop taking drugs, I found a new group of friends who were not into it. They helped me out. "As far as school goes, I knew I was either going to stay there and die or I was going to have to get out. So in eleventh grade I dropped out. I was supposed to go to another school after that. But even after I quit doing drugs, I never went back. I regret it now. But I felt really funny about going back to high school at eighteen. I regret not having "The Diploma'; I know how important education is. I plan on taking correspondence courses. "What I missed the most after dropping out was being around people my own age. I think I grew up too fast. I was always into things that older people were doing--driving, having boyfriends. I was always in a rush. And I had been involved with someone who wasn't good for me. My first serious boyfriend was every mother's nightmare: Mr. Smiles, Mr. Teeth, the most calculating con artist I've ever come across. He sold pictures of me to the press." "A girl's first love is always intense," sighs Priscilla, "For three years I felt I had lost Lisa. This boy was the center of her attention. I couldn't get through to her emotionally. I was afraid of losing her; I knew I had to be very careful. Usually the father does the discipline. I couldn't put my foot down too much, or she'd go with him. She'd do what she wanted to do. She was fourteen, the same age I was when I met Elvis. I suddenly realized what my parents went through. All my own rebellion was thrown back in my face."
"It was like my mom's book, Elvis and Me, which I read and loved," says Lisa. "Now I realize that the reason she knew everything I tried to put over on her was because she had been doing the same thing, I was following the same path and didn't even know it. One time I told my mom I was going to a friend's house in the Valley. My friend just happened to live two blocks away from my boyfriend. So I went over there and put all this makeup my face, and I put on theses flaky shorts and walked out the door. There was this honk right on my behind. My grandmother and my mom were in the car. My mother was like, 'Get in the car NOW!' I just stood there, dumbfounded." "I gave Lisa a curfew of ten o'clock when she was sixteen," says Priscilla. "I realize that we're living the eighties, but I feel strongly that, as a parent, it's your responsibility to know who your child is hanging out with."
"The first day I got my driver's license at sixteen, boy did I take off," says Lisa. "I went out that night and didn't come home until the next day. I didn't even call." "She called me at seven o'clock in the morning," remembers Priscilla. "She was so apologetic and so sorry. What was I going to do, beat her? Yell and scream at her? She already felt terrible." "It was when I was seventeen that I moved away from home, pulling the usual type of thing that nay teenager does. It seemed like fun to get my own apartment. So my mom helped me find one, and I moved in with my best friend. Actually, I went through three best friends. I maintained my privacy for eight months, which was great, but then it got pretty hairy. The tabloids found out where I was, and people were getting into the building, asking questions and taking pictures. Paparazzi are like cockroaches. Fifteen of them would stake out little ol' me - 5'3" and 105 pounds. They chased me through department stores, they lurked in trees, they were in my trash cans. Slime. I realized then that I liked being around my family. I went too far, too quick as far as going out and doing my own thing. I missed family dinners and getting the family gossip. I missed my mommy! "My mom has four brothers and a sister. I like being a part of a big family. My mother's youngest brothers are close to my age, so my uncles are like my brothers. When we go out to dinner, once a week, usually on Wednesday or Sunday, there are at least fifteen of us sitting around a table. We all live within six miles of one another. It has been an important stabilizing influence on my life. My grandparents really are the sweetest people in the world. "My mom is my best friend. I can always go to her for anything. She will listen to my problems, give advice and let me make up my own decisions. She didn't sleep two nights when Baby Jessica was caught in that hole--I won't let her watch the news on TV. She's too sensitive. And we both had our boyfriend problems."
"Raising Lisa as a single parent had award moments," recalls Priscilla. "I didn't know how to handle dating. What would she think if I had a boyfriend stay over? I wanted her to respect her mother. I think a lot of single parents wonder how to handle these delicate matters, I didn't introduce her to someone unless I knew it could be a long relationship." "There was one that was too long--six and a half years," Lisa puts in "That man tried to pit us against each other and almost tore us apart. He was sick." "After he left, it was as if a cloud had lifted from this place," says Priscilla. "A cloud of bad energy." "And then Mom met Marco. She kept him from me for almost two months," says Lisa. "I never actually saw him until one night I walked in and said, 'O.K., he's here I saw his car. That's it, I'm meeting him.' They've been together now for nearly four years. I love Marco more than any of my mother's other boyfriends.
