International orders as well as domestic orders available at memphismafiaprincess.com
Introduction: Shirley Dieu was Joe Esposito’s partner for nearly five years and became an integral part of Elvis’ inner sanctum during that time. Shirley and Joe remain good friends to this day, both living in the same housing estate and Joe contributing the foreword to Shirley's book, Memphis Mafia Princess. Shirley recently took time out of her busy schedule promoting her book to talk to EIN's Nigel Patterson about her life and time around Elvis.
In an entertaining and informative interview Shirley reflects on a range of interesting topics:
- her first impressions of Elvis
- life at Graceland and on tour
- some of the funny moments around Elvis (including the British comedy group Elvis liked to imitate)
- the Memphis Mafia
- Elvis' Monopoly Tour
- the day Elvis died
- Shirley's other lives as a, model, actress, Talent Agency operator and proprietor of a car brokerage company
- the "Princess Di like" cover image on Memphis Mafia Princess
- nights at Hugh Hefner's private club, PIPS
- why it is probably a good idea to know your Academy Award nominees
- revisiting a very different Graceland in the early 1980s
EIN: The title you chose for your book, Memphis Mafia Princess, is an intriguing one. Please tell us about how you chose it.
EIN: Shirley, there may be some fans not familiar with your name. Who is Shirley Dieu?
SD: Well, I just finished a wonderful book of my memoirs called Memphis Mafia Princess. It is about the life that I shared with Elvis and his entourage in the mid 70's. I'm the blond girl in the pictures on the beach in Hawaii who is sitting with a smiling Elvis. I was Joe Esposito's girlfriend back then. Joe and I lived together for 6 years. we are still best friends to this day. I was fortunate enough to travel with Joe on all of Elvis's tours and vacations and spent many days at Graceland during the last three years of Elvis's life. Elvis was a wonderful friend and I was blessed to have known him.
EIN: How and when did you meet Joe?
SD: I met Joe in 1974 at The Las Vegas Hilton. I was leaving the showroom and had decided to come back another time to see the show since they did not seat my party and I together. As I was leaving I was stopped by a man who I thought was the Maître d', he was offering me a better seat. He later introduced himself to me as Joe Esposito. After dating about a year, I moved in with Joe. I got to know his ex wife Joanie who was a wonderful lady, and then later in life after Joe and I had split as a couple I became good friends with Martha a girl who he met and later married. We actually became like family and have always remained close. Joe's wife Martha has since passed away and both Joe and I miss her dearly.
SD: When a woman is treated like a princess, believe me she remembers. The guys were referred to as The Memphis Mafia. I lived with those guys several weeks at a time on the road, on vacation, at Graceland and I as well as the other women were treated like Princesses by Elvis as well as our guys and the fans. So the title Memphis Mafia Princess seemed fitting.
EIN: Also, in the cover photo you look very like Princess Di. What is the back story to the photo?
SD: There is no story to it. The picture was taken in 1977 and that is the way I looked. I guess it was just the style back then although Princess Di was only a teenager in 1977. I don't think too many people knew about her then. I know I hadn't heard of her until she married Prince Charles in 1981. But I think that she is one of the most wonderful people to have ever lived. I am honored to even be compared to her likeness.
EIN: Did your view of Elvis change the more you got to know him and if yes, in what way?
EIN: Memphis Mafia Princess covers the years you spent with Joe at Graceland and on tour with Elvis. Did you always set out to focus only on that period in your life in the book or did you initially consider a broader biography?
SD: No, actually I had no intentions of ever writing a book about Elvis. I just awoke one morning and felt the Holy Spirit move me to write it. It was such a strong feeling. I remember saying to myself, "Oh shoot, okay, okay I'll do it. It took me four years to complete it because of an illness, as well as giving and then taking it back from several publishers or agents that wanted to control what I said. I choose to self publish (which is very expensive) rather than to jeopardize my story of what was.
I wrote Memphis Mafia Princess so that I might share what it was like to live in the Elvis world in the 70's, and not what some publisher thought it was or should have been, to sell more books. This book was not written for profit, it was written out of love and was written for Elvis's fans.
EIN: What was your impression of Elvis the first time you met him?
SD: He was a very kind and funny guy. He was the center of attention and he seemed to like it that way. He was always trying to be funny or say something clever. The guys around him adored him. Celebrities that were there in the room were at awe with him. He made an appoint to acknowledge everyone in the room.
