Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memories of the Mistress of the Dark, the explosive new autobiography by comic actress Cassandra “Elvira” Peterson, is filled with tales wilder and sometimes scarier than anything that the iconic horror hostess ever introduced onscreen: a childhood accident that scarred 35 percent of her body, a stint as a 17-year-old Vegas showgirl, strange encounters with Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, and Tom Jones. But when the book came out this week, it was Peterson’s revelation that she has been in a happy romantic partnership with a woman for the past 19 years that made headlines.
Speaking to Yahoo Entertainment about her decision to “come out” in Yours Cruelly, and about why she waited almost two decades to do so, the 70-year-old Peterson (who also kept her previous 25-year marriage to man mostly under wraps, for fear of ruining the Elvira mystique) still seems to be adjusting to having her private life become so public — and to putting labels on her complex sexuality.
“It's funny. I mean, people call it ‘coming out,’ and I guess in a way it is. I haven't ever been gay and I don't feel like… I guess, you know, now there's non-binary, gender-fluid, whatever. I fell in love with somebody who I met, who I really loved, and she was a woman. And you know, I'm always asking myself, ‘Did you turn gay all of a sudden, after 50 years? Wow! What's up with that?’” Peterson chuckles. “I don't think I did, because I'm still mainly attracted to men. Oh, [my partner] loves it when we're walking down the street and a hot guy goes by and I'm like [gawking]! It makes her crazy! But I am attracted to men. I fell in love with a particular person who I had been friends with for many years. And then the relationship just got deeper, and then we've been together for 19 years and it's fantastic. But still, I would be fine with saying I came out and I'm gay, but I don't think I'm gay. I don't know what the hell I am! … And even people have said, ‘Oh, you're bi.’ And I said, ‘Well, I guess I am now! It wasn't until I turned 50!’ I don't know how to explain it, but it's been great.”
Peterson first spotted her partner, Teresa Wierson, from afar at Gold's Gym in Hollywood and was instantly attracted, at first mistaking Wierson for a man; the two struck up an initially platonic friendship after they met in the gym’s locker room. Their relationship became romantic shortly after Peterson’s split from her husband/manager, Mark Pierson (whom she officially divorced in 2003), when after a night out at the movies, Peterson “felt compelled to kiss her — on the mouth,” as she writes in Yours Cruelly. Peterson was “stunned” by her feelings, but she just decided to go for it. And Wierson — who is referred to only as “T” in Yours Cruelly — was perfectly fine with keeping their romance under wraps for years.
“She understands what I'm doing, and she feels the same way about it. She prefers that. She would be happy if I never said it,” says Peterson. “I had to really, really talk her into letting me put this [in the book], because she doesn't want to be in the public eye. She's not that kind of person. As far as she was concerned, it was great being that way. But I think it will be nice not to have to hide it, and for her and me not to have to lie to people all the time, which is basically what we were doing. I hate that.”
Peterson elaborates that the secrecy was mainly a career move, “because Elvira is a big horndog. She's always after guys, guys are chasing her, and I am the owner of a brand. And I felt I had to protect that brand. And oddly, when I was married to a man for 25 years, I did not tell anybody I was married and I tried my best to keep that a secret. Because, again, Elvira's a big horndog. If I was married for 25 years to the same man, I didn't want people to know that, because I think it would turn off a lot of male fans, you know? So, I just kept my relationships private as I could, just to keep the character intact.”
Peterson, with her impeccable comic timing, cracks jokes about her sexuality throughout her Yahoo Entertainment interview. “I'm with a woman now, I'm with a man now — who knows what I'll be with in 10 minutes,” she quips at one point, and when asked if she ever had a “beard” to cover up her relationship with Wierson, she says, “You mean like a person? I didn't grow a beard, but I'm starting one now.” But more seriously, Peterson does express some guilt over not being more forthcoming with her fans, since the ultimate irony is Elvira has always had a massive LGBTQ+ fanbase. “My one fear is that I felt hypocritical — and I hate hypocrites,” she admits. “I'm being ‘straight’ Elvira, and then I hang out with nothing but gay men, practically — and thenI'm not telling people the truth, you know what I mean? That feels weird to me.”
Since Peterson went public about Wierson this week, she has been celebrated and supported by her queer fans. When asked why she’s always appealed to LGBTQ+ audiences, she reflects on the Elvira character’s blurring of gender lines. “What is it about her? I don't know exactly, but I'm always thinking about that. I think it's something it's the same thing Cher might have, or Madonna. … Really, what I've come down to is it's an androgynous character in a way, in that all three of us are sexy, but tough, strong, take-no-bulls***. And I think gay men in particular really like that sexiness, but not being a little wimp. They like the tough, powerful women. And that becomes kind of androgynous, because you've got sort of a personality of a man, but you look like a super-sexy woman.”
Peterson then gets visibly choked up discussing connection to her loyal gay fans. “I have had — and honestly, when I say hundreds, I literally mean hundreds — of people coming to me. And so many of them have been gay, because they grew up feeling different, weird, not fitting in, getting called names. And I think that's the big connection with Elvira. In my movie, Mistress of the Dark, I had it set up that Elvira was bashed by everybody around her and went to this very religious town. … And she just breezes right through it and it's like, ‘Yeah, whatever, that's your problem!’ And I think that's really helped a lot of my fans. I know it has, because I get letters from them. I speak to them at conventions and they are very much in the same boat, younger kids that are getting bullied or getting made fun of for something — the way they look, their sexuality, any and everything.
“And they have come up to me — and literally I get chills when I talk about this — I've literally had few of them say I saved their lives,” Peterson says incredulously. “That without seeing that movie, they would have killed themselves. I mean, it's hard to believe, but I've had them say it through tears, and writing me letters that were so heavy. I couldn't handle it. I'm just so happy about that. I mean, if they relate so much to this character that it actually gave them the will to live, good heavens, I've done my job here! I really have. I feel like, ‘Wow, that's the best thing I could've ever done.’”
Watch Yahoo Entertainment’s full, extended interview with Cassandra Peterson about the Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memories of the Mistress of the Dark below:
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