How Elvis Presley Inspired the Woman Behind Elvira and 4 Other Revelations About the Mistress of the Dark

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Cassandra Peterson created Elvira in the early 1980s and for over 40 years, she has been a Halloween staple.

Halloween is synonymous with certain pop-culture icons like Michael Myers, the music of the Misfits, the “Monster Mash,” and of course, the holiday isn’t complete without seeing the Mistress of the Dark — Elvira.

But the story of Elvira almost didn’t happen. The road that Cassandra Peterson took to get to creating Halloween’s favorite vixen was long, strange, and full of twists and turns.

“I just don't give up. People have said to me a thousand times, ‘You're like a pit bull with a bone,'" Peterson told Inside Edition Digital. "I wouldn't get what I want, but I would just keep trying."

The twists and turns are all chronicled in Peterson’s new best-selling autobiography, “Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the Dark.”

“I say in the book if I had a nickel for every time someone said, ‘You have got to write your life story'... I'd be a zillionaire here. I wanted to write it, but I just never got the time to sit down and do it,” she said.

Now 70, she looks back on her career and what it took to get to where she is today. Below are five highlights of her conversation with Inside Edition Digital.

Elvis Gave Her Life-Changing Advice

Peterson lived on her own since she was a teenager. Having been born in Kansas and then growing up in Colorado, she left home as a minor and found her way to Las Vegas, when she worked as an underage showgirl at 17.

One night during a performance with her troupe, the “King of Rock and Roll” himself, Elvis Presley, stopped by for a private showing and took an interest in Peterson.

“They cleared the whole place for him. Later, he invited some of the showgirls back to his suite for a party, a real legitimate party with a lot of people. I got to meet him, and for some reason he glommed onto me. I imagine it was because I was 17, as opposed to everybody else being probably in their thirties,” she recalled. “He started talking to me, and he was just very, very sweet and kind, and gave me so much information and was honestly very, I don't want to say fatherly, but he really was.”

She said that Elvis told her that Vegas was “no place for a young girl like me, even though I said, ‘Oh my God, this is my dream of a lifetime. I'm finally a showgirl. That's what I dreamed about becoming.’”

After hearing that, the “Hound Dog” singer quipped that Peterson should “move on and do something different” with her life. He added that if she stuck around she would “end up being the oldest showgirl in Las Vegas."

He also encouraged her to take singing lessons after hearing her voice when the two sat down at a piano that night and belted out a few tunes.

She ultimately took all of that advise the “Love Me Tender” singer gave her: she got singing lessons, incorporated them into her show, and eventually left Vegas.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

After leaving Las Vegas and bouncing around the country including a stop in Miami working at the Playboy Club, Peterson followed her then-boyfriend to Los Angeles. While living in the city of Angels, she decided to become an actress.

She took classes and eventually linked up with the infamous comedy crew The Groundlings, with some of her classmates being Phil Hartman and Paul Reubens. Despite learning her craft from the talent around her, Hollywood casting agents would not cast her in anything worthwhile.

Some of her peers even gave up but she didn’t.

“I said the only difference between me and the other girls that I hung out with that were actresses, that I was friends with, was that I kept going, and they dropped off one by one; married a lawyer, married a doctor, moved to another state and just gave up in some time in their twenties. They were better looking than me, more talented than me. The only difference was that they quit and I didn't,” she said.

Peterson said when she was 30 she was told to give up because agents said she was “over the hill” and “might as well get out of Hollywood.”

However, something inside her told her to keep going. She admits she made a career “by the skin of my teeth.”

She also had a hard time finding work because of double standards. She was both funny and attractive, and in the 1970s and early 1980s, Peterson says for women like her, “it was just an unwritten rule that if you were funny, you had to look funny. Not for men, men could just look like a man. If you were a woman, you had to wear a goofy wig or be wacky-looking, overweight, all kinds of things.”

Today, she is happy to say that is not the case for female comics.

How She Nearly Turned Down Elvira

During the time she was a struggling actress doing whatever it took to make ends meet, she got married and suddenly things changed.

While on her honeymoon, her agent frantically called the hotel she was staying in in Colorado Springs and demanded she return to Los Angeles to audition for a local TV station that needed a host for a B-movie horror show. Peterson says she turned it down initially because she was on her honeymoon and was in no rush to get back to town.

“It never fails when you're an actor. Everyone I've ever talked to always says, ‘When you leave town for vacation, that is when you're going to get the audition of a lifetime,’” she said. “It wasn't very much money or anything. She wanted me to come home from my honeymoon, my one and only honeymoon. I just said, ‘I can't do it.’"

When she returned to L.A. a couple of weeks later, her agent called again and said the role had still not been filled. Reluctantly, Peterson went in, auditioned and got the part.

In 1981, Los Angeles was introduced to Elvira, the Mistress of the Dark, and eventually, her creation took off and the character became a household name soon after spawning a national series, movies, and various TV appearances. The impact Elvira has had as the reigning queen of Halloween has lasted ever since.

Setting the Record on Her Sexuality

In September, headlines blared that the woman behind Elvira was a lesbian and that she had come out, but Peterson says that is simply not the case.

“I don't know that I so much disclosed my sexuality as I just announced that I have a partner who's female,” she said. “I was, and I believe am, still straight. I am attracted to men. I met this one particular person. She's very androgynous, and eventually fell in love with her, but I consider myself straight. I just am not attracted to other women besides her. I think women are great, but I'm just not sexually attracted to them.”

She added that “between straight and gay, I think there are a thousand shades of gray.”

Peterson added that after seeing erroneous headlines last month saying she came out, she said, “I think people just don't get it. I'd be happy to be a lesbian. There's certainly nothing wrong with that. It'd be fantastic, but I just happen not to be. That's all.”
Cassandra Loves Halloween But Just Wishes She Could Celebrate With Someone Other Than Elvira

As Halloween approaches, Cassandra Peterson speaks of her favorite holiday with equal parts joy and discomfort, as she wishes she could celebrate with someone other than her alter ego. As someone who also collects costumes to wear, she sadly cannot use them due to work obligations.

“Halloween is my absolute favorite holiday and always has been since I was a little child. Unfortunately, in the last 40 years, even though I love Halloween like crazy, I still have to be Elvira on Halloween,” she said.

“I hope that doesn't come out negative about Halloween. I freaking love Halloween, but it's such a bummer. I collect all these fantastic Halloween decorations, and everything for my house. Do I ever get to use them? No.”

At this point in her career, she has mixed feelings about working on the holiday that made her famous, primarily because of how demanding it is leading up the 31st, saying it's “a little bit of a love/hate relationship because during the month of October, I work about a hundred times harder than I have to work the rest of the year. As much as I look forward to it, I also am a little bit scared of it coming along.”

The only time she was ever home for Halloween to serve trick or treaters was last year but due to the pandemic, no one came.

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