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Cassandra Peterson

Cassandra Peterson, in front of a poster of her Elvira character, October 2005
Born September 17, 1951 (1951-09-17) (age 58)
Manhattan, Kansas, U.S.
Occupation Actress and TV hostess
Years active 1970–present
Spouse(s) Mark Pierson (1981-2003)
Official website

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, cleavage-enhancing gown as host of Movie Macabre, a weekly horror movie presentation. Her wickedly vampish appearance is offset by her comical character, quirky/quick-witted personality, and valley girl-type speech.

Contents

Biography

Born in Manhattan, Kansas, Peterson grew up in Randolph, until the town was flooded to create Tuttle Creek Reservoir. Her family then moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado. During her teens, Peterson worked as a go-go dancer in a local gay bar.[1] 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 at The Dunes. The Guinness Book of World Records cited her as the youngest showgirl in Las Vegas history. She had a small role as a showgirl in the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever, briefly dated Elvis Presley, played a topless dancer in Working Girls (1973), and purportedly posed for the cover of Tom Waits's 1976 album, Small Change.[2] 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.[3] She is a vegetarian[4][5] and has appeared in a humorous halloween-themed ad for PETA promoting a vegetarian diet.[6]

Career

Early career

In the early 1970s, she 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 gay 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 is largely based.

Peterson auditioned for the role of Ginger for the third Gilligan's Island television movie in 1981, shortly before KHJ-TV offered her the horror-host position.[7]

Peterson also was a radio show personality on Los Angeles' 106.7 KROQ radio station from 1982 to 1983.

Elvira Begins: Movie Macabre

In the late spring of 1981, five years after Larry Vincent (who starred as host Sinister Seymour of a local Los Angeles weekend horror show called Fright Night) died, show producers began the task of bringing the show back. Deciding to use a female host, producers asked 1950s horror host 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 continued with the project and sent out a casting call. Peterson auditioned against 200 other horror hostess hopefuls, and won the role. Producers left it up to her to create the role's image. She and 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.

Unable to continue with the Vampira character, the name Elvira was chosen. What followed was Elvira's Movie Macabre featuring a quick-witted valley-girl type character named Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. With heavily-applied drag queen-style horror make-up and a towering black beehive wig concealing her flame-red hair, the transformation from Cassandra Peterson to the sexy "Elvira" was so drastic that no one ever recognized her out of costume.

Shortly before the first taping, producers received a cease and desist letter from Nurmi. Besides the similarities in the format and costumes, Elvira's closing line for each show, wishing her audience "Unpleasant dreams," was notably similar to Vampira's closer: "Bad dreams, darlings..." uttered as she walked off down a misty corridor. The court ruled in favor of Peterson, holding that "'likeness' means actual representation of another person's appearance, and not simply close resemblance." Peterson claimed that Elvira was nothing like Vampira aside from the basic design of the black dress and black hair. Nurmi herself claimed that Vampira's image was based on Morticia, a Charles Addams cartoon character in The New Yorker magazine.

The Elvira character rapidly gained notoriety with her tight-fitting, low-cut black gown which showed more cleavage than had ever appeared on local Los Angeles television before. The movies featured on Elvira's Movie Macabre were always B grade (or lower). Elvira reclined on a red Victorian couch, introducing and often interrupting the movie to lampoon the actors, the script, and the bad editing. Adopting the flippant tone of a California valley-girl, she brought a satirical, sarcastic edge to her commentary without ever being crass or mean-spirited. Like a macabre Mae West, she reveled in dropping risqué double entendres as well as making frequent jokes about her eye-popping display of cleavage. In an AOL Entertainment News interview, Peterson revealed, "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, obvious sex appeal, and good-natured self-mockery endeared her to late-night movie viewers as her popularity soared. At the same time, Elvira was embraced as an icon of the waning 1980s punk movement as well as the emerging Goth subculture.

The demand for Elvira increased throughout the 1980s. A frequent guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and many other talk shows, she also produced a long-running series of Halloween-themed TV ads for Coors Light Beer and Mug Root Beer (her trademark cleavage was covered up for the Coors campaign). She did guest roles on television dramas such as CHiPs, The Fall Guy, and Fantasy Island, and appeared on numerous awards shows as a presenter. Despite the fact that her success is forever linked to her image as Elvira, Peterson has never been reluctant to make out-of-costume appearances as herself for television interviews and specials.

In 1982, with the surprising success of Movie Macabre, Knott's Theme Parks hired Elvira to replace Seymour as the host of its annual Halloween Haunt during the month of October. Elvira would appear nightly at the park, live on stage with a Halloween-themed musical comedy revue similar to her Mamma's Boys act from the 1970s.

