Wednesday, 26 January 2022

Yours Cruelly, Elvira

Cassandra Complex

Yours Cruelly, Elvira -
Memoirs Of The
Mistress Of The Dark

by Cassandra Peterson
Hachette Books ISBN: 9780306874352

Wow, what a great book. I just want to give a quick shout out here to one of those rare autobiographies that come along every now and again that remind you that there are some nice people around in this world who, you know, haven’t let the gruelling pressures of the hardships they’ve somehow had to endure turn them into complete monsters. This is just such a tome and, given that Cassandra Peterson... aka Elvira - Mistress Of The Dark... has been pretty much co-writing her own material for decades, it really shouldn’t come as any surprise that she’s managed to write a memoir as  burdened with the weight of some heavy experiences and revelations as this one is, in a witty, poignant and vastly interesting manner. And to somehow make it an absolute hoot of an entertaining book, to boot!

I first became aware of ‘Elvira’, I think, around about 1988, when I was twenty years old. I saw the movie poster being advertised in some magazine (or possibly comic... or both) and instantly, somehow, recognised the iconic ‘boobs n’ hair’ image of someone who looked like either Vampira or Vampirella (or a thrilling combination of both) being burned at the stake. Now, the IMDB doesn’t list the movie as getting a theatrical release in the UK and, while I know I had it on good old trusty VHS at the time (since upgraded twice now to both DVD and Blu Ray editions), I’m pretty sure I did see it at my local cinema over here at the time (a cinema which is, alas, now a Tesco but, still, good times were had).

It was a film which nobody seemed to have heard of at the time, which I introduced a few people to, who then also became staunch supporters of the legendary lady. I met her once and got a photo signed by her in the 90s, or possibly just into the next decade, at the old London Film And Comic Con, back in the days when it was good and not many people went (which probably explains why she never returned to do it again... I didn’t have to wade through a huge queue of pre-booked visitors to meet her at that point). I also remember buying vinyl record albums of her at around the same time and reading comics too, including a black and white, biographical comic which started off highlighting how she got scarred by life-threatening boiling water burns as a very young child (not even two years old yet, I think?).

The full story of that accident and just how lucky she was to survive it due to various things all lining up at once is almost a forewarning of the way things seemed to have happened to her over her life... at least that’s one of the things I took away from this account. She goes on to explain the way things came into being in terms of her career and opportunities much later in the book but, there’s also a lot of dark stuff she went through and she captures a lot of it for the reader as she goes, chapter by chapter, through her life.

And there’s a lot to take in as she goes from tragedy to fortune to tragedy again in small, perfectly formed installments... starting off with a dramatic opening when she is on her honeymoon and getting the call to audition for the role of a certain little ‘Horror Hostess’ for a TV station before flashing back through her memoirs, catching up with this moment a little over half the way through the book and after a bunch of amazing and, sometimes gruelling, stories.

Lots of great stuff here to unpack including her relationship with her parents and siblings, her early obsession with horror films and her love, as a young girl, of building those old Aurora model kits of Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy etc  (remember those?), her times as a ‘virgin groupie’ meeting various big bands and the bizarre time she hung out with Jimi Hendrix... to her obsessions with Elvis (who she stayed up talking to for most of a night when she was working as a showgirl in Las Vegas... a conversation which changed the course of her life), Ann Margaret, The Beatles and eventually landing her way to the role that made her fame and fortune.

On the way there are stars who were nice to her (I might mention Liza Minelli) and those who weren’t ultimately all that pleasant (I might mention Frank Sinatra and Tom Jones). And I love the way she humanises some of the celebrity people she meets by initially teasing them into the text by just their first names, so you take in what good deeds they might have done (or not), before she suddenly hits you with a second name and you realise just who it is she’s talking about. For instance, I’m not going to say who Bobby was, who pinned her boyfriend against his car because he was being abusive to her... you’ll have to read the book yourself to find out who that guy was... but it does give a solid, positive sketch of the man behind the name. I will say, though, that when she was taking acting lessons alongside two students, Lynda and Debra, who fast became friends with her... it gave me a little insight into just how Debra Winger came to be cast as Wonder Girl in Lynda Carter’s hit TV show Wonder Woman (reviewed by me here only last week).

So yeah, there are lots of celebrity stories such as hanging out in Rome in her teens and working as an extra on Fellini’s movies... but there’s also often a downside to these periods of her life, such as fleeing Rome after escaping captivity from some criminals who starved her for three days with not much expectations of surviving the experience.

And, of course, her time promoting her brand image Elvira in various shapes and forms over the years... including, of course, the two wonderful films she made and explaining how she modelled the famous Elvira wig (seriously, it took me years to twig that wasn’t her natural hair... I'm naive) on Ronnie Spector’s hairstyle. I also didn’t realise the number of films and shows various actors don’t put on their CV or, perhaps as importantly these days, the IMDB. For instance, I hadn’t a clue that she appeared as a showgirl in the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever. I also need to check out another new collection of memoirs she tips the reader off to, from the lady who road managed her and which is called The Opposite Of Famous, as soon as time and money will allow.

And there’s more... lots more, including of course the now famous revelation, with the publication of this book, that she’s been living with a female lover for the last 20 years who is finally able to support her emotionally in the way her husband never could (it seems to me). So, yeah, Cassandra’s Elvira brand has had a couple of prominent bumps along the way (many of them detailed in this book) but she’s in a very strong place right now, it seems... finally getting something which approximates the happy ending she deserves.

So, if you’ve not been taking notes, I’d have to say that Yours Cruelly, Elvira - Memoirs Of The Mistress Of The Dark is a sometimes heartbreaking, often hilarious but certainly informative, candid and entertaining tome... I honestly wish it was twice the size so it didn’t have to end so fast. I’d recommend this one to most people I know in a shot but, for now, until I find out the next project she’s getting involved with, I shall continue to play my iPad simulacra versions of the Elvira pinball machines and gaze up, from time to time, at the shot of her on the wall by my bed, to read the message I asked her to inscribe all those years ago (when I had to remind her it was actually a direct quote from her movie... I think she remembers it better nowadays)... Revenge Is Better Than Christmas!

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