The Actress Behind Elvira Kicked Off Her Career With A James Bond Classic

Cassandra Peterson opens her 2021 autobiography, "Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the Dark," with the story of how she became Elvira. The story goes, she was only a day into her marriage to Mark Pierson when she got a call from her friend Dawna — on her honeymoon in the Colorado Rockies — urging her to return to L.A. to audition for the part of a sassy horror hostess at the TV station KHJ. Peterson refused. She wasn't going to cut her vacation short. Her friend Dawna, the one alerting her to the audition, was persistent. When her honeymoon was over, miraculously, the part wasn't yet filled, and Peterson was able to go in to audition after all. She says that the script sucked, and she failed to come in costume as the casting call requested. But her quips and ad libs appealed to those in charge, and she landed the gig. That was in 1981. Peterson was 30. She has been Elvira ever since. 

Peterson's acting career stretches back far further than Elvira, however. Her autobiography also describes a horrible home life as a child, having to bear the wrath of an abusive mother, leading her to leave home at age 14, and signing a contract to perform in Vegas by age 17, dancing in a revue show called "Vive Les Girls!" Oh, and Peterson's pre-Elvira career took many interesting turns besides. She even toured with an Italian pop band called I Latins 80

Mixed in with all the dancing gigs and band tours were also a few feature films. The very first being none other than 1971's "Diamonds Are Forever," the James Bond movie wherein Sean Connery returned after George Lazenby played 007 in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service." 

Vive Les Girls!

The British website Horror Channel (now defunct) interviewed Peterson back in 2008, asking her about the experience. An extended portion of "Diamonds are Forever" takes place in Las Vegas, where James Bond is tracking down some illegal diamonds that are hidden inside a corpse. There's a standup comedian involved in the plot, as well as a femme fatale named Plenty O'Toole (Lana Wood) and another named Tiffany Case (Jill St. John). Look, the stories in most of the James Bond movies are typically opaque. The movies are driven by action set pieces, sex scenes, and exotic locales. 

To take advantage of the Las Vegas location, the producers of "Diamonds Are Forever" filmed some shows that were already being performed, and one of them happened to be "Vive Les Girls!" Peterson only appeared briefly, but it also led to her taking an additional gig as an extra. Peterson recalled:

"They actually filmed a scene of the show I appeared in Las Vegas, 'Vive Les Girls!' at the Dunes Hotel. I was on stage as a showgirl doing the show. I'm not even sure if I ended up in the final cut, but I did get to go to London later, worked a day on the film as an extra (think the scene was cut) but had a very memorable day at Pinewood Studios, seeing what goes on behind the scenes in a Bond film and having lunch in the commissary with Cubby Broccoli, Sean Connery, Michael Caine and Tony Curtis."

Peterson did not elucidate on talking to Caine or Curtis. But then, Peterson had met many famous people by that point in her career, including members of the Rat Pack. Peterson also would famously go on a date with Elvis Presley (no word yet as to whether or not that date will be dramatized in Baz Luhrmann's upcoming Elvis biopic). Additionally, when touring in Italy, she would land a dancing role in Federico Fellini's 1972 film "Roma," also playing a dancer. Peterson's first credited role was playing the role of Katya in Stephanie Rothman's sexploitation flick "The Working Girls," but of course, she will always be Elvira: Mistress of the Dark.