Yours Cruelly, Elvira by Cassandra Peterson
Hachette Books (September 2021)
305 pages; $22.99 hardcover, $14.99 ebook, $29.65 audiobook (or 1 audible credit)
Reviewed by Haley Newlin
Q: If your new memoir Yours Cruelly, Elvira is adapted into a movie, who would you want to play you?
A: Dolly Parton! We have the same…uhm.. assets.
Quote from Barnes & Noble Virtually Presents: Cassandra Peterson Celebrates Yours Cruelly, Elvira (Sept. 21, 2021).
I had the immense pleasure of reading Cassandra Peterson’s new memoir, Yours Cruelly, Elvira, and attending a live event celebrating the release.
Two opportunities I know I’ll never forget. I mean, it’s damn near impossible to forget the cheeky, tassel-twirling queen of Halloween.
When reading, I couldn’t shake my thoughts of the legendary Dolly Parton, so it felt so ironic that Peterson named Parton as her top casting choice for Elvira in a biopic.
Of course, Parton and Peterson have plenty in common, distinct, iconic voices, vibrant, dare I say, bouncy personalities, and slapstick humor. All of which sprawl across the pages of Peterson’s fiery memoir.
Yours Cruelly, Elvira, details Peterson’s life before and after becoming The Mistress of the Dark, beginning with an event far more horrific than any of the films she would present on Elvira’s Movie Macabre. At just eighteen months old, Peterson reached for a pot on the stove and drenched herself in boiling water. She spent weeks in the hospital with third-degree burns on more than 35 percent of her body.
Peterson agonized over the scars for years. In her book, she shares that even at 70 years old, she still catches herself adjusting her hair or even the Elvira beehive wig to conceal them.
Besides the constant insecurity her scars conjured within, Peterson also endured an abusive home life in a small Kansas town that led her to leave home at fourteen and support herself as a go-go dancer and eventual showgirl. In these transformative years, Peterson experienced run-ins with Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones, Elvis, and NBA star Wilt Chamberlain.
Much like was seen in the Elvira feature film, Peterson’s life wasn’t always mystical and fabulous, and she often faced sexual harassment and was even assaulted.
I suppose going into Yours Cruelly, Elvira, I expected devilishly wild stories, and believe me, there’s plenty — some including dozens of chickens, Led Zeppelin, and a ghost. But, what I never could’ve imagined was Peterson’s haunting yet admirable transparency. That’s what made these tales truly weave together into a story of a wickedly wonderful misfit overcoming insurmountable odds that I know readers, much like myself, will find chilling, but more than anything, empowering.
At the heart of the opportunities that just slipped by Peterson, personal heartache, and years of trauma comes a glowing experience to sit down with someone who feels like the cool godmother.
This is how I imagine the Cyruses feel with Dolly Parton.
More than anything, Yours Cruelly, Elvira is a chance to see that the tight dress with the voluptuous shape and hair-raising slit, winged eyeliner, and “the girl with zonkers that will drive you bonkers” is only a fraction of the woman behind it all.
Yours Cruelly, Elvira is a true artistic relic with unyielding revelry, comedy, and savory lessons. Just when I thought I couldn’t love Elvira anymore!
I highly recommend pairing Yours Cruelly with the audiobook. Some of the classic Elvira snark is just too good not to hear in Peterson’s voice.