Peterson in May 2011.
September 17, 1951 |
Manhattan, Kansas, U.S.
|Occupation||Actress and TV hostess|
|Spouse(s)||Mark Pierson (m. 1981–2003)|
Cassandra Peterson (born September 17, 1951) is an American actress best known for her portrayal of the 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.
- 1 Biography
- 2 Career
- 3 Elvira impersonators
- 4 Awards and nominations
- 5 See also
- 6 Footnotes
- 7 External links
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 bands I Latins Ochanats and "The Snails". 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 is largely 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 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".
Movies, television and video
- Diamonds Are Forever (1971), small role as a dancer
- Fellini's Roma (1972), small role as a dancer
- The Working Girls (1974)
- Cheech & Chong's Next Movie (1980), small role
- Elvira's Movie Macabre (1981), TV horror hostess
- Jekyll and Hyde... Together Again (1982), small role as "the busty nurse."
- Stroker Ace (1983), a bit part in this Burt Reynolds film.
- The Fall Guy, episode "October the 31st"
- Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985), small role as a biker mama.
- ThrillerVideo (1985), home video series for U.S.A. and later I.V.E.
- The music video for My Mistake by Phantom, Rocker & 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), title character and co-writer. (She, Sam Egan, and John Paragon collaborated on the original script.) Peterson's first feature film.
- Coors TV commercials (1988), spokesperson.
- The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! (1989), as herself, she appeared in the last sitcom segment of the program, called The Ghoul of My Dreams.
- 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.
- Helicopters with Elvira (1993–1995)
- The Ketchup Vampires (1995)
- Space Ghost Coast to Coast – Episode 27, "Switcheroo", appeared as Elvira (1996)
- Draw Your Own Toons (1998, series 1 only)
- 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 her manager and then-husband 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.
- 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)
- 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)
- 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[who?] mistook this for an announcement of her retirement. As of October 2006, she had 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 were many Bozos (the clown) making personal appearances, even though Larry Harmon himself had died since, so she saw no reason there could not be more Elviras.
- Medium (2009), Special cameo appearance as Elvira in the beginning of the "Bite Me" episode.
- The Haunted World of El Superbeasto (2009), Amber
- Appeared in the Ghoultown music video for their song "Mistress of the Dark". (2009)
- Appeared as a downloadable character in the Sony PlayStation 3 game Pain (October 2009)
- A professional dominatrix in the season 3 episode Sniper of Nash Bridges
- All About Evil – Linda (2010)
- Elvira's Movie Macabre Horror Hostess – (2010)
- Last Man Standing – Special cameo appearance as Elvira (2011)
- Elvira's Not a Witch – a 45 second viral video that spoofed a campaign ad by US Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell (October 2010)
- RuPaul's Drag Race – Special guest judge as Elvira in first episode (2012)
- Counting Cars - Had her car decked out,; appeared in and out of costume on episode "Satanic Mechanic"(2012)
- Oddities (one episode, 2011) - In this show about a strange antique shop in New York City called Obscura, owners Mike, Evan and Ryan visit Peterson and present her with a necklace made of extracted human teeth.
- Rewind This - appearance as herself in documentary about the impact of VHS on the film industry and home video.
Peterson recorded several songs for her Elvira Halloween albums in the 1980s and 1990s:
- 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's Gravest Hits (Shout! Factory, 2010)
She also performed 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.
In the mid-1990s, Cassandra Peterson enlisted female impersonators Christian Greenia (Cassandra Fever) from Los Angeles, California, and Patterson Lundquist ("Elvira's Twin") from Atlanta, Georgia as her "official Elvira impersonators", calling them "the best she'd ever seen." They later appeared with her as co-judges on The Search for the Next Elvira. 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, Wahlin made a few appearances during her one-year "reign" from October 31, 2007 to October 31, 2008. Greenia and Lundquist continue to appear as Elvira for various events across the country.
Awards and nominations
Los Angeles Silver Lake Film Festival
- Spirit of Silver Lake Award: 2001
- Worst Actress: 1988
- "This Week in Horror - Summer Spooktacular: Cassandra Peterson aka Elvira: Mistress of the Dark". YouTube. 2011-06-28. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
- Del Mar, Pollo (2009-01-21). "Elvira Was Raised By a Pack of Wild Drag Queens". San Francisco Bay Guardian Website. Retrieved 2009-10-04.[dead link]
- Takeover, Big. ""Steve Holtje's Top Ten – March 19, 2006: #5 – Tom Waits – Small Change," by Steve Holtje". The Big Takeover. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
- O'Neal, Sam (2009-10-28). "Elvira, Mistress Of The Dark (and merchandising)". The Onion A.V. Club. Retrieved 2009-11-20.
- Elvira Interview
- "Famous Vegetarians: Elvira, Mistress of the Dark". Happycow.net. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
- "Elvira's Halloween Ad". Youtube.com. 2006-07-03. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
- Femme Fatales, 1:3, Winter 1992/1993, p. 6
- Elvira's House of Mystery DC Comics (11 issues) at the Grand Comics Database
- Elvira, Mistress of the Dark Claypool Comics (166 issues) at the Grand Comics Database
- "Thriller Videos & DVDs". Markmcm.co.uk. 2005-07-18. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
- "List of games at Gamespot".[dead link]
- "Internet Pinball Machine Database: Midway 'Elvira and the Party Monsters'". Ipdb.org. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
- "Internet Pinball Machine Database: Midway 'Scared Stiff'". Ipdb.org. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
- "Stan Lee's Comikaze Expo partners with Legendary Horror Icon Elvira Mistress of the Dark - The Business Journals". Bizjournals.com. 2012-05-16. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
- "The Elvira Show on tv.com". Retrieved 2010-01-11.
- "Elvira seeks a successor, via reality TV". MSNBC. 2006-04-19. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
- "Bio Elvira".
- *Elvira's Not a Witch on YouTube
- "Search 4 next Elvira on Fox Reality cable channel".[dead link]
- IMDb Los Angeles Silver Lake Film Festival 2001
- IMDb Saturn Awards 1990
- "Saturn Awards". Saturn Awards. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
- "Razzie 1988". Razzies.com. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Cassandra Peterson.|
- Official website
- Elvira on Facebook
- Elvira on Twitter
- Cassandra Peterson at the Internet Movie Database
- Cassandra Peterson at AllMovie
- Full text of court decision in Nurmi v. Peterson
- The Search for the Next Elvira at the Internet Movie Database
- SWINDLE Magazine interview with Cassandra Peterson
- KCRW Guest DJ set