SD: I obviously got more comfortable with him as time went by. I always loved him as a big brother. He was old enough to be my dad, but I didn't see him as being that much older than me. He was very much like a teenager. I was just 20 years old when I met him and we both were free spirited. Maybe not on the same level intellectually, but certainly on the same level of wanting to play and enjoy life.
EIN: How would you describe life at Graceland?
SD: It was totally different than it is now. I just went back there about a month and a half ago. I hadn't been there since I testified for Lisa and Priscilla in the trial in which we had to defend the Estate from the Alden's lawsuit in 1982. So it was actually my second time at Graceland since Elvis's passing. I did not like it. I missed the things that were gone from the house. Mainly our family. I say that because we were like family. Grumpy Aunt Delta, the kind maids. quiet grandma, sweet Vernon, Lisa and her little friend Laura. And of course Elvis and all of the guys hanging out and cutting up. It was so different. It was diffidently not the same. Very sad.
The new employees "Tour Guides" at Graceland hadn't a clue as to what it really was like. The furniture that we once had sat in was off limits and the big screen Television that we all had sat and watched in the den, was now gone. When it was a home, you could smell the home cooking and you could feel the warmth, you could hear the laughter, everyone would be so full of joy and we all knew and loved one another, but now it was all gone. Graceland to me now is far from what it was. It can never be the same.
EIN: What do remember most about being ‘on tour’ with Elvis?
SD: The plane and all of the fun that we had. How we could just walk up to the cockpit and say "Hi Elwood, are we there yet?" "Hi Ron, how's the weather going to be? They were great. Carol the stewardess was wonderful. The hotels could be extravagant, or they could be like a Motel 6 sometimes. We never knew until we got there. The fans always made us feel special, and we all had a great time. Sometimes if we stayed in a town for more than a day, the guys would play baseball if there was a field nearby. Remember I say "the guys" the women would watch. We did enjoy watching them though.
We would always dine at the finest restaurants. The dinners were usually fabulous. Elvis worked pretty hard, but he really loved it. I had to laugh because there were fans who would ask "Where is the party?" There were no parties on tour unless we just hung out in each other’s rooms and talked or played backgammon. I can't speak for the band members because they were usually on a different floor or different hotel.
Touring was work and we were usually in and out of a city so fast that we couldn't even remember where we were. Time changes were crazy and sometimes it was confusing. We did not drink and get wild, but like a lot of people, we would sometimes have to take a sleeping pill to relax so that we could get a good night’s sleep.
Shirley and Joe aboard the "Lisa Marie" in the 1970's.
Thanks to Shirley's quick thinking they re-enacted the photo in 2014 (only the original 1970s photo appears in Memphis Mafia Princess)
EIN: You discuss many interesting things in the book. Please tell our readers about Elvis’ “Monopoly Tour”.
SD: Well I hadn't realized that all of the states that Elvis played in 1976 were on the Monopoly board until I started researching for my book. I made a time line before I began writing Memphis Mafia Princess and then I just basically started to write a journal. It was then that I realized that the states that Elvis had toured were coincidentally the same properties (states) that are on the Monopoly board. It sounds just like something that the Colonel would do as far as I am concerned. Coincidence? Could be, but it was certainly ironic.
EIN: And I know many fans will want to know about your visits to Hugh Hefner’s private club, PIPS.
SD: It was a lot of fun. We would play Backgammon and have dinner and then dance. Those were the days. I met a lot of celebrities. Joe would go sometimes, but Mindi Miller and I would go quite often by ourselves. Joe was never jealous and he had no reason to be. He trusted me completely and I never gave him a reason not to.
I am probably the worst when it comes to knowing who is who in the "Star" department. Mindi knew who everyone was. I once met a famous playwright and screenwriter in the 70's, Academy Award nominee Neil Simon. His friend joked that he was trying to be a writer, I then wished him well and told his friend to stop making fun of him that he would be a famous writer someday. Oh my goodness, was I embarrassed when I learned from Mindi, who he really was and that he was already a very famous writer.
EIN: What are some of the funniest moments you recall being in Elvis’ inner circle?
SD: Well I talk about a few in my book. I think the funniest is when Elvis wouldn't stop sticking his tongue in my ear every time that Joe tried to take a picture of us in Hawaii. Elvis just wouldn't stop.
