Cassandra Peterson
Cassandra Peterson Elvira.jpg
Name Cassandra Peterson

Cassandra Peterson (born September 17, 1951) is an American actress best known for her on-screen horror host persona "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 was offset by her comical character, quick-witted personality and Valley girl-type speech.


Early life

Born in Manhattan, Kansas, Peterson grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and graduated from General William J. Palmer High School in 1967. 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 posed (again as a stripper) for the cover of Tom Waits' 1976 album, Small Change.[1]

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 U.S., 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 TV movie in 1981, shortly before KHJ-TV offered her the horror-host position.(Femme Fatales, 1:3, Winter 1992/1993, p. 6)

Movie Macabre

In the late spring of 1981, when Larry Vincent (who starred as host Sinister Seymour of a local Los Angeles weekend horror show called Fright Night) died, show producers began searching for his replacement. 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. Cassandra auditioned against 200 other horror hostess hopefuls, and won the role. Producers left it up to Cassandra to create Elvira's image. She and best friend Robert Redding came up with the sexy punk/vampire look after producers jeered her original idea to look like Sharon Tate in The Fearless Vampire Killers. Shortly before the first taping, producers received a cease and desist letter from Nurmi. Unable to continue with the Vampira character, the name Elvira was chosen. What followed was Elvira's Movie Macabre featuring a ditzy 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.

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. And like a macabre Mae West, she revelled in dropping risque 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 Eighties. A frequent guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and many other talk shows, she also produced a long series of Halloween-themed TV ads for Coors Light Beer and Mug Root Beer. 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. However, despite the fact that her success is forever linked to her image as Elvira, Peterson has never been reluctant to appear in television interviews and specials as herself.

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, model kits, calendars, perfume, and dolls. She's 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 (cowritten 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 risque 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 for Thriller Video. These 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. She refused to host Make Them Die Slowly and Seven Doors of Death, so the videos were released on the LIVE Home Video label without Elvira's appearance as hostess.

The success of the Thriller Video series lead to a second video set, Elvira's Midnight Madness. In 2004, she revisted 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 ala Movie Macabre.

Mistress of the Dark

In the late 1980s and early 1990s a number of Elvira-themed computer games were produced [1]

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

In 1989, she was sued by actress Maila "Vampira" Nurmi for alleged unauthorized use of her likeness and character. 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 Charles Addams character "Morticia Addams."

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 Nineties 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. Nude modeling photos of Peterson from her pre-Elvira days are still popular on the internet.

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 and endorsed by Elvira and remained open for two Halloween seasons in Atlanta, Georgia.

Elvira waving

Elvira in the 2006 San Francisco Pride parade

The "Elvira" character has her own version of a motion simulator ride called "Superstition". The theme is that Elvira has created her own virtual theme park and she is transporting you there. You then ride her favorite ride, "Superstition" a roller coaster based on luck. The ride was recently at Carowinds in Charlotte, NC during October when the park turns into Scarowinds. For the past few years, the ride has also appeared at Six Flags Great America during Fright Fest. The ride replaces Space Shuttle America during that time.

In February 2003, Peterson filed for divorce from her husband/manager of 25 years, Mark Pierson. She retained all rights to the Elvira character despite Pierson's long time involvement.

During the weekend of January 13, 2006, Peterson held an estate sale at her Hollywood Hills home which constituted many household, personal and movie memorabilia items. The estate sale was due to her recent divorce in which her assets had to be evenly divided. Peterson still lives in Hollywood.

Cassandra Peterson remains a supporter of animal rights, and an active member of PETA. She continues to make appearances as Elvira. [2]

Movies, TV, and Video

  • Movie Macabre - (1981) TV horror hostess
  • Elvira's Movie Macabre videos: (1985) home video series for Thriller Video
  • Wrestlemania 2 - (1986) guest commentator
  • Elvira, Mistress of the Dark - (1988) Cassandra "Elvira" Peterson co-wrote and starred in her first feature film. The film 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.
  • 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 of 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 fundraisers 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 premier in Hollywood. Elvira arrived at the premier 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. Movie Clip
  • 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 80's 3-D (2005) (mini) TV Series
  • 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)
  • I Love the '70s: Volume 2 (2006) (mini) TV Series
  • 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 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 TV 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. Elvira seeks a successor, via reality TV
  • (title unknown) - (future) Elvira animated series
  • (title unknown) - (future) a family-friendly feature film centered on the “back story” of Halloween that features the Elvira character

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)

References in popular culture


See also



External links

pt:Cassandra Peterson fi:Cassandra Peterson