It’s Official: That’s Not Elvira on Tom Waits’ Album Cover
After years of uncertainty, Cassandra Peterson, best known as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, has confirmed to UCR that she's not the woman on the cover of Tom Waits' 1976 album Small Change.
The artwork for the record, which contains a song called "Pasties and a G-string," showed Waits in a showgirls’ dressing room, with a woman wearing only pasties and panties in the background. But despite frequent rumors that Peterson was the other person in the picture, she’s admitted that she couldn't recall.
“You know, I swear to God I don’t know,” she told Den of Geek in 2014. “I’m hoping it is, I’m hoping, but I don’t remember doing it. Isn’t that weird? Don’t you think you’d remember doing an album cover with Tom Waits?” But she added: “I did a million and one music videos back then with all kinds of artists. ... I was a model and would get hired for that stuff all the time.”
Two years later she told the A.V. Club that for “who-knows-what-all reasons” she couldn’t remember much of the ‘70s. “But anyway, it could be me. There is a possibility,” she said. “It’s more like a mystery. I sign it for people now. A lot of people bring it to me at conventions. At first I was going, ‘I can’t sign that. That’s not me.’ And now I just say, ‘Eh, whatever.’”
Elsewhere she explained that she’d broken her credit-taking approach at least once: “It’s how I met Jack White from the White Stripes. He brought that album for me to sign, and I said, ‘I’m gonna tell you something really depressing – I don’t think it’s me.’ Could be, though.” In response to the obvious question – Why not ask Waits himself? – Peterson replied: “Nope. I mean, who knows if he would remember that year either?”
When UCR requested a comment from Peterson’s management, the reply stated that it was “100 percent not Cassandra” on the album cover. That seemed like a flat, sudden ending to a cool rock ’n’ roll story, so we pursued Peterson herself to fess up.
“I always suspected it wasn’t me,” she told us. “I’m sorry to say this but my boobs are better, but I thought, ‘Maybe it’s the pose.’ But I was pretty sure it wasn’t me – my boobs are very close to me; I see them every day! And anyway, I thought I’d remember. I remember everything I did with rock stars although I don’t remember much of the ‘70s – we won’t go into why!”
The truth arose when she received an email “from a guy who told me it had been his girlfriend, a showgirl from L.A. It wasn’t just a showgirl he knew, it was his actual girlfriend.” The woman in the picture, it turned out, was someone called Jinx, who’d worked in the iconic Jumbo’s Clown Room at the time. But why ruin a good story? “Exactly!” Peterson replies, adding that she wonders why Jinx herself never came forward, but that the answer will probably never be known. Admitting she was disappointed to discover the truth, she looks on the bright side: “Somewhere I have a doppelganger – except for a few obvious differences!”
She might have wanted the credit, but she barely needs it. Since introducing the character in Los Angeles in 1981, Elvira's distinctive look and sassy personality contributed to a reinvented spirit of Halloween, which is why it didn’t take long for Peterson to develop Elvira from a city TV station horror host into a worldwide franchise.
Peterson had already led an interesting career before the character came along, starting as a Las Vegas showgirl who briefly dated Elvis Presley and was seen in the James Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever, then continuing with a wide range of engagements of the less prudish kind.
Her trademark tight, low-slung black dress and towering hair continue to sell as Halloween costumes. However, there would have been more color to the character if Peterson had gotten her way at the time. She'd told Den of Geek about a photo shoot where “[t]hey used my real hair, which is red and real long and curly and gave me a kind of dead girl look, with a sheer negligee, dress tattered, pale with some black eyes,” she said she’d originally pursued that approach.
The TV company had a different attitude. “[W]hen they saw that there were like, ‘Oh no, you’re gonna be a horror host, you have to be all in black.’ And I said. ‘Oh no, I’m not dyeing my hair black.’ It was small town station managers who didn’t have a lot of imagination, I’m afraid.” She eventually put “some kind of twist on it” to create the Elvira we know today. “We made the dress as tight and sexy as possible for the ratings,” she recalled, which led to another round of arguments with producers.
“We took that in and they said: ‘That’s great… can you make the slit higher? Show more leg?’ I looked at it and said, ‘There’s no way in hell they’re going to let me wear this dress,’ but they loved it. Every week we’d get complaints that my cleavage was too low and I would back come in the next week and they’d ask if I made the cleavage higher. I’d say. ‘We fixed it,’ and they’d say, ‘Oh, thank God.’ Every single week I’d tell them that we made it higher and every single week they’d say ‘great’ … and I never changed it.”