It was also funny watching him imitate the English actors from the Monty Python movie that we were watching. He would go out of his way to be funny. He was like the class clown, always trying to find a way to make everyone laugh. If he couldn't think of a way to make you laugh then he would find a way to make you smile, and that was when he would start to buy extravagant gifts. There was hardly ever a dull moment. When I say Graceland was full of laughter, it always was, thanks to Elvis.
Shirley pictured with Elvis in Hawaii
EIN: Your book is a warm and positive account of life in Elvis’ world. However, there is one incident you discuss involving several members of the Memphis Mafia (MM). I mentioned it in my review of Memphis Mafia Princess. Without going into the incident, but considering it and other accounts of how the Memphis Mafia functioned, is it reasonable to say that there were essentially two groups within the MM and that in describing them you could label one as progressive in relation to women and the other as reflecting on old fashioned, male chauvinism?
SD: Well, unfortunately back in the 70's men were still mostly chauvinistic. The guys in the group were all pretty much old school. Like the times that women were not allowed to play Poker with the guys, you know, it was "a man's game" But they also were respectful about not letting the women do any labor. They would make sure that we were always taken care of. Doors were opened for us, chairs were pulled away from the dining tables for us etc. But there were a few bullies towards the end. Their bullying went from bullying fans to eventually bullying some of the women, and because of that, they were fired. Of course they never admitted that that was really "What Happened".
EIN: The stories of the Memphis Mafia in the 1950s and 1960s suggest they were a tight knit group who spent a lot of time together with Elvis at Graceland, in Palm Springs and on film sets. By the 1970s, with Elvis’ film career replaced with an often gruelling touring schedule and his health declining, it seems that tightness as a group had been weakened. While I know you weren't there in the early days, as someone who was there in Elvis’ last few years what is your view?
SD: You know, I never saw that, until the end. I never heard the guys speak ill of one another. They were like brothers. We were all doing so many fun things, all of the time. I believe that Elvis hated sadness, he hated confrontation, so the guys seemed to be on their best behavior. I didn't see any anger and I didn't hear any gossip. I know, it wasn't a perfect world, but close to it.
If there would have been a Facebook back then, everyone on it would have been fired. Elvis hated bullying, anyone who knows anything about Elvis knows that. I think that that is probably why I never saw any arguing or bullying until the end. It was the fall of the empire as I see it. I personally have been bullied on Facebook by a group who I will not mention who say that they loved Elvis. That is impossible, because if they really knew him, then they would know that that is exactly what destroyed him.
EIN: What were your feelings when you learned Elvis had died and were you surprised?
SD: This is a very difficult question to answer. It is not something one can just put an answer to in an interview. I think that most of us have lost a loved one, and know how badly it hurts. I think "surprised" is an understatement. Devastated would have to describe it more accurately. Rather than try to explain how I felt, I will share with you an excerpt from my book from Chapter 24 "Teardrops From Heaven":
The words that Joe had so wretchedly spoken to me were echoing inside my head, my heart was pounding and I felt the pain of a broken heart, a pain like I had never felt before. I wanted to say something to Joe, I wanted to comfort him, and I wanted Joe to comfort me. I could not speak. I didn't know what to say. It was as if the world had just stopped spinning. I lay there in my room, a room that felt empty, a room that echoed with silence.
Did I expect it? No, it was something that I could have never imagined.
EIN: In the book there is a great photo of you and Joe circa mid 1970s aboard the Lisa Marie plane. Recently, you reprised that image with a photo of Joe and you aboard the Lisa Marie in 2014. Whose idea was it to do this?
SD: I remembered the photo of Joe and I on the Lisa Marie plane, since I had just put it in my book. I was talking to some fans when Joe and my son, and a few friends went ahead to see the inside of the plane. By time I got there, they were leaving the plane. I told them "oh no wait, I need a picture. I had to drag them back into the plane to get it. Once in, I guess they understood more why I wanted it. The picture says it all.
