To many, Elvira is the horror hostess who gained notoriety in the 1980s with that signature fitted black dress, raven black nails and stark red lips. To her friends and family, she is simply Cassandra Peterson.
As Elvira, Peterson served as the Mistress of the Dark for four decades, starring in dozens of B-movies and portraying her alter ago on many TV shows. But behind the makeup, Peterson was guarding something very close to her heart — her sexuality. “I was scared that by coming out earlier, I could do some serious damage to my career,” she admits.
More from Variety
Peterson revealed all in her 2021 memoir, “Yours Cruelly, Elvira,” detailing her 20-year relationship with a woman while labeling herself as sexually fluid. The hesitation in talking about her personal life came from having seen many good friends come out — only to have their careers end up in tatters. When asked, she won’t name names, but she saw what happened. “They were men” is all she offers, and she couldn’t imagine what it would be like for a woman to do the same.
Peterson, who granted this interview over Zoom from Portland, is fiercely protective of the empire she has built, which includes convention appearances and merchandise. “I did not want my personal life to encroach on the character,” she explains. “I never told people I was married. I never talked about having a child because nobody was thinking of Elvira being at home and changing dirty diapers.”
But there were consequences and a lot of guilt: “It made my personal life not fun. I felt like a hypocrite. You’re hiding something, and it certainly didn’t make ‘T,’ my partner, feel good.”
“T” is Teresa Wierson. The two met 20 years ago, and started dating around the time Peterson got a divorce from singer and manager Mark Pierson in 2003. Peterson would introduce her as her assistant. “People would ignore her and it was awful,” she says.
After Peterson turned 70 last year, she decided she was ready to be herself in public: “If I don’t do it now, when the hell am I going to do it? Who cares if people hate my character as Elvira and it goes down the tubes?”
Sharing her relationship with the world was a tough chapter to write. “I wanted to make sure it came out the right way. I didn’t want it to sound like I was doing it like, ‘Oh, it’s so hip to be gay now,’” she says.
Peterson says she lost 11,000 followers on social media by coming out. But for every follower she lost, her story resonated with others. “So many have said, ‘You’re an inspiration for me.’ Or ‘You make me feel like it’ll be OK,’” she says. While her journey took time, she’s aware of the struggle members of the LGBTQ community continue to face in coming out, whatever their reason: “I think living a lie is not good for you physically or mentally, but I understand.”
She beams when talking about “T,” and writing about their relationship proved to be cathartic. “It feels good to be able to introduce her as my partner, and to be able to hold hands,” Peterson says. “We just went to Hawaii on a vacation, and to walk down the beach and hold hands and act like we’re together was cool.” She says others in her life have noticed a change in her too. “They’ve commented that I feel lighter. I don’t feel like a phony anymore.”
Next up, Peterson has a role in the Rob Zombie reboot of “The Munsters,” where she plays a real estate agent. She also has a documentary in the works based on her memoir. “It’s with some awesome people who I can’t even mention yet,” she says, “but we’ve already started working on it. It’s the book come to life.”
Best of Variety