Memphis Mafia Princess
Living In "The Elvis World"
by Shirley Dieu
Reviewed by Nigel Patterson, August 2014
Memphis Mafia Princess, Shirley Dieu, JD Powell (publisher), USA, 2014, Hardcover (with d/j), 236 pages. Illustrated, ISBN-13: 978-1935497936.
About the author: 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 Memphis Mafia Princess.
The striking (dust jacket) cover photo bears an uncanny resemblance to another princess, the late and very much revered, Princess Di. As Shirley has stated in interviews, the photo was taken long before Princess Di became one of the world’s most recognisable people.
One of the best Elvis book releases of 2014 is Shirley Dieu’s wonderful memoir, Memphis Mafia Princess Living in "The Elvis World". It traverses Shirley’s time within Elvis’ circle from 1974 to 1977. It is not her life story and consequently there is minimal back story to the broader Shirley Dieu biography.
From living the high life to the rigours of touring, Shirley weaves a fascinating mosaic of life around Elvis invoking the nuances of both people and events with both depth and color. Her book is a positive affirmation of her experience with Joe and Elvis and it will appeal to a broad range of hardcore and casual fans.
I relished reading about Elvis’ “Monopoly Tour” (surely the Colonel wasn’t that clever), Elvis fooling around with words to songs when he became bored, why shopping with Elvis was better than shopping at Christmas, “backgammon” visits to Hugh Hefner’s private Club.....PIPS and the somewhat strange and ironic time when Elvis, Vernon and the Colonel were all dating women with the surname surname “Miller”, none of the women being related to each other.
When reading Memphis Mafia Princess I was impressed by Shirley’s perceptive observations of not only Elvis, but others in his inner circle. Her comments on Elvis’ relationship with the Colonel are cogent as are her insightful reflections on issues such as the failure of Elvis’ marriage to Priscilla and Linda Thompson’s reaction to Elvis dating Sheila Ryan.
Giving balance to the narrative, Shirley doesn’t avoid recounting unpleasant aspects of her experience with Elvis at Graceland and on tour. There are moments in the book that are powerful, including one that some fans may find confronting.
Shirley's description of the day members of the Memphis Mafia (MM) bullied and interrogated her (incredibly, replete with audio-recording devices) adds important resonance, to what was at the time, a building tide of negative sentiment by Elvis and Vernon against several MM members (which eventually resulted in the well known Bodyguard sackings in 1976). Shirley’s almost harrowing account of that incident will invoke strong feelings for many readers.
In considering this incident within the broader canvas of Memphis Mafia Princess I found it compelling to contemplate the respective roles and conduct of men and women in Elvis' life. For some reason it struck me that the oppressive male chauvenism exhibited by some of the Memphis Mafia, when contrasted with the feminine wiles of the younger, sometimes more wordly and clever "princesses", symbolises the eternal, deeper struggle of smoothly facilitating harmony and change in life, relationships and society.
In what must have been a difficult thing to do, Shirley also reveals why Lake Tahoe holds ‘bittersweet memories’ for her.
Shirley and Joe......
......in the '70's
With Ginger Alden’s memoir also now on bookstands, readers will find it interesting what Shirley has to say about her in the intriguingly titled chapter, Gingersnaps.
A strength of Shirley Dieu’s writing skills is her ability to elicit emotions in her readers without resorting to overly bombastic or melodramatic prose. She does not shy away from (and neither does she dwell on) Elvis' health issues, his physical decline, the impact of his drug taking on decisions he made, or the tragedy of his death.
An appropriate example is the raw, emotional sentiment of her account of how she and others felt after that fateful day, August 16, 1977 – this passage taken from the touching chapter, Teardrops from Heaven:
As Elvis’ life slowly slipped away from us, we all tried so desperately to hold on to him. We were blessed to have felt his warmth, but in the end, we could only feel him slipping slowly through our fingers like the hot desert sand, leaving our hearts now broken and empty.
As an author, Shirley has a friendly, easy to follow writing style, with a narrative that is well structured and free flowing. Shirley is one of the rare breed of author's who effortlessly engage the reader making them want to read and learn more.
Shirley and Elvis
The book layout is crisp and reader friendly. The 26 chapter titles are neat and evocative, also including More Than a Glass Slipper, Snow Angels and God Save The King. A substantial, predominately full color section filled with many rare and visually pleasing photos nicely complements the narrative.
Verdict: From enchantment to betrayal and magical holidays, Memphis Mafia Princess is a vibrant, colorful and impressive release. Shirley Dieu has written a disarmingly candid and intimate account of her time in Elvis' inner circle, full of joy and some tears - an account which will entrance her audience as only a "princess" can do.
Memphis Mafia Princess can be ordered directly from the official website. International orders are also available.
It is also available from Amazon (with Amazon shortly to take over all orders/shipping):
Memphis Mafia Princess
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