Salaciously scandalous, Cassandra Peterson–known to the world as “Elvira, the Mistress of the Dark”–reveals her deep, dark secrets In her new book entitled “Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the Dark”. The book is released in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of the pop culture icon Elvira and the 70th birthday of Cassandra.
The most glamorous Hollywood Halloween queen on the planet, Cassandra tells all her truths as one of the most popular characters resonating with the LGBTQ community. Included in her manuscript are tales of sexual assault, her 19-year hidden love affair with a woman, her wild night with Tom Jones, her meeting with Elvis that changed her life, her uncomfortable moment with Frank Sinatra, her hysterical encounter with Sammy Davis Jr. and much more.
During a Zoom interview Elvira shared questions and answers regarding the contents of her self-written escapades. At 70, she is one of the most beautiful women I have ever encountered, both inside and out…and both as Elvira and Cassandra.
How did you originally become “Elvira” and did you think it would last 40 years?
After I got the job, I predicted it would last 40 days. It was so cheesy and was on a local station in Hollywood. They were looking for a horror hostess to replace the previous horror hostess, so I went on an audition for the part. I walked in with my little springtime turquoise vest, with a room full of vampires, basically. Women dressed up in black, with black wigs and things. No one told me to dress up, but I did get the role, which was a miracle. I had a good comedy background, so I started joking with the script and apparently they liked my jokes.
You were told about this role on your honeymoon, but obviously couldn’t audition then. However, when you came back from your honeymoon, the role was still available. Why do you think you got the role instead of those other hundreds who auditioned?
They had been looking and looking forever. They were looking for somebody who was sexy and versed in comedy. Back in those days, that was pretty rare. They really couldn’t find anybody like that. My friend who called me about the role told me that I was the perfect person because they were looking for somebody funny and sexy. I got the part, I think, based on the humor.
Did it make you an overnight success?
For the first couple of years, I was just in the L.A. market, but it did kind of happen right away. After the first show aired, everybody and their mother was calling me to ask me if I would come to their Halloween party. My phone number was listed in the phone book because I was not prepared to suddenly become famous. Very soon after, I got asked to be on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. That was a game changer. I think everybody kind of knew that when you went on that show, which in those days was “the show,” you were pretty much famous.
As an actress playing Elvira, was there ever a conflict as Cassandra playing yourself?
I had it in my mind that I would be doing this little show every Thursday and then thinking that I would have to go out and find other acting jobs that actually paid for real. I was only making $350 a week, so that really wasn’t covering my bills. I had it in my head that this was just gonna be one little gig and I could still go out and get other gigs as Cassandra because I looked so different as Elvira. Nobody recognized me. Then I would go on casting calls and I would see the director’s face drop because they were expecting some big Amazon girl with black hair. I would come in, a kind of petite redhead, and they would ask me why I was there.
You survived third degree burns as a child. How did that experience affect you as an adult?
I was burned at only 18 months, and I grew up during school being teased and bullied and made fun of. My scars were very, very obvious back then. I felt like a misfit and I was extremely shy because I didn’t want to hang out with anyone. It was kind of a setback for me, and then I finally realized that I was glad it happened. Because I felt like a misfit, I eventually got into the world of horror. By the time I was in second grade, I was deeply involved with seeing horror movies and buying horror magazines and all of that. So in a weird, roundabout way, the accident led me to my love of horror and really got me started on that path. So I look at that today as a good thing.
In the book, you talk about a relationship that you’ve had that most people will not know about. Can you give us a little insight?
I was married for 25 years to a man, and after I was divorced, I fell in love with a woman. I had never had any inclination that I was gay. Honestly, to tell you the truth, I don’t think I’m gay, because I am attracted to men. But I fell for this woman. We were good friends for six years and we were both in a relationship, and at that time, there was no interest in being with her. She was just a good friend. Eventually, I don’t know what happened, but we fell in love and I’ve been with her for 19 years, and we had to hide it. It’s just so hypocritical and I hate that, but I do have a character, a brand and a business that I was protecting. Elvira is a giant horndog. She chases men. All of a sudden, to be with a woman is more shocking to me, I think, than anyone else.
Back then, it was more difficult to come out as gay, but now that we’re living in a world that’s a little freer and more freethinking, is it easier for you to come out with it?
