- Category : Actress
- Type : MGE
- Profile : 2/4 - Hermit / Opportunist
- Definition : Split - Small (56)
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Eden 3
Cassandra Peterson (born September 17, 1951) is an American actress best known for her on-screen horror hostess character Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. She gained fame on Los Angeles television station KHJ wearing a black, gothic, revealing, cleavage-enhancing gown as host of Movie Macabre, a weekly horror movie presentation. Her wickedly vampish appearance is offset by her comical character, quirky and quick-witted personality, and Valley girl-type speech.
Born in Manhattan, Kansas, Peterson grew up near Randolph, until the area was flooded to create Tuttle Creek Reservoir; her family then moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado. According to a 2011 interview, Peterson states that as a child, while other girls were occupied with Barbie dolls, she was more fascinated by horror-themed toys. During her teens, Peterson worked as a go-go dancer in a local gay bar.
She graduated from General William J. Palmer High School in 1969. Days after graduating, she drove to Las Vegas, Nevada, where she became a showgirl in "Viva Les Girls" at The Dunes, where she met Elvis Presley. She had a small role as a showgirl in the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever, played a topless dancer in The Working Girls (1974), and purportedly posed for the cover of Tom Waits's 1976 album, Small Change. However, this story is apparently unverified as Peterson has since described it as "a giant mystery", claiming that while she has no memory of the event, the picture looks enough like her that she feels "pretty sure" that it is. She is a vegetarian and has appeared in a humorous Halloween-themed ad for PETA promoting a vegetarian diet.
She has also played non-Elvira roles in many other films, most notably Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) with friend and fellow Groundling Paul Reubens (as his Pee-wee Herman character) and Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold (1985) starring Richard Chamberlain and Sharon Stone.
In the early 1970s, Peterson moved to Italy and became the lead singer of the Italian rock band I Latins Ochanats. During this time she had a chance encounter with director Federico Fellini, which led to a small part in Roma (1972). Back in the United States she toured nightclubs and discos around the country with a musical/comedy act, Mammas Boys. In 1979, she joined the Los Angeles-based improvisational troupe The Groundlings, where she created a Valley girl-type character upon whom the Elvira persona largely is based.
Peterson auditioned for the role of Ginger Grant for the third Gilligan's Island television movie in 1981, shortly before KHJ-TV offered her the horror-host position. Peterson also was a personality on Los Angeles radio station KROQ 106.7 from 1982 to 1983.
Elvira Begins: Movie Macabre
In the late spring of 1981, six years after the death of Larry Vincent, who starred as host Sinister Seymour of a local Los Angeles weekend horror show called Fright Night, show producers began the task of bringing the show back.
The producers decided to use a female host. They asked 1950s horror hostess Maila Nurmi to revive The Vampira Show. Nurmi worked on the project for a short time, but eventually quit when the producers would not hire Lola Falana to play Vampira. The station sent out a casting call, and Peterson auditioned and won the role. Producers left it up to her to create the role's image. She and her best friend, Robert Redding, came up with the sexy punk/vampire look after producers rejected her original idea to look like Sharon Tate in The Fearless Vampire Killers.
Peterson's Elvira character rapidly gained notoriety with her tight-fitting, low-cut, cleavage-displaying black gown. Adopting the flippant tone of a California "Valley girl", she brought a satirical, sarcastic edge to her commentary. She reveled in dropping risqué double entendres and making frequent jokes about her cleavage. In an AOL Entertainment News interview, Peterson said, "I figured out that Elvira is me when I was a teenager. She's a spastic girl. I just say what I feel and people seem to enjoy it." Her campy humor, sex appeal, and good-natured self-mockery made her popular with late-night movie viewers and her popularity soared.
The Elvira character soon evolved from an obscure cult figure to a lucrative brand. She was associated with many products through the 1980s and 1990s including Halloween costumes, comic books, action figures, trading cards, pinball machines, Halloween decor, model kits, calendars, perfume and dolls. She has appeared on the cover of Femme Fatales magazine five times. Her popularity reached its zenith with the release of the feature film Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, co-written by Peterson and released in 1988.
In September 2010, Elvira's Movie Macabre returned to television syndication in the U.S., this time with public-domain films.
Elvira on home video
In 1985, Elvira began hosting a home video series called ThrillerVideo for U.S.A. Home Video and later International Video Entertainment (I.V.E.). Many of these films were hand-selected by Peterson. Choosing to stay away from the more explicit cannibal, slasher and zombie films of the time, these were generally tamer films such as The Monster Club and Dan Curtis television films, as well as many episodes of the Hammer House of Horror television series. She refused to host Make Them Die Slowly, Seven Doors of Death, and Buried Alive, so the videos were released on the LIVE Home Video label without Elvira's appearance as hostess. After this, several extended episodes of the British namesake series Thriller (i.e. The Devil's Web, A Killer in Every Corner, Murder Motel) were also released without an appearance by Elvira; in some, such as Buried Alive, the cast replaced her.
The success of the ThrillerVideo series led to a second video set, Elvira's Midnight Madness through Rhino Home Video. In 2004 a DVD horror-film collection called Elvira's Box of Horrors was released, marking Elvira's return to horror-movie hosting after a ten-year absence.
Elvira appeared in comic books from DC Comics, Eclipse Comics and Claypool Comics. DC published a short-lived series in the mid-80s titled Elvira's House of Mystery. Claypool took over the series and in the 1990s distributed a new series, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, co-branded with and distributed by Eclipse. After Eclipse ceased publication, the series was distributed solely by Claypool. The series was edited and occasionally written by Richard Howell and featured photographic covers with interior stories and art by Kurt Busiek, Dan Spiegle, Jim Mooney, Steve Leialoha, and others. It ran for 166 issues, plus two trade paperback collections. In 2012 another series, also titled Mistress of the Dark, was announced for a 2013 debut. It will be written by R.H. Stavis and drawn by Jeff Zarnow.
Computer and pinball games
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a number of Elvira-themed computer games were produced: Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, Elvira 2: The Jaws of Cerberus and Elvira: The Arcade Game.
Two Elvira-themed pinball machines were produced by Bally/Midway: Elvira and the Party Monsters (1989) and Scared Stiff (1996).
In the early 1990s, Peterson began a series of successful Elvira calendars featuring characteristically provocative and campy poses in various macabre settings. One calendar photo is seen throughout the video game Blood.
In 2012 Peterson became an investor in Comikaze Entertainment Inc., which hosts Comikaze Expo, one of the largest pop culture conventions in the United States. She and fellow investor, Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee, were guests of honor at the inaugural Comikaze Expo in 2011. Comikaze CEO Regina Carpinelli refers to Peterson as the "Mistress of the Board".