Shirley and friend Sara after dropping off a shipment of Memphis Mafia Princess
EIN: Can I ask you to describe (in one or two words) these people:
Lisa Marie: Grounded
Vernon Presley: Gentle
Priscilla Presley: Misunderstood
Colonel Tom Parker: Intimidating
Joe: Wonderful and honest
Billy Smith: Good husband
George Klein: Fun
Marty Lacker: No Comment
Jerry Schilling: Laid Back
the Stanley brothers: No comment
Linda Thompson: Sweet
Sam Thompson: Smart
Ginger Alden: No comment
Dr. Nick: Kind
EIN: I understand you are in the process of handing over sales of Memphis Mafia Princess to Amazon. How are sales of the book going?
SD: It is overwhelming and I am almost sold out. I am hoping to have more books printed soon. I am still re-doing the audio book and hope to have a Kindle book soon. I have a business that I have not been putting my full efforts into and need to get back to that. So because of all of the time involved, I will probably have to turn it over to Amazon completely. I hate to do that because I won't be able to sign the books, but I am getting buried.
EIN: There has been a very positive response from fans to Memphis Mafia Princess. You must be pleased with this.
SD: I am amazed at the wonderful responses that I have received on the book, and am very grateful. It has been my dream to share with everyone just how wonderful a time that we all shared with Elvis. I truly was moved by the Holy Spirit to write this book and I know that God had a hand in it. I felt as if Elvis was looking over my shoulder the whole time making sure I did it right. I think I did.
EIN: Your relationship with Joe ended in 1979 but you have remained good friends since and you both now live in the same housing estate. How often do you catch up with Joe these days?
SD: Joe and I see each other on a daily basis. I am pleased that we are living close to one another. I am also close to his family. My son and daughter love him like a father. Joe is a very special person. I am blessed to have him as my friend.
EIN: Shirley, apart from Elvis your life path has taken many very interesting turns from working as a model and actress, including a recurring role on the hit TV show, Fantasy Island to running your own talent agency. Please tell us about those experiences.
SD: I loved doing television commercials and the Fantasy Island show, but I always wanted children, that was my life dream. I was blessed to have a son and a daughter. I have worked very hard all of my life, I loved producing, I was Executive Producer at a commercial Production company for about 13 years. I loved casting and having owned my own Talent Agency as well.
Nothing keeps me down. I love the gym and I have just started the body building thing. I hate getting older and I intend to fight it all the way. I think that it is important to keep fit. My kids are the same way. They both love the gym as well. I still love Disneyland and I can't wait to be a grandmother one of these days. I would like to finally be in a relationship since I put that part of my life aside to raise my beautiful children. I guess you can say that I am still a kid at heart.
EIN: You currently commute between homes in Las Vegas and California where you operate your own car brokerage company. That is a very different occupation to your other work. What attracted you to it?
SD: I moved closer to my family in the early 90's and had to give up the entertainment business. This is when I first got into the car business. I first worked sales and then went into the Finance Department at a car dealership. It wasn't until 2013 that I started my own car brokerage The Lease Factor in Beverly Hills. I truly love helping others. When I can get my clients the car of their dreams and have it delivered to their front door for a whole lot less than they would pay if they went straight to a dealership, it makes me smile. I can do it by phone from Las Vegas or Beverly Hills, although I do still have to maintain my office in Beverly Hills.
EIN: Not including your experience in the Elvis world what has been the highlight of your life so far?
SD: That's easy, my two children Stevo Jacobs and Cally Powell.
EIN: What is the next chapter in the Shirley Dieu life story?
SD: I am looking to start dating again, but that is going to be a hard one since I am pretty set in my ways like most of us. And of course I love to write and would love to write another book. But I would like to write something other than about the Elvis World. There are some wonderful people out there, but there are so many people that are confused as to what is real or what is not, and when you write a book about Elvis, you have to be in that den whether you like it or not. I have thought about writing about all of the wonderful fans that I have met and their stories. There are some fabulous ones. I just want to remain happy like all of us.
EIN: Shirley, is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
SD: I just want to say thank you to all of you who have read my book and to those who will. I hope that you share it with others so that they too can get to know who Elvis was in the last years. Also, I do wish that people would stay out of the Facebook groups that seem to be created to make everyone fight. It is not a good place to be and you should re-consider going there if you want to lead a happy positive life. And please remember, if anyone ever told you that you were a nobody, they were lying. God Bless.
EIN: Shirley, it has been great talking with you and learning more about your life and of course your book, Memphis Mafia Princess. We wish you all the best for the future.
Buy Memphis Mafia Princess
International orders as well as domestic orders available at memphismafiaprincess.com