Bi Book Club: Yours Cruelly, Elvira

By Jennie Roberson

October 26, 2021



Photo credit: Pexels/Pixabay

Well, hey there, my bodacious bi bookworms! It’s my favorite time of year — fall/Halloween! Around here, I call it “falloween” and start decorating in September, draping cobwebs and pumpkin spicing up my joint. There’s a reason the hashtag #SpookyBi exists — and I definitely fulfill its stereotype.

So during the month of October, not only do I fill my place with ghoulish delights, but I also switch my entertainment to all things spoopy and horror-filled. Yup, it’s 31 days of Halloween around here, from the films/TV and music right down to the library. That, of course, includes the works of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, one of my not just staring really hard, same-sex childhood crushes (only not making the list because I needed to make some cuts). So when I found out that the Queen of Halloween herself, Elvira — aka Cassandra Peterson — was debuting an autobiography this autumn, it shot right to the top of my reading list. But then, when I found out that within those pages, Peterson came out, I knew I needed to review it for this space.

Before I go into deeper detail about the features of her memoir, I should lay down a few disclaimers. First and foremost, there will be SPOILERS in this review (but trust me — Peterson has lived so much life there’s no way my review will touch on all the fascinating tales she divulges.) I should also note that readers should beware of some content warnings, including discussions about sexual assault, alcohol and drug abuse, as well as issues of physical and verbal/emotional abuse.

Elvira at the 2016 Knott's Scary Farm at Knott's Berry Farm  holding her book and smiling.

For those who are not familiar with this icon of the macabre, Elvira is a comedic creation of Peterson’s who was originally a hostess of late-night horror film reruns on a Southern California television station. The character became so popular, Peterson expanded her into a lasting franchise, including her own product lines, theatrical shows, appearances in other films and shows, as well as a few of her own motion pictures. Elvira has been dubbed the “Queen of Halloween” and cemented a career and legacy lasting over forty years. In Yours Cruelly, Elvira, Peterson goes into insightful detail on her storied life, both before and after the Mistress of the Dark entered her life (and ours).

As I said before, it’s impossible to spoil all of the contents of Peterson’s memoir because she had lived approximately five book-worthy lives before Elvira was even in the picture. Growing up in Kansas and Colorado as an ugly duckling with burn scars and taking accordion lessons, Peterson eventually ended up working as a Vegas showgirl. If you think being a virgin groupie as well an underage go-go dancer for troops getting shipped off to Vietnam (and getting paid to do so by Uncle Sam) AND kissing literally so many historical figures can’t all be in the same lifetime, then you haven’t learned about life before Elvira.

Peterson’s prose is chock full of humor, wry observations, and lurid stories of a young woman sucking the marrow out of life across multiple countries with energy to burn and a fire to keep going for whatever dream crossed her mind. This is a comedian who has made Sammy Davis Junior double over in laughter AND made out with Elvis and Hendrix (sadly not at the same time). And all of this happened before Peterson even joined the trailblazing Groundlings comedy troupe.

Peterson, a gifted writer, is both casual and engaging throughout the passages, whether she is discussing shocking encounters with pre-#MeToo sexual harassment or discussing grisly matters she has both witnessed or have haunted her steps.

But if Elvira fans out there are concerned they won’t get a whole passel of stories about the creation of Elvira, behind-the-scenes insights, or a front-row seat to the creation of an eerie empire, let me dispel that now: This is an all-access pass. Peterson goes over the good, the bad, and the court appearances. By the end of Yours Cruelly, I had more than a working knowledge of how the brand came to be — and how it has endured for nearly half a century.

Elvira posing for a photo with Gomez Addams both in their costumes smiling.

Okay, okay, I can hear the clamoring from here for the answer to the big question: Does Peterson come out as bi? The author does not use that word, no. But it’s clear from her stories and her described marriages and partnerships that she is attracted to both men and her current partner, Theresa (or T, for short). Her attraction to T came as a surprise to herself since it came later in her life (and after an emotionally abusive marriage), but that doesn’t make it any less authentic. While she goes through a lot of contemplation about her newfound attractions (though I’m not sure they’re that new from her descriptions of her fellow showgirls — maybe just newly discovered), she ultimately decides that labels don’t matter as long as she loves who she loves.

Also, as someone who has been half in love with Elvira since I was, oh, five, I wish I could give T a high five because really:

I really don’t want to go into much more detail because I don’t want to spoil the bulk of Peterson’s memoir (seriously — I didn’t even cover the part where she lived in a tree for a year), but suffice to say this review scratched the surface of her storied chapters in the world of entertainment. Yours Cruelly is an absolutely delightful, devilish read of a life well-lived, by perhaps the most #boosexual comedienne of all time. I recommend it for spooky season and well beyond.

So until next time, guys, ghouls, and ghastly they-bies...


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