The timing is just right. I had no regrets about putting that in the book. I’m so glad that I can finally just talk about it and we can be a couple. It had to be awful for her, as I always introduced her as my assistant for the last 19 years. Actually, she is my assistant because she works with me and I couldn’t run this business without her. But introducing her that way is degrading to her and lying to me and my fans. I am at a point in my life where I need to talk about it. I need to come out of the closet, as it were. I don’t have to worry about it anymore. I made enough money and I’m very set.
It must have been a huge weight lifted.
It was very draining. It sucks all of the energy out of you.
You’ve had encounters with a lot of different celebrities, one of whom was a huge basketball star, Wilt Chamberlain. What happened?
I knew him for many years before it happened. It was just shocking because we were friends. He was dating my roommate and I had met him and seen him over the years many times. We were very friendly. We called him Uncle Wilty. Then, one day at his house, I was at a party and he sexually assaulted me. It was very awful. I didn’t tell anybody my whole life. I kind of just crammed it down. People ask me why I didn’t go to the police and I thought, “OK, he’s a giant sports legend and I was an out of work ex-showgirl. Who are they going to believe?” Back then, it would never even have entered your mind to go and report someone like that. You have seen what happens to other women who have reported sexual abuse. They get trashed by the press and get called crazy.
You were the youngest showgirl in Las Vegas?
It was crazy. It was an accident. I had been dreaming my whole life of being a showgirl. I went to see the movie Viva Las Vegas with Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret, and from that day on, I became obsessed with going to Vegas and becoming a showgirl. So I went on vacation with my mom and dad and my two younger sisters. They stopped in Vegas and I begged them to please take me to see one of the big, glamorous shows. I convinced them that I could dress up and look 21, even though I was 17. So I put on makeup and we were sitting at the show and before it started, the maître d’ came over and asked me if I was a showgirl in town. I said “No” and I was afraid of being discovered that I was under 21. But he told me that they were having auditions tomorrow and he told me to audition for it. The next thing I knew, out comes the stage manager who takes me backstage, has me dance, then sends me to the producer. The next morning, I got the job. Then my parents had to sign off on me because I was underage. They literally had to sign a contract saying that it was OK for me to perform there. I wasn’t allowed to go in the casino or through the casino, but I was allowed to dance onstage topless. It took a lot to get my parents to sign that contract because they were not thrilled, I can tell you that much. Eventually, I got them to sign it.
You had an encounter with Andy Williams?
I went on a couple of brief dates with Andy. Apparently, he liked the younger girls and I went on a couple of not so great dates with him. He insisted I call him daddy and eventually I went to his show and I ended up biting his lip and making him bleed right before he was going out to perform. That was the end of me and daddy.
What happened with Frank Sinatra?
I had the most embarrassing moment in my life, perhaps, with Frank Sinatra. I met him at a party while I was the date of one of the Osmond brothers. Their parents were with us, so it was mom and dad Osmond and all the Osmond siblings. I met Mr. Sinatra. He came up and shook all the Osmonds’ hands, and then, when I put my hand out to shake his, he leaned back and said “Nice tits.” The Osmonds were so religious and I just wanted to die. I did get back with him years later when I was working as a hat check girl at a restaurant in Hollywood. He came in and checked his hat, and I spit in it.
You also met Sammy Davis Jr.?
Oh, dear God…I was so stupid. I was 17 at the time and I had gone down to Tijuana with some of the girls on a day off and I bought a glass eye there. I intended to make it into a ring. But instead, I found out that Sammy Davis Jr. and his wife were coming to the show. I was thrilled because I had grown up my whole life listening to Sammy. I was very excited and thrilled, but got this brilliant idea–well, actually, it was on a dare from some of the other girls. I glued the glass eyeball that I had on one of my nipples and went out and did the show that way. I don’t know what I was thinking, but then I found out Sammy was coming backstage. I almost died. I wanted to hide. Instead, he came back and he thought it was the funniest thing that he’s ever seen in his life.
According to your book, Elvis Presley changed your life. How so?
