"Child Bride: The Untold Story of Priscilla Beaulieu Presley"

Who is Priscilla Beaulieu Presley? A misunderstood, caring person or a manipulative, power driven woman? Suzanne Finstad's biography is an interesting, if at times, colored step inside the world of the ex-wife of The King of Rock & Roll.

As noted in the introductory Author's Note to Child Bride, the writing of the book led to the opening of a Pandora's Box surrounding its subject and the examination of an often told story that was found to be part fact-part fiction.

At the outset it must be noted that much of the material in the book about the sexual awakening of Ms Presley relies on the account of Currie Grant (once part of Elvis' inner circle) and the veracity of his story has been questioned more than once.

Child Bride is never boring and it certainly is more "juicy" than Ms Presley's own memoir, Elvis and Me. There are many fascinating issues discussed. In particular, Elvis' unusual sexual psychology and the extent of Elvis and Priscilla's pre-marital sexual relationship is engrossing, while Priscilla's escalating seeds of doubt about Elvis' lack of faithfulness to her during the Hollywood years is well described as the on-off-screen relationship between The King and rising star, Ann-Margret hots up.

The author cleverly uses both direct passages and indirect sexual symbolism throughout the book to heighten the narrative, be it the "bondage of high school" that shackled the teenage Priscilla to her "ultra-feminine sexuality" and her "romantic master bedroom which...featured a four-poster bed, special dimmed lighting, and a mirrored ceiling".

There is no doubt that at times this symbolism outweighs other noteworthy preoccupations such as the flourishing skin care and perfume lines Priscilla promoted in the 1990s. Child Bride was also one of the first books to cover Elvis' relationship with Barbara Leigh, who would later release her own book, The King, McQueen and the Love Machine.

There are detailed accounts of Priscilla's film career including her little known but eventful role starring alongside TV legend, Michael Landon, in Comeback, to her celebrated role as Jenna Wade in super-soap Dallas, and her featuring as one of TV Guides Ten Most Beautiful Women.

Arguably a weakness in the book is Finstad's less than substantial account of the mother-daughter relationship between Priscilla and Lisa Marie. It iis not as detailed as some other accounts but the tensions and angst felt (sometimes) between them does come through. Personally, I had expected a lot more on this subject.

Suzanne Finstad has woven an intricate portrait of a young girl who was thrust into a very unreal situation with world's biggest superstar, a young woman who over time developed an immense inner self-confidence and business savvy that provided her with real power in an often superficial and cutthroat entertainment environment.

While there are many sensational parts to her story, the author also outlines the impressive resilience and "street smarts" that today typify the person who is Priscilla Beaulieu Presley. How one perceives these qualities is a personal process which will differ, often radically, from person to person. (opposite: USA cover courtesy of Sanja Meegin)

However, there are many examples of these qualities. One is the way Priscilla threw herself head-first into filming of the comedy, The Naked Gun, a film Bo Derek apparently declined because of its off-beat comedic requirements. The fine result is a fitting testament to Ms Presley's talent.

Perhaps paramount though is the way Priscilla, with the help of Jack Soden, took the Elvis estate by the scruff of the neck and transformed it into a vibrant, money making machine. Regardless of anything else, Ms Presley is owed a big debt of gratitude for this initiative, although many fans today may argue that EPE has become drunk on power and profit.

So, does Child Bride answer the question: who is Priscilla Beaulieu Presley? This is very difficult question to answer as do any of us ever fully know anyone else?

Nevertheless, Suzanne Finstad offers a multi-layered look at Priscilla Presley which provides more than its fair share of the jigsaw pieces that together reveal who the lady is.

The book features a black & white photo section which includes many candids from the Beaulieu family archives and several interesting photos of the younger Elvis with fans and in Germany and Paris during his Army stint.

Verdict: Child Bride is a thoroughly enjoyable book that will leave you questioning your perceptions of not only its major protagonist, but also her former husband, the King of Rock & Roll.

Child Bride was published in hardcover format by Century/Random House (ISBN: 0712677747) in 1997 and in softcover format by Berkley Books (ISBN: 0425165442) in 1998.

While now out of print, used copies can be found on Barnes & Noble

Click to comment on this review