Horror Celeb Elvira, 'Mistress of the Dark,' Leaves Behind the Darkness of the Closet

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Saturday September 25, 2021
Originally published on September 22, 2021

Cassandra Peterson, who plays "Elvira, Mistress of the Dark," appears during the NBC "Today" television program's annual Halloween show in New York on Oct. 31, 2007.
Cassandra Peterson, who plays "Elvira, Mistress of the Dark," appears during the NBC "Today" television program's annual Halloween show in New York on Oct. 31, 2007.  (Source:AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

Iconic horror maven Elvira may be "Mistress of the Dark," but with her new memoir, she's emerging into the light and leaving the closet behind. In the tell-all book, titled "Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the Dark" (published Sept. 21 by Hachette), Cassandra Peterson — the performer behind the schlock movie hostess — has come out as a lesbian, revealed a shocking claim of sexual assault, and more, the New York Daily News reported.

Among the memoir's surprises: A "19-year romantic relationship with a woman...as well as encounters with some of the celebrity world's biggest names — among them late basketball star Wilt Chamberlain, whom she claims forced oral sex on her," the Daily News detailed.

The article quoted from the book's text: "When a 7-foot-1, 300-pound man has his hand wrapped around your neck, there's really not a lot you can do."

When Chamberlain famously made the claim, in his own memoir "A View from Above," that he had had sex with 20,000 women, Peterson shares, "I had to wonder how many of those women actually consented to having sex with him."

The book sketches an early life spent on a family farm, with a childhood accident leaving a young Peterson with bad scarring. An early fascination with drag queens and musicians presaged a desire to break into show business, which Peterson first attempted in Las Vegas, while still a teenager.

Peterson had many encounters with celebrities, ranging from a randy compliment about her breasts by Frank Sinatra to a "sweet and slow" kiss with Jimi Hendrix (and a somewhat less pleasant snog with Andy Williams), as well as a bout of intercourse with Tom Jones that sent her to the hospital (the result, the book claims, of his outsized...talent).

Throughout everything, her career wasn't taking off. It wasn't until she moved to Hollywood and landed what the Post called a "host job for the late-night broadcasts of vintage horror movies" that Peterson, now known as Elvira, hit the big time.

With fame came familiar problems: "Alcohol, cocaine, agoraphobia and therapy found their way into her life," the Post summarized. Peterson married and divorced.

Then she fell in love...with another woman. Entertainment Weekly recounts how Teresa Weirson, her trainer, came to Peterson needing a place to stay after her relationship with a man collapsed. At that point, Peterson was feeling "closed for business" when it came to sex and love. But one evening the two went to the movies and afterwards, "I told her goodnight and suddenly felt compelled to kiss her — on the mouth," Peterson writes in the book. They have been happily together for almost two decades.

But the truth about the relationship was locked up more securely than Elvira's dungeon, with Peterson worried about how the news might clash with her image as a sexy, if ghoulish, vamp. "I have friends who are gay and have come out of the closet and it affected their work, relationships and their life," Peterson writes, according to the New York Daily News. "So it's not so far-fetched to be worried."

"But on the other side of that, it's so draining keeping it a secret. It's not good for you, it's not good for us. It sucks the energy out of you."

"I'm happy and relieved to finally allow our secret to see the light of day," the famed horror flick hostess says in the memoir.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.