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Magazine article detaling conflict between Michael Landon+ Hall Bartlett,,20083494,00.html

Priscilla Presley Finds a Vocation—and Michael Landon Some Frustration—on Location

By Lois Armstrong

Priscilla Beaulieu Presley, who has one of the world's most famous pasts, may finally have found her future. It took about 20,000 miles of travel—from Hollywood to Thailand to the Bahamas—but on the diving boat Moby II, anchored in sparkling emerald waters off New Providence Island opposite Nassau, she thinks she has at last emerged from Elvis Presley's giant shadow into a career of her own. And she has a 13-foot tiger shark to at least partially thank for that.

"I'm willing to challenge the world now," says the soft-spoken, 37-year-old that the world knew as Mrs. Elvis. "This movie has given me such experience," she says, long brown hair flowing over her tanned shoulders, as she straps on scuba gear for a scene in the movie Comeback. It's her film debut (although she did appear in ABC's short-lived television series Those Amazing Animals) and she's convinced, after years of hesitation, that acting is the road for her to take. Her role in Comeback—that of a scuba diver—is not major, but professionals on the set lauded her skill. Michael Landon is the movie's star, but Presley stole some scenes when she went underwater with real sharks while Landon used a double.

Landon portrays real-life journalist-adventurer John Everingham, a photographer who traveled throughout Laos during the Vietnam War. He was expelled in 1977, but he vowed to return for his Laotian fiancée. Everingham spent nearly a year learning to scuba dive, then swam underwater across the wide Mekong River for a daring rescue of his beloved.

In the movie, now due to air on NBC in February and to be shown theatrically overseas, Presley plays the woman who taught Everingham to dive. She insists she did not get the role only because of her last name. "The name can be a hindrance and a help," she says. "But it's been more of a detriment. It's not the name that gets you work." In fact, Comeback's producer-director, Hall Bartlett, cast her in the role after being struck by her unusual wariness at their first meeting. Says Bartlett of his discovery, "She and Moira [Moira Chen, who plays the fiancée] have the same kind of extreme vulnerability I was looking for. That's their defense mechanism. Both would crumble at the slightest criticism, and they don't speak unless they feel safe. They need protection and love."

Those qualities sometimes were in short supply on location. There was a cool tension apparent when she and Landon did scenes together, and there was little conversation between them off the job. Of Landon, Presley says, diplomatically, "With TV, he's used to very few takes. And that's been a challenge in itself. I'm around all these pros, so doing just one or two takes has been somewhat frightening. Michael hasn't been around a lot, but he's fine." Of his scenes with Presley, Landon says simply, "In the training sequences, it was just, 'Hello, how are you?' and then you go swimming."

Accustomed to the almost total control he enjoyed during his eight years as executive producer, director, star and frequent writer of NBC's Little House on the Prairie, Landon also had his problems with the easygoing Bartlett, who produced and directed 1973's Jonathan Livingston Seagull. "Hall and I work very differently," says Michael. "He stays in the background. It's a much slower tempo than I'm used to. I like to...[he snaps his fingers twice] keep on top of things. It keeps people's energy up." But Bartlett contends, "I had to go to the mat to demand more from him. If you let Michael walk over you, he'll have you for hors d'oeuvres." By one account, Landon "paced like a caged bear" when he was kept waiting, "smoking nervously, with a beer in his hand." Michael himself concedes, "I must admit I'm much happier when I'm doing things myself—not that other people don't do it right, but it's just not the same." Landon already has been making noises about editing the film himself, but he says, "We'll look at that later. The director does have first cut."

Presley had more basic challenges—like learning to scuba dive. Her companion, of more than four years, actor-model Michael Edwards, was once a marine diving instructor and for her opening scene he made her practice high diving for three solid weeks. "The very first time, I sat on the edge of the board, crying with fear," Presley recalls. "Finally, I rocked back and he pushed me in." Then she took a crash course in scuba diving and got her license. Consequently, she did most of her own underwater scenes and summoned the courage to swim with the sharks. "I worked so hard to get it right, I didn't want to let it go," she says. "After all the anguish and the tears, I wasn't going to give it up to someone else."

Al Giddings, who directed the underwater scenes, is high on Presley: "She's done in three or four days what Jacqueline Bisset took three or four weeks to do in The Deep. But she was not only gutsy; she swims with the natural grace of a dolphin."

If Priscilla Presley was a scene-stealer, then little Lisa Marie Presley must be called a scene in herself. Now 14, Lisa visited her mother on the set in the Bahamas. She looks uncannily like her late father. Priscilla is obviously devoted to her. They look and act like sisters, holding hands and sharing fond glances. "She's a very normal, healthy child. You'd never believe she was Elvis' daughter," says Priscilla, meaning Lisa is so unaffected by fame. "She handles herself very well. Lisa has come a long way, through the hardships and the emotional times when you don't know if you're going to make it. But we did, and she's very supportive and close. It's been a struggle, but life is what you make of it."

Priscilla still smarts over criticism of her decision to send Lisa to summer camp when Elvis died five years ago. "It was the best thing I could have done," she says. "Now Lisa says she didn't have time to think [about the death] and has a much healthier attitude. She's developed into a very strong little girl."

Thus far, Lisa is more interested in baseball and volleyball than in show business. "She's a typical teenager," notes Priscilla. "She's concerned with her friends and school. I give her space to be herself. I don't want her to feel she has to follow in her parents' footsteps. I'll support her in whatever she wants. If she wants to move away and be anonymous, that's fine. If she wants to go into the business, that's fine, too. What's important is her knowing that I care, that I'm right there for her."

"What I don't understand is how we're going to stay alive this winter."