Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the Dark by Cassandra Peterson #HalloweenReads #Memoir #MovieMacabre

From Goodreads: “The woman behind the icon known as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, the undisputed Queen of Halloween, reveals her full story, filled with intimate bombshells, told by the bombshell herself.

On Good Friday in 1953, at only 18 months old, 25 miles from the nearest hospital in Manhattan, Kansas, Cassandra Peterson reached for a pot on the stove and doused herself in boiling water. Third-degree burns covered 35% of her body, and the prognosis wasn’t good. But she survived. Burned and scarred, the impact stayed with her and became an obstacle she was determined to overcome. Feeling like a misfit led to her love of horror.

Due to a complicated relationship with her mother, Cassandra left home at 14, and by age 17 she was performing at the famed Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas. Run-ins with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Tom Jones helped her grow up fast. Then a chance encounter with her idol Elvis Presley, changed the course of her life forever, and led her to Europe where she worked in film and traveled Italy as lead singer of an Italian pop band. She eventually made her way to Los Angeles, where she joined the famed comedy improv group, The Groundlings.

Nearing age 30, a struggling actress considered past her prime, she auditioned at local LA channel KHJ as hostess for the late-night vintage horror movies. Cassandra improvised, made the role her own, and got the job on the spot. Always original and sometimes outrageous, her story is loaded with twists, travails, revelry, and downright shocking experiences. It is the candid, often funny, and sometimes heart-breaking tale of a Midwest farm girl’s long strange trip to become the world’s sexiest, sassiest Halloween icon.”

Yours Truly, Elvira, (Amazon) is the perfect book to read during the Halloween season, when classic and not-so-classic horror films are shown on cable and over-the-air on the sub-channels.

I grew up in the 1980’s, when excess and horror was king. My brothers and sisters and I were involved in the March of Dimes Haunted House every year, taking a dilapidated house and turning it into a house full of frights and sights. So you could say I had a keen interest in anything horror related: we watched all the horror movies, combed stores for costumes (Spirit Halloween was not in business back then and if it was, it didn’t make its way to Green Bay.)

Elvira was something special. A sexed-up version of my favorite, Morticia Adams, I became an instant fan whenever I saw her on TV. In fact, just last week her show, Movie Macabre was airing on the Comet channel here in the U.S. What a blast from the past! It certainly added to my enjoyment to the book, to see Elvira in her prime, doing her schtick, at the same time as reading about it.

Cassandra Peterson had a very eventful life before becoming the Mistress of the Dark. In fact, I dare say that her life leading up to her most famous gig was more interesting than the actual Elvira bit. That’s not to say that her life was boring as Elvira, far from it, but that just goes to show you how extraordinary her life was before fame and fortune struck. I mean, among other things, she was a Vegas show girl, which gives one a wealth of stories to begin with. She toured Europe as a singer of a pop band. And this was during the 1970’s, when life was a lot different.

Even if you’ve never heard of Elvira, all you need to know is that Peterson’s character hosted late-night b-movies on TV during the 1980’s and 1990’s, much like you find Svengoolie today on MeTV (which was just taken off the air in our market and for which I’m cheesed.) Or if you were a fan of Mystery Science Theater (the original host was from neighboring Ashwaubenon, so it was fairly big cable show here), Movie Macabre was like that. We even had our own local late-night host, Ned the Dead, who still gets into character from time to time to this day.

Frank and candid, with a little name-dropping when necessary, Yours Cruelly, Elvira was a great trip down memory lane, as well as learning a lot more about the woman behind the boobs and bad jokes. 🙂

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