The Elvira character rapidly evolved from obscure cult figure to lucrative brand-name and "Mistress of all Media," spawning countless products throughout the 1980s and 1990s, including Halloween costumes, comic books, action figures, trading cards, 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) in 1988. She also did many non-Elvira character-roles in other films, most notably Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) with friend and fellow Groundling, Pee-wee Herman, aka Paul Reubens.

In 1992, CBS filmed the pilot episode for Elvira, a proposed sitcom with Peterson and Katherine Helmond as witches living in a small town. Network executives balked at the ribald humor and decided the series was too risqué for television. The series was shelved and the pilot was never aired.

Elvira on Home Video

In 1985, Elvira began hosting a home video series called ThrillerVideo for International Video Entertainment (I.V.E.). Many of these films were films hand-selected by Elvira herself. Choosing to stay away from the more explicit zombie, cannibal, and slasher films of the time, these were generally tamer films such as The Monster Club and Dan Curtis TV films, as well as many episodes of the Hammer House of Horror TV 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[8] of the British namesake series Thriller (i.e. The Devil's Web, A Killer in Every Corner, Murder Motel) were also released without Elvira hosting.

The success of the Thriller video series led to a second video set, Elvira's Midnight Madness through Rhino Home Video. In 2004, she revisited this concept with a similar horror film collection on DVD, titled Elvira's Box of Horrors. After more than ten years, Box of Horrors was the return of Elvira hosting horror movies as she did with Movie Macabre.

Mistress of the Dark

In the late 1980s and early 1990s a number of Elvira-themed computer games were produced.[9] Two of these were Elvira: Mistress of the Dark and Elvira 2: The Jaws of Cerberus.

Two Elvira themed pinball machines were produced by Bally/Midway. Elvira and the Party Monsters[10] was released in 1989 and Scared Stiff[11] was put out in 1996.

On Halloween night of 1992, Elvira appeared with rock band U2 when they played at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on their ZOO TV tour. Just as she apparently did some 14 years later, she declared her candidacy for President, noting that "we already have two boobs in the White House, might as well be mine." Following a couple of corny jokes, she led the crowd to sing "Happy Birthday" to drummer Larry Mullen, Jr., whose birthday is on Halloween.

In the early 1990s, she released a very successful calendar featuring Elvira in various locations (on a studio set) and in poses. One of the months can be seen in the video game Blood, hanging on various walls.

She appeared on Cartoon Network's talk show Space Ghost Coast to Coast in its twenty-seventh episode "Switcheroo" with Susan Olsen.

In 1997, Ray Productions of Orlando, Florida produced the first haunted house chain endorsed by Elvira titled "Elvira's Nightmare Haunted House". The attraction was fully themed (including an Elvira Look-alike) and remained open for two Halloween seasons in Atlanta, Georgia.

In 2001, she appeared throughout the nation screening her second full length feature film Elvira's Haunted Hills including Los Angeles, New York, Key West, Chicago, and Atlanta.

Lockheed's "Skunkworks", who designed and built the F-117 airplane, built into a mobile trailer a bomb targeting computer system for guiding the airplane through the maze of enemy radar systems. The trailer and system was nicknamed "Elvira" for its ability to safely guide the airplane through the darkness of their night missions.

On November 4, 2008, she announced via MySpace that she would endorse future president and then senator Barack Obama to win the presidential election.

