All those years we were
carrying on in Hollywood, Las Vegas, Palm Springs, and on various movie
locations, Priscilla was waiting in Memphis for Elvis’ visits. She had
graduated high school in 1963, after living there one year, but Elvis
didn’t want her to work, so she filled the empty hours shopping and
talking to Minnie Mae. Elvis expected the same devotion in his future
wife that he’d received from Gladys, despite the fact that he rarely
spent time alone with Priscilla anymore. When they were together, Elvis
treated her with tenderness and love, but otherwise she was left to her
At fourteen, Priscilla had been timid and quiet,
but she slowly gained confidence and started to pick up some of Elvis’
cocky ways, even treating him to Memphis Mafia-style barbs. Elvis’ plan
of molding himself an ideal, compliant wife–an unrealistic goal at best–was in jeopardy. His little girl was growing up. For her part,
Priscilla knew deep down that Elvis had other women but didn’t want to
admit it to herself. Yet she hunted for signs of his unfaithfulness. She
snooped through his makeup kit, searching for notes from other women.
Whenever she approached Elvis with hard evidence, he would go on the
offensive. “Don’t you trust me?” Elvis always asked her, initially
playing at hurt and indignant. “Don’t pay attention to what you read in the
papers,” he warned. “Oh, those are superimposed,” he scoffed whenever
she showed him photographs picturing him with other girls. If she
pressed the issue, he exploded. Overpowered, she was forced to back
down. Nevertheless Priscilla couldn’t stop checking up on him. Sometimes
she tried to disguise her voice and called the Hollywood house. “Hey,
boys! Any parties tonight?”
Sonny answered the phone one time.
“Yeah, big party tonight,” he said. “Elvis is getting a haircut right
now. Come over after nine!” That really got her.
One time, years
later, when we were in Las Vegas playing the Hilton, Jo Smith, Billy’s
wife, and Priscilla drove from Los Angeles to Palm Springs on their own.
There, they discovered notes in the mailbox left for us by various
girls. One read, “Dear Sonny, I had a great time last weekend,” and was
signed “Lizard Tongue.” There were a few others-luckily, none to me.
Priscilla immediately called Vegas, and I answered the phone. “I’ve got to talk to Elvis right now,” she said. “About what?” I asked. “He’s getting ready to go on stage. Is it really important?” “I have to talk to him right now!” Priscilla insisted.
Elvis got on the line, and Priscilla told him what she’d found. “I’m in
Palm Springs,” she said, “and I’ve got all these notes from women you
guys have been out with.” Elvis took his usual tactic: a strong offensive.
“I’m getting ready to go on stage,” he said in exasperated tones.
“There’s two thousand people out there waiting for me! I’m supposed to
be out there, smiling and happy. What the hell are you doing calling me
at this time? Those notes are all bullshit. Tear them up and throw them
away! They don’t mean a thing! It’s just fans trying to cause trouble.”
He hung up without saying goodbye.
Another night, Jo and
Priscilla drove down to Los Angeles to Palm Springs where we were
supposedly resting. They parked on a dark street across from the house
and watched the parade of women inside the house as they moved back and
forth passed the open windows. Then they drove to a pay phone and Jo
called the house, trying to pretend that she was one of our local
girlfriends. “I heard there’s a party tonight,” she said. “Can we
come over?” But Billy answered the phone and immediately recognized his
wife’s southern-inflected voice. “Jo! What are you doing calling here?” he asked. “Oh, I’m just kidding around,” she said nervously.
The girls hung up and drove straight back to Los Angeles. They were so
frightened of provoking our anger that they never said a word about it.
In fact, it was only recently that Priscilla told me that story. We
kept our women sheltered from the outside world, partly because of how
the public behaved whenever they spotted Elvis. They literally elbowed and
pushed Priscilla out of the way to get to him. But we also kept them
isolated, because that way we had better control. Priscilla once brought
a friend home from her dance class. After the friend left, Elvis told
Priscilla that the moment she’d left the room, the girl had made a play
for him. He could have said that to keep Priscilla from making friends
from outside the clan. For my part, I told Joan all about the other
guys’ extramarital exploits, and I’m sure Elvis told Priscilla about the
rest of us. So Joan thought every husband cheated except hers, and
Priscilla thought all the guys were unfaithful but Elvis. Except for Jo
and Priscilla, none of the women voiced suspicions to each other because
the Memphis Mafia and their women were a clan. Any individual dissenter
automatically posed a threat to the integrity of the entire group. The
girls barely talked among themselves, because none wanted to be the
Trusting people is hard, especially for me. I’ve trusted people who I probably shouldn’t have trusted before and they’ve hurt my heart. I’m a pretty sensitive guy, so I’ll lay it all on the line, and they’ll kind of pull it. So now I’m figuring out there’s certain people I can’t do that with.
Justin talking about trust issues with Elvis Duran