If Elvis had not come along, I wouldn’t have gone from being the youngest showgirl in history to now the oldest showgirl in history. He came and saw my show, and I was a huge Elvis fan. I went to a party at his hotel afterwards with the girls from the show. He set me down and gave me all this advice and told me I was way too young to be in Las Vegas. He told me to think about a singing career. We actually sat down at the piano and he was singing and I sang along with him. He told me I had a nice voice and told me to take some vocal lessons. Even though I thought I was at the pinnacle of my career–it was my dream job being a showgirl–I took Elvis‘s advice. After all, he was Elvis. When my contract expired, I left for a singing gig in Europe.
You also met Tom Jones. What was that like?
I met Tom Jones and got backstage. This is really sleazy. We ended up in bed. I was pretty much a virgin at that point. He didn’t believe me. I ended up sleeping with him and then wound up in the emergency room and I had to get stitches. But I was still madly in love with him and I went back the next day to see him and caught him on the couch with his backup singer. My hopes of marrying him were dashed because I had no idea he already had a wife.
In your book, you talk about Briarcliff Manor.
I am very good at manifesting stuff, and if you don’t believe that, you should read my book. I think about something, I concentrate on something, I feel it, I become it and it happens. One of these examples is I lived in this 1901 spooky, old mansion. I was nine months pregnant and I was having lots of dreams about Brad Pitt. I had just seen him in Interview with a Vampire. So I was sitting at home one day and the bell rings. I asked who it was and a voice says “Brad Pitt.” I didn’t believe him and thought it was my writing partner, so I went down to check out who the axe murderer was hiding behind the gate. I went down to the gate and there was Brad Pitt. He said that “Nicolas Cage (who was a friend of mine) had told me about your house and I would love to see it.” I couldn’t get the gate opened fast enough. I was waddling around and I was literally ready to drop the baby. Anyway, Brad came in and I took them on a tour of the house and then he came back the next day. Then a few days went by and Brad Pitt’s lawyer called us and said that he wanted to buy our house.
Have you had your ultimate stage fantasy yet? Are you still looking to do something else?
Something that I’d like to accomplish that I’ve been thinking about and slightly working on is doing a Broadway show of Mistress of the Dark. That was a dream of mine. I think it would be so funny, like in the vein of Legally Blonde. I think it would be a really fun show.
Why do you think Elvira has become such a gay icon over the years? And why do you think the horror genre resonates so well with the LGBTQ community?
Those are two big questions that I’ve always tried to figure out. I think Elvira resonates with them in that, believe it or not, she’s a little bit androgynous. She’s a very sexy woman, showing a lot of cleavage and all that, but then her male side shows that she is strong, tough and determined. I think that is something people align with. I think that Cher and Madonna have those same qualities. They are both super sexy and both tough. I think that appeals to gay men and women because it’s refreshing to see a woman who is not ashamed of her body, but at the same time doesn’t become a sexual object. As for the horror genre, I think it’s probably for the same reason that it resonated so well with me. I was teased and made fun of when I was a child–in my case, it was because of my scars. But I know enough gay men who were also teased and made fun of. So I think that they grew up in general feeling a little bullied, a little bit like they didn’t fit in. Horror kind of attracts that crowd because in the movie, you always have a monster who is misunderstood, as in the Frankenstein movie. He’s really a good guy and doesn’t mean to be that way. But he has a series of things that happen that gets him to be that way. He didn’t cause it, he didn’t want it, it just is. I think that’s maybe why the gay community resonates with horror…but I’m no psychologist. But I just feel like I’m a gay man.
Why was it so important for you to come out about your relationship now. Do you think it will help people who aren’t so authentic, but want to be?
I think it’s a big deal. I am really excited about coming out with this information now because for 19 years, after my divorce, I had this friend for six years with no inkling that it was going to turn into a relationship. I was more surprised than anybody else, and she was certainly surprised. It wasn’t like coming out, it just happened. I just fell in love with this particular person. But I am so happy that I am talking to people about it now and they can find out about it now because having secrets is not good. It’s like holding it in–it gives you gas. I was protecting a brand, but I held onto that secret for way too long. Now I feel like I can talk about it and if some company doesn’t want to hire me or host their television show, well then, screw them now. I feel hypocritical about being around so many gay people and having so many gay fans and not letting them know about it, but I hope they will understand it.