Movies, TV, and video

  • Fellini's Roma (1972), small role as a dancer
  • Movie Macabre (1981-1993), TV horror hostess
  • Stroker Ace (1983), a bit part in this Burt Reynolds film.
  • Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985), small role as a biker mama.
  • ThrillerVideo (1985), home video series for I.V.E.
  • The music video for My Mistake by Phantom, Rocker and Slick - (1986)
  • WrestleMania 2 (1986), guest commentator
  • Echo Park (1986), supporting role in Susan Dey drama.
  • Elvira's Halloween Special (1986)
  • Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold (1987), secondary role as the evil Queen Sorais.
  • Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (1988), Peterson co-wrote and starred in her first feature film which was distributed globally, making Elvira an international celebrity.
  • Coors TV commercials (1988), Elvira became the national spokeswoman for Coors Beer Co. during the month of October, and her official Halloween costume became the best selling female costume of all time.
  • Parker Lewis Can't Lose - Season 2, Episode 19, "Boy Meets Girl II", appeared as Elvira (1992)
  • The Elvira Show (1993), CBS pilot revolving around two witches, played by Elvira and Katherine Helmond, moving to Manhattan, Kansas, with their talking cat.[12]
  • Space Ghost Coast to Coast - Episode 27, "Switcheroo", appeared as Elvira (1996)
  • Elvira's Ghost Stories Spooktacular show (1999)
  • The Martin Short Show - TV Episode #1.35 (as Elvira) (1999)
  • The Howard Stern Radio Show - TV Episode 19, June 1999
  • Bride of Monster Mania (2000) (TV)
  • Scares & Dares (2001) (TV)
  • Elvira's Haunted Hills (2001), After several years of unsuccessful attempts to make a sequel to Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, Cassandra and husband/manager Mark Pierson decided to take matters into their own hands and finance a second movie themselves. In November 2000, Cassandra wrote and co-produced Elvira's Haunted Hills. The film was shot on location in Romania for just under one million dollars. With little budget left for promotion, Cassandra and Mark screened the film at AIDS charity fund raisers across America. For the many people in attendance, this was the first opportunity to see the woman behind the Elvira character. On July 5, 2002, Elvira's Haunted Hills had its official premiere in Hollywood. Elvira arrived at the premiere in her Macabre Mobile. The film would later be screened at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival.
  • The E! True Hollywood Story - Scream Queens (2004) Hostess
  • The Tony Danza Show - TV Episode #1.34 (2004)
  • Monsterama: A Tribute to Horror Hosts (2004) (TV)
  • Elvira's Box of Horrors (2004), horror film collection on DVD
  • Red Riding Hood (2004), Randal Kleiser fantasy movie version of Red Riding Hood. She plays the mother of the hunter and future Baron (Henry Cavill) of the enchanted forest.
  • I Love the '80s VH1 - Peterson made appearances (both as herself and as Elvira) on several editions
  • I Love the Holidays (2005) (TV)
  • I Love the '80s 3-D (2005), VH1 TV miniseries
  • Playboy Presents: Hef's Halloween Spooktacular (2005)(Hostess)
  • TV1 (2005), Peterson (as Elvira) hosted a show on Australian-based cable TV channel TV1; the format was similar to her old show.
  • The Secret Life of Superfans (2006)
  • Vampira: The Movie (2006), Peterson discusses the Vampira lawsuit.
  • I Love the '70s: Volume 2 (2006), VH1 TV miniseries
  • Living in TV Land - Sherman Hemsley (2006), TV Episode
  • Elvira's Movie Macabre DVD series - (September 2006) Six episodes of the Elvira's Movie Macabre series were released through Shout Factory on DVD. Sixteen more episodes are scheduled for release in the fall of 2007.
  • The Girls Next Door - Girls Will Be Ghouls (October 2006) Elvira visits The Playboy Mansion to promote her Playboy inspired DVD.
  • The Search for the Next Elvira (October 13, 2007), TV reality show by Fox Reality - On April 19, 2006, Peterson announced she would be seeking a few good "Elviras" via a reality television program. Some have mistaken this as an announcement of her retiring. As of October 2006, she cleared up the rumor by stating that she wanted to find other people to play the role, so that the character could appear at the multitude of personal appearance requests. As Peterson stated in an interview, there are many Bozos (the clown) out there, so why not more Elviras? [13]
  • Medium (2009), Special cameo appearance as Elvira in the beginning of the "Bite Me" episode.
  • (title unknown) - (future) Elvira animated series
  • (title unknown) - (future) a family-friendly feature film centered on the “backstory” of Halloween that features the Elvira character

Additionally, Elvira appeared, more or less, as herself in an episode of Nash Bridges.

  • All About Evil -Linda (2009)
  • Appeared as a downloadable character in the Sony Playstation 3 game "Pain" (2009)

Recording career

Elvira recorded several songs for her Halloween albums in the 1980s and 1990s. Here is her discography:

  • Elvira and the Vitones 3-D TV (Rhino Records, 1982)
  • Vinyl Macabre (Rhino Records, 1983)
  • Elvira Presents, Haunted Hits (Rhino Records, 1987)
  • Elvira Presents, Monster Hits (Rhino Records, 1994)
  • Elvira Presents Revenge of the Monster Hits (Rhino Records, 1995)

Elvira also performed guest vocals on a track called "Zombie Killer" for the band Leslie and the Ly's, released in February 2008. The music video for the track features Leslie & The Ly's performing to a sold out audience of zombies in a fictional venue called "Elvira Stadium." A 7" single was released.

Elvira impersonators

In the mid-nineties, Cassandra Peterson enlisted female impersonator Patterson Lundquist ("Elvira's Twin") from Atlanta Georgia as her "official Elvira impersonator", calling him "the best she'd ever seen." He would later appear with her as co-judge on The Search for the Next Elvira [14]. The first official Female Elvira impersonator; April Wahlin, the winner of "The Search for the Next Elvira" was passed the crown on October 31, 2007 as the winner of the reality show and made a few appearances during her one year 'reign' from October 31, 2007 to October 31, 2008. Despite April Wahlin's win of the title and one year contract as Elvira, Lundquist continues to appear as Elvira's official Impersonator for various events across the country.

See also

Footnotes

References

External links








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