The Beautiful Ones: Priscilla Presley and Mayte Garcia’s Parallel Lives
The other day, I received a text from a friend. She was reading about Mayte Garcia’s story of her life with Prince. “Have you read Elvis and Me?” she said, referring to Priscilla Presley’s memoir. “Uncanny.”
No, I hadn’t. And so I did.
Both Mayte and Priscilla were born into military families, and wound up moving to Germany from the U.S. as a result of their father’s military service. Priscilla was 14 and living in Wiesbaden, Germany when she met Elvis. Mayte was 16 and living in Wiesbaden, Germany when she met Prince. And here’s where things get uncanny: Priscilla and Mayte attended the same high school, General H. H. Arnold High School. In her memoir, The Most Beautiful — a sad, sweet story — young Mayte is cognizant of the parallels; after meeting Prince, she winks when passing the photo of Priscilla Presley that hangs in the school hallway.
Each girl was well aware of their respective global superstars, but say they were not fans. Physically, each represented their male superstar’s ideal of female beauty: Priscilla, with dark hair, pale skin and blue eyes, and Mayte, with her olive skin, big brown eyes and flowing dark hair.
As the stories progress, the modis operandi of the much older male superstar is this: Invite girl to visit hotel room decorated to superstar’s specifications; ditch the chaperone for alone time, being careful not to cross the line; and cultivate a penpal/phone buddy relationship that continues for years, while simultaneously sleeping with as many of-age women as necessary. Rinse and repeat.
In a way, the shared pattern makes sense. If you are a heterosexual male superstar who can have anything at any time of the day or night, an underage female is a logical attraction. She’s off-limits, and that forces you to wait. By virtue of her age, she is hard to get. What else is there to chase, when you can have it all?
Priscilla and Mayte, both sweet souls, experience their own version of the famous shopping scene from Pretty Woman, in which their superstar takes them on a whirlwind tour of high-end boutiques and a “buy anything” shopping spree that turns them into modern-day Cinderellas ready for the ball. Both men seem eager to mold the girls to their preferences, while simultaneously demanding total devotion. The men love movies and rent out theaters to watch them; they have strong opinions about clothing and shun blue jeans in particular. Both girls spend inordinate amounts of time waiting for a call or a visit or a letter. Both men seem well-intentioned, warm and sincere. They put their respective girls on a pedestal.
With the courtship/friendship well under way, each girl is invited to visit the superstar’s home in a small city far away from the entertainment capitals. The place turns out to be a fortress, and a world unto itself. The superstar is a nocturnal creature, and the girl’s life is turned upside down in a disorienting fashion, staying up all night, sleeping in the day and waking in the late afternoon. There is an entourage, and the entourage is wary of the girl. Why has she been inserted into the inner circle? Resentments build.
Drugs are a very clear and present factor in Priscilla’s story, when Elvis gives her prescription sleeping pills and takes them openly himself on a regular basis. Mayte’s story mentions possible drug use, but in a much more veiled way, and only in retrospect, as she never saw Prince use drugs. Unlike Priscilla, who eventually weaned herself from drugs, Mayte never gets in a regular habit of taking them.
At various points in their stories, there are touchpoints that feel similar enough to give readers an uneasy sense of deja vu. Priscilla and Mayte each have a moment when they are depicted with pills in hand, ready to end their lives. And, oddly enough, at various points in both Elvis’ and Prince’s stories, a man named Larry with a spiritual bent enters their life — Larry Geller, in Elvis’ case, and Larry Graham, in Prince’s case — and the two spend hours upon hours discussing religion and spirituality. Each Larry arouses suspicion in the wife’s eyes. Despite an effort to be included in Bible studies and the like, the religious/spiritual fervor leaves the wife feeling out in the cold. When confronted by his manager “Colonel Tom” Parker, Elvis cuts off his relationship to Larry. Prince continued his relationship with Larry Graham until his death.
After marriage, both women become pregnant immediately. It’s here that their stories diverge, as Priscilla and Elvis become parents to Lisa Marie, and Mayte and Prince tragically lose their son Amiir and a subsequent pregnancy. Readers get a glimpse of Elvis as a father, which turns out to be more of a disappointment than one might imagine. Elvis, like Prince, toured frequently. “Elvis was having an ongoing love affair with his audience,” Priscilla writes, and nothing could come between them for very long.
As their relationships begin to fall apart, both women struggle to stay connected with their husbands. Dancing is a passion for both, and a much-needed outlet. The men seem to have difficulty letting their guard down and being emotionally intimate. There is a feeling that they are keeping their wife at arm’s length, and compartmentalizing their marriage relationship while pursuing other interests. They begin living separate lives. After what feels like an inevitable divorce that is initiated by the wife, the woman never quite gets over her former husband.
As a woman, I felt compassion for Priscilla and Mayte — but especially Mayte, who had a much tougher time financially after her divorce, and who also had a child to grieve. Mayte’s book feels sincere and honest, and the portrait she paints of Prince is warm and vivid. I had hoped for more detail on Prince’s dancing and rehearsing and touring than Mayte provided, because of anyone, Mayte seems like the best possible source to speak more on that aspect of Prince’s career. Perhaps she will, in the future. As an author of a Prince book, I am 100% in support of Mayte’s book and believe there is a place for each of us in telling Prince’s story. I hope she found writing to be healing. In a strange way, Prince’s passing was freeing for many, and Mayte is no exception.
Check out our new biography of Prince on Amazon: The Rise of Prince: 1958–1988.