When Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (real name: Cassandra Peterson) released her memoir in late September, the headline was: “OMG ELVIRA CAME OUT!” People were excited — rightfully so! — and the chapter about how the bodacious horror host fell in love with her partner of over 19 years is one of the book’s sweetest high points. But the rest of Yours Cruelly, Elvira is also delightful; it’s breezy, hilarious, gossipy, and name-drop-y, basically everything you’d want from a book written by the charismatic genre icon.
While there are some heavier parts — you don’t have a life in showbiz without some darkness along the way — most of the book is purely entertaining. While you really should pick up a copy for yourself to get the full story, we’re highlighting 10 fun facts (all PG rated… you gotta go read the racy stuff yourself!) we never knew about Elvira until we read it.
1. While she was still in high school, Peterson worked as a go-go dancer at clubs around Colorado Springs, Colorado and at a nearby Army base. Right after she graduated, she started working as a Las Vegas showgirl — fulfilling a career goal she’d spontaneously shared with her school guidance counselor. (To his credit, his response was: “If that’s what you really want to do, then do it!”)
2. After over a year dancing in Vegas, Peterson started planning her departure after getting to hang out with her childhood idol, Elvis Presley, during one of his stints performing there. Not only did he advise her to “never do drugs,” he said she should “take some vocal lessons, get into singing, and get the heck outta Dodge.” Not long after, she moved to Paris, but discovered she wasn’t tall enough to work as a showgirl there; then she moved to Rome. After some ups and downs, she landed a gig as a singer in a touring bossa-nova band.
3. The fact that Elvira is so funny is no accident: Peterson was a member of LA’s famed improv and sketch comedy group the Groundlings, where her fellow cast members included Saturday Night Live’s Phil Hartman and Paul Reubens in the earliest days of his own famed alter ego, Pee-wee Herman.
4. Yours Cruelly, Elvira goes into Peterson’s drawn-out legal battle with Maila Nurmi — aka Vampira — which started when Peterson was chosen to replace her as the horror-host character on LA’s KHJ-TV. But the most surprising tidbit is that when Peterson needed to pick a new name, fast, she and everyone who was on set at the time tossed potential choices into a coffee can. So “Elvira” was literally a random choice, and it stuck. (“Sounds like a country-western singer to me,” Peterson recalls thinking at the time.)
5. Peterson was close friends with another horror icon: Vincent Price (an animal lover and animal-rights advocate, she currently has a rescue pup named “Vinny the Pee.”). Of all the anecdotes in the book, this is the weirdest: “He taught me to cook fish in my dishwasher. Just throwing that out there.” What?
6. After Coors hired Elvira to be a part of what turned out to be a hugely successful campaign to brand its product as “The Official Beer of Halloween,” she became “the first female celebrity in commercial history to endorse a beer.”
7. While casting Mistress of the Dark — her first Elvira movie — Peterson recalls meeting a young actor who read for the part and scribbling “yum yum” in her notes. It was Brad Pitt. In typical self-deprecating style, she writes, “Years later, when I met him again, I told him he owed me a big debt of gratitude for personally saving his career by not casting him in my movie.”
8. Yours Cruelly, Elvira has two chapters dedicated to Briarcliff Manor — Peterson’s former home in the Hollywood hills. One is about her woes raising chickens there… the other is about the home’s many ghosts. Even the heart-shaped pool had its own restless spirit. (Several years later, when she and her then-husband ended up selling the place, her old pal Brad Pitt was the buyer.)
9. Peterson has a daughter, born in 1994, who is obviously a private person — aside from a few mentions and one small baby picture, and there are no further details on her, not even her name.
10. Peterson filmed a pilot for a CBS sitcom in the early 1990s: The Elvira Show. Though it tested well — it was about two aunts and their niece, all of whom happen to be witches, complete with talking black cat — it never made it to air because (according to Peterson) a network exec took one look at it and said “We can’t have tits like that on CBS!” (Two years later, she notes, Sabrina the Teenage Witch became a bit hit for CBS.)
Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the Dark by Cassandra Peterson is out now.