"I think I was the first person she told about her pregnancy, I flew to the drugstore and bought her an early pregnancy test. (When I thought I was pregnant, a friend bought the same thing for me.) I thought, jokingly, of course, 'If she has a girl, I'm going to hate it, but if it's a little boy, I don't mind.' Navarone has turned out to be the best thing that's ever happened to me. Being there at his birth was remarkable. I went with my mom to Lamaze classes, too, and that was a wonderful experience. He's an incredible child. I plan to raise my kids the way my mom does the little one." "I didn't have natural child birth with Lisa," says Priscilla. "At that time it wasn't encouraged. If only I had known what a rewarding experience it would be, I definitely would have. I'm much more aware as a person now. "Little thoughts went through my head when the producer of Dallas came to me and suggested that I be pregnant in the script. It was fate. I kept my secret on the set for six months, pretending to be wearing a stomach pad they gave me. It was only when we announced it through a press release that they actually found out. I'll have to admit they were shocked. After the baby was born I was nursing him, and having him on the set was distracting--trying to get through a scene and knowing he might be hungry. In the end, I left Dallas so that I would have more time with my son and also be able to do films. When we shot The Naked Gun, the nanny and driver brought Navarone to the set, and then any time I had off, I could be with him."
"I don't think of my mother as an actress--I'm usually not around while she is acting," says Lisa. "But I'm very proud of her that she was able to get out of this 'Elvis Presley's wife' stuff and have her own life. She busted her butt. She didn't just get there because of her name. "I personally do not feel like I am a celebrity," says Lisa. "It's hard for me to accept being--not worshipped exactly, but admired. I don't deserve to be looked up to until I've done something to earn it. I get fan mail at Graceland, but I don't always read it. I respect the fans. But when they write bad letters to my mother or my father's friend Jerry Schilling I sometimes write back defending them.
"I'm very normal. I am not a little body-guarded celebrity child, running around spending money and riving a Rolls-Royce. I learned the value of a dollar working in an office for a year. I made my own money; I have my own bank account. I had this normal- type entry-level job, ten to five just like anybody else. I am capable of making a cup of coffee." "She doesn't go around and shop on the expensive streets," says Priscilla. "She looks at prices, and she knows the value of things." "Nor am I a lonely loner or a recluse," says Lisa. "I go out with my friends. I don't disguise myself with floppy hats or sunglasses, but I don't want people following me around. Before I was married, Danny didn't know what to do. I'm a little intimidating-- being who I am, having what I have. By no means am I looking for a father image. Danny is his own man--not trying to be Elvis. Because Danny is a man, he wants to carry out the responsibilities of a man and support me the best he can. He's got a lot of integrity, and he's really out to make it his own." "Because of past betrayals, she's a little leery of people," says Priscilla. "But once that defense mechanism drops, she's the most lovable kid." "I wouldn't have a defense mechanism if I wasn't who I am," says Lisa. "Usually, like my mom, I hold back for a while and just observe. If I see someone I like, I make a point of talking to them. But I'm very moody. I'm working on being a little nicer when I meet people. My best trait is that I don't put on a front for anybody. I'm honest. Scientology, which my mother and I got into, has helped me a lot. It's not a cult, and I'm not being ripped off. It teaches you to stay clean--understand your feelings and not hold things in. It's about life and what we're all about."
"Every time Lisa would get mad about something. I'd find little notes in her room. That's when I realized she was a talented writer," says Priscilla "Yes," agrees Lisa. "Anytime I've gone through anything, I've always written it down. I never thought of it as a career or a gift, but a couple of months ago I decided to start writing--poems and lyrics. "I like a lot of different kind of music. I'm not fond of Top Forty music in general. I don't like Pink Floyd. I've gone through phases, like heavy metal. I like R & B a lot. And last year I went to a U2 concert and was completely blown away. They were just the nicest people. I was honored to meet them. And they were honored to meet me. So it was just this big honor all around!
"Other amusements? Well, I love to go into the 7-Eleven candy department." "When Lisa was a little girl, she wouldn't want to eat vegetables, and I'd make her taste them. Sure enough she'd try them and love them," recalls Priscilla. "Seeing how Lisa has grown up has been so fulfilling. I say, 'My God, I didn't do so bad after all.' As far as her financial interests go, I think we've done a good job. The estimated value of the estate has increased at least tenfold since we began managing it. A team of five of us handles the daily operations. My daughter is in on all the executive meetings. It is untrue that I do not give Lisa any money and that she is penniless. She has an allowance in addition to what she made at her job. And running Elvis' estate is hard work. She was eighteen when I said to her. 'It's about time you started to get involved in estate matters.' Then I began letting her get to know what the business is about--licensing, merchandising, publishing, financial advising, entertainment."
"I don't care what tabloids say, when I'm thirty I don't intend to do some big take over thing." says Lisa. "You don't change something when it's doing well." "We opened up Graceland in 1982 for financial reasons," says Priscilla. "But at the time I thought to myself, 'When Lisa does get it at thirty maybe she won't want it open to the public anymore'. For that reason nothing was built on the grounds that would destroy it. It could still be turned back into a private home." "But as much as I love it, I don't have any plans to live at Graceland," says Lisa. "I have a life of my own now and a man I want to share it with."