Cassandra Peterson (age: 67) is an American actress best known her character Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, wearing a revealing, black, gothic, cleavage-enhancing gown as host of Elvira's Movie Macabre, a weekly horror movie presentation.
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Cassandra Peterson Bio
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-TV wearing a revealing, black, gothic, cleavage-enhancing gown as host of Elvira’s 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.
Inspired by Ann-Margret in Viva Las Vegas, while on a trip to Las Vegas, Nevada during high school, she convinced her parents to let her see a live show whereupon she was noticed by the production staff; despite being only 17, she convinced her parents to let her sign a contract. Immediately after graduating, she drove back to Las Vegas, where she became a showgirl in Viva Les Girls at The Dunes; here, she met Elvis Presley, whom she briefly dated. She had a small role as a showgirl in the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever and played a topless dancer in The Working Girls (1974). She also purportedly posed for the cover of Tom Waits’ 1976 album Small Change. 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 her.
In the early 1970s, Peterson moved to Italy and became the lead singer of the Italian rock bands Latins 80 and The Snails. Introduced to director Federico Fellini by the producer of a documentary on Las Vegas showgirls in which she had appeared she landed 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.
During the 1970s, Peterson also modeled for several men’s magazines, such as High Society, Man’s Delight, and Modern Man.
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-FM 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 Los Angeles weekend horror show called Fright Night, show producers began to bring 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 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’s character in The Fearless Vampire Killers.
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 claimed that Vampira’s image was based on Morticia Addams, a character in Charles Addams’s cartoons that appeared in The New Yorker magazine.
Peterson’s Elvira character rapidly gained notice 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, on whose script, written directly for the screen, Peterson collaborated with John Paragon and Sam Egan, and which was released in 1988.
After several years of attempts to make a sequel to Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, Cassandra and her manager and then-husband Mark Pierson decided to finance a second movie. In November 2000, Peterson wrote, again in collaboration with Paragon, and co-produced Elvira’s Haunted Hills. The film was shot 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 many people in attendance, this was their 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.
In September 2010, Elvira’s Movie Macabre returned to television syndication in the U.S., this time with public domain films. In October 2014, it was revealed that a new series of thirteen episodes had been produced, 13 Nights of Elvira for Hulu. The show began on October 19, 2014, running through to Halloween.
Elvira on home video
In 1985, Elvira began hosting a home video series called Thriller Video, a division of International Video Entertainment (IVE). Many of these films were hand-selected by Peterson. Choosing to stay away from the more explicit cannibal, slasherand 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. Since she had refused to host Make Them Die Slowly, Seven Doors of Death, and Buried Alive, however, the videos were released on the ThrillerVideo 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, released 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, Elvira Mistress of the Dark: Comic Milestones-Comics Format and Elvira Mistress of the Dark: Double Delights. In 2012 another series, also titled Mistress of the Dark, was announced for a 2013 debut to be written by R.H. Stavis and drawn by Jeff Zarnow. The comic book, to date, has never materialized.
On July 18, 2017, it was announced that a new licensing agreement was made with Dynamite Entertainment for a multitude of new Elvira-related merchandise, including a new comic book series, trading cards, posters, lithographs, card games, and board games. Dymanite formally announced that a new comic book series, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, written by David Avallone and penciled by Dave Acosta, would hit stores in July 2018. Along with a new comic book series, a new line of graphic novels were mentioned.
Beginning in 1996, three Elvira novels (authored by Elvira and John Paragon) were published by Berkley Books, Transylvania 90210, Camp Vamp, and The Boