Actress Cassandra Peterson’s road to becoming horror icon Elvira was long and winding, as you can read about in the new issue of Entertainment Weekly. But one of the more fascinating steps involved her getting career from Elvis Presley while the teenage Peterson was working as a showgirl in Las Vegas.
“I was 17 when I started as a showgirl in Las Vegas,” says Peterson, who has just published a coffee table book of photographs featuring her alter-ego, called Elvira—Mistress of the Dark. “I’ve been told I was the youngest showgirl in Las Vegas history, and I imagine that’s probably true. My parents had to sign a document with a lawyer, saying it was okay for me to work in the show. I was at the Dunes Hotel in a show called Viva Les Girls. It was really odd. I had to come and go by the back door. I was not allowed to go into the casino, drink, gamble. But I was allowed to dance onstage in my skivvies! Isn’t that bizarre? I tell people that story and they don’t believe it. I don’t believe it myself. It was a very very weird thing, 17 and dancing in Vegas.”
She continues, “Elvis came to see my show. He invited me to a party at his suite, along with lots of other people, and he really kind of took to me, I think because I was 17, and probably all the other showgirls there were in their 30s. Anyway, I loved Elvis. I had grown up with Elvis being one of my idols. My parents were giant Elvis fans. The fact that I was meeting him was beyond belief. We did hang out one whole evening, a whole night, the next morning, and mostly talked, believe it or not. There was some kissing going on. But Elvis was watched very closely, since they were aware that I was [very young]. But he couldn’t have been more wonderful and I really do credit him with changing my life. I, at the time, thought I had reached the pinnacle of show business, becoming a Las Vegas showgirl. Elvis convinced me that this was no town for a young girl to be in, by herself, and that it would not lead to bigger and better things, that if I really wanted to make it in show business that I needed to get the Hell out of Vegas. So, I always say to people, I started out as the youngest showgirl in Vegas and, if it wasn’t for Elvis, I would now be the oldest showgirl. My God, can you imagine? Aye-yai-yai!”
Peterson is currently performing as Elvira in her Danse Macabre show at Knott’s Berry Farm — or Knott’s Scary Farm, as it is renamed for the Halloween season.