Elvira is a name synonymous with horror.
A lesser known name would be Cassandra Peterson, though the two are one and the same. You know the infamous horror hostess extraordinaire. The look itself seems to be the embodiment of a femme fatale. Pale, almost vampiric skin. Bone straight, jet black hair. Blood red lips. A skin tight black gown with a dangerous plunging neck line. You've seen it not only on Elvira, the Mistress of Darkness, but also on Vampira and Morticia Addams. The look itself has become as infamous as the characters.
But who is the woman behind the bust? Elvira is widely known for her comedic wit that set her apart from your average horror hostess and, of course, her obvious assets. Cassandra Peterson is much more than a pretty face and a to die for physique.
The woman destined for horror royalty was born in Manhattan. Kansas. She was raised and grew up near a little place called Randolph until the area flooded and her family moved with her to Colorado Springs (naturally in Colorado). Even as a little girl, she was a touch different and meant for more than the average little girl. While others played with Barbies, a young Cassandra was more inclined to gothic play things. Always a touch unconventional, she became a Go-Go dancer at a gay bar in her teens. Days after graduating highschool in 1969 (ha), she drove to Las Vegas and became a showgirl at the Dunes in a show called "Viva Les Girls".
In the 70s she lived life to its fullest, searching for her ultimate calling. In those years 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 THE WORKING GIRLS (1974), and purportedly posed for the cover of Tom Waits's 1976 album, SMALL CHANGE. 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 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.
Then fate would strike in the 80s (my personal favorite decade). Cassandra auditioned for Ginger Grant, the "movie star", in the third GILLIGAN'S ISLAND tv movie. She was turned down, clearly meant for even higher heights. Producers of a horror show called FRIGHT NIGHTS that starred Larry Vincent as horror host Sinister Seymour were looking to revive the show in 1981, 5 years after their stars death. They brilliantly decided to go female. When Maila Nurmi, Vampira, left the show over a disagreement with the producers over who would play her character, the producers decided to audition for talent. Over 200 hopefuls came out to become the new horror hostess and Cassandra left them all in the dust. Her original design for the character was a take off of Sharon Tate in THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS (seen below).
"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."
The producers shot it down, so Cassandra went back to the drawing board. She and best friend, Robert Redding, came up with the sexy punk/vampire look that Elvira is known for throughout the world. 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, pancake-horror make up and a towering black beehive wig to conceal 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.
But she ran into trouble when Maila sent the studio a "cease and desist" claiming that Elvira was too close to her Vampira. However, the court sided in favor with the studio and producers when it was revealed that Maila's Vampira was, in fact, inspired by Charles Addams' Morticia. What can you say? Greatness borrows from greatness and puts a spin on it to make it their own.
Elvira's Movie Macabre turned Cassandra Peterson into a mega star and a name that will always go hand in hand with horror. One of her most winning qualities is the ability to not only poke fun at the films she reviews, but also at herself. Though drop dead gore~geous, Cassandra was always the first to poke fun at herself and never got so high and mighty that she couldn't take a joke. In fact, the best jokes came from the Mistress of Horror herself.
And a word on her appearance. Everyone can take a lesson for how brilliantly Elvira branded herself. Anyone can tell you what she looks like and what she does. She has received tremendous praise (though not nearly enough in my opinion) for her business savvy as well as receiving harsh criticism against her overtly sexual attire. I think it is an even greater insult for a beautiful woman to be too afraid of what people may say or think to embrace their sexuality. If you are comfortable with it, why repress it? Why should Elvira wear a bloody turtleneck? It's a bizarre double standard that attractive women should downplay their looks in fear of being labelled a whore or a slut whereas men can fully flaunt their sexuality and be a stud or be "a man". I'm so grateful to Elvira to be one of the earliest examples of taking this foolish double standard and giving it a swift and firm kick in the nuts.
Another symbol of Elvira's greatness is the place between her breasts. Her heart. Cassandra is wonderful to her fans. She happily gives out autographs, takes the time to chat with them, and reads the onslaught of letters she gets sent. She would RARELY turn down a fan. Infinite autographs, like the one below, are staples in many a horror collection.
Cassandra is a vegetarian and an activist for gay rights. Here is a kick ass ad that she starred in for PETA.
And the woman is now 60 and going strong. She doesn't even have to re-invent herself. Elvira is timeless. And at 60 Cassandra is just as exquisite a creature as she was when she first burst onto the scene in the 80s. And she shows no signs of slowing down or does she have any plans to. Please enjoy this fang~tastic interview she did recently with someone we simply adore, Ghost, Keeper Of The Night. And find Elvira on just about every social media site. No one is more fit to be called "horror royalty" than the Mistress of Darkness.