For the past 30 years, most Halloweens you’d find Elvira—née Cassandra Peterson—doing her “Mistress of the Dark” show at Knott’s Scary Farm. But 2017 was the last time she performanced at the iconic amusement park. In the years since, the horror hostess has been focusing on other projects, namely her autobiography, Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the Dark (Hachette Books). After a delay, it finally hit bookstores this week.
“I’ve been working on this five days a week for three years,” says Peterson, 69, who has also been organizing a massive auction of costumes, scripts, and memorabilia at Julien’s Auctions set for December. “I had to keep cutting back. I didn’t want it to be as long as the Bible.”
Born in Kansas and raised in Colorado Springs, Peterson itched to perform from a young age, and she put on shows for kids in her neighborhood. When she was in the second grade, a cousin took her to see her first horror movie, House on Haunted Hill, starring Vincent Price, and things were never the same. “It was a game changer,” she says. “I threw away Barbie and Ken and started collecting Aurora model kits of Dracula, the Mummy, and the Wolfman. I just became obsessed.”
At 14, she won a contest for go-go girls. “Someone asked me if I wanted to work as a showgirl, and I was like ‘Really?’ ” she says. “My dream had been to be a showgirl in Vegas.”
Three years later, she headed to Sin City to live out her fantasy, but soon found another passion: performing comedy bits between musical numbers.
In her twenties, Peterson made it to L.A. where she discovered improvisational comedy and ended up in the Groundlings alongside Paul Reubens and Phil Hartman.
“I couldn’t believe it when I found the Groundlings,” she recalls. “ ‘They make it up as they go along? This is the job for me.’ I had no idea what improv was, but I became hell-bent.”
In 1981, when she was in her late twenties, a friend called her to tell her that L.A.’s KHJ (Channel 9) was looking for a horror hostess. She went to the TV station to audition.
“Nobody told me you were supposed to dress as your character,” Peterson says. “I had a turquoise dress and my Farrah Fawcett hairdo. Everybody else was wearing black leotards and Cher wigs. I was standing there like a dope, and luckily I was the last person to go in. I had the chance to change the script to be funny, and I got the part.”
In the years that followed, she established herself as L.A.’s reigning queen of horror, so naturally she’s got tips for celebrating Halloween. She loves shopping at Bearded Lady’s Mystic Museum (3204 W. Magnolia Blvd, Burbank) for everything from Ouija boards and witch supplies to human skulls and candy buckets bearing her likeness. It’s “a goth superstore,” she gushes.
For eerie home decor, Gold Bug (34 E. Union St., Pasadena) is a personal favorite. “It’s the high-end place for beautifully handcrafted, fantastical jewelry and ghoulishly gruesome objets d’ art,” she says. “It’s jam-packed with unique and unusual oddities.”
For dressing up, she recommends Monster-A-GoGo (1026 S. Atlantic Blvd., East L.A.) “It’s a state-of-the-art emporium for all your scarewear needs and so much more,” she quips. “If you’ve got a penchant for spiderwebs and studs—and who doesn’t?—you’ve come to the right place!”
On the way out, get a glimpse of Elvira herself in the mural with Vincent Price. “It’s sure to give you unpleasant dreams,” she purrs.
More of Elvira’s favorite spots …
It’s the go-to bookstore for all things spooky, ooky, and kooky. Keep an eye on the events schedule and meet your favorite demented authors and artists in person. 822 N. Hollywood Way, Burbank, darkdel.com.
This cavernous den is packed with terrifying toys, T-shirts, and temporary tattoos. Browse to your little black heart’s content as snippets of B horror movies play in the background. 2921 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank, halloweentownstore.com.
Bob Baker Marionette Theater
It came back from the dead when it moved from downtown to Highland Park in 2019, but then came COVID. Now they’re bringing back their “Halloween Spooktacular” show with puppet vampires, alien invaders, and groovy sets from the ’60s. 4949 York Blvd., Highland Park, bobbakermarionettetheater.com.
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