She may be Cassandra Peterson to her family and the I.R.S., but to millions of fans and movie buffs worldwide, she is -- and will always be -- Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. What began in 1981 as a hostess gig for a horror movie slot on Los Angeles' KHJ-TV has become a pop cultural icon, one with appearances on the big screen, TV shows, even beer displays. On October 28th, Elvira will serve as Grand Marshal of the Sam's Town 250 at Memphis Motorsports Park. Local race fans will never be the same.
When's the last time you were in Memphis?
I've never been to Memphis! I've always wanted to go. Gotta see Graceland.
Just how does the Mistress of the Dark become a race fan?
Well, Elvira's a drag-strip kinda gal. At one time, I had a NASCAR [sponsorship] with Coors Light. I was on the car itself.
Have you ever served as a race's grand marshal before?
No, I never have. I've done almost everything in the whole world. It's hard to believe I'll be doing something for the first time, but this is one of them.
Are testosterone levels at the track going to red-line when you say, "Gentlemen, start your engines?"
Well, I certainly hope so.
Give us your three favorite horror movies of all time.
I like the old, bad horror movies. Bride of the Gorilla with Raymond Burr. He's lucky he ever lived that down. She Devil and Voodoo Woman . They were incredible. I think the worst you can ever get is Plan 9 from Outer Space . Technically, it's a science fiction movie, but it has a lot of horror elements. Most insanely done, cheapo movie ever made.
Who is scarier: Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger?
I'm not scared by either of those guys. I know them too well. I'm scared more by guys I used to date.
Elvis never starred in a horror movie, by conventional standards at least. If you were to cast him in one, which would it be?
Hillbilly Guitars Gone Wild , or Harem Scare 'Em . I saw every Elvis movie that was ever made. You know, I had an encounter with Elvis.
I was a showgirl in Vegas. I chose my entire life path because of Elvis. When I was 14, I saw Viva Las Vegas and at that moment, I decided I wanted to be a showgirl, like Ann-Margret. (I might as well have said I'll be an astronaut on Mars.) But at the age of 17, I found myself at the Dunes Hotel, in a show called Viva les Girls . I met Ann-Margret, and I wound up going on a date with Elvis.
When you said encounter, I thought you meant some kind of otherworldly Elvira experience.
No. And the date had a huge impact on my life. At the age of 17, I had accomplished my goal of becoming a showgirl so I thought, Okay, I've done it. But Elvis convinced me to quit the show and start taking vocal lessons. We actually played the piano some and sang together. He told me I had a really good singing voice. Quit being a showgirl, he said, and move on.
This was when Elvis was headlining the International Hotel. He had just done the TV show, in all the black leather. They cleared the entire theater where I was performing for him and his entourage. One of the showgirls -- who happened to be my roommate -- had been dating Joe Esposito [one of Elvis' managers] off and on for years. After the show, Joe invited her to come to Elvis' suite for a party. And she invited me to go with her.
Who was there that night?
There were a lot of people there, the whole Memphis Mafia. It was a pretty big party. Elvis immediately came over to me. I couldn't even speak, couldn't breathe. I was 17 years old at the time, and my roommate was 32. I was the youngest showgirl -- that I know of -- in Las Vegas history. I had to get a special contract signed by my parents that stipulated I wouldn't go into the casino, or drink alcohol. At 10:00 the next morning, I was still talking to Elvis.
He obviously liked younger girls. I was a fish out of water. We talked about religion, spirituality. He showed me these things President Kennedy had given him. It was amazing. We did get into a pretty heavy makeout scene. People ask me, you know, why we didn't end up doing anything. Well, Elvis knew I was underage. The people around him had to be extremely careful about these things, because something like that could land even Elvis in jail.
The next day, I started vocal lessons. Within a month, I landed a singing part in my show, which increased my income by a huge amount. It got me on this track that told me I don't need to be a showgirl until I'm in my thirties, when I'd get kicked out and become a blackjack dealer. When my contract expired, I moved to Paris with two other singers, and eventually got a gig singing in an Italian rock band.
I went from dancing to singing to acting, and I think if it weren't for Elvis, I'd now be the oldest showgirl in Vegas. No one on earth could have been more thrilled to meet Elvis. It changed my life path.
It seems hard to make horror sexy. What's your trick (or treat)?
Horror and sex go together, like a hot dog and mustard. Dracula movies are all about the dark, sexy underside that people don't expose that much, but they're always kind of thinking about. The scary side and the sexy side are things that people tend to keep under wraps. You don't run around society showing these things off unless you're, of course, me.
Tell us something that scares you, but might surprise your fans.
Well, this interview might do it. I'm not scared of too much. It's hard to believe, but I'm actually very shy. Believe it or not, I'm a little more to myself. Elvira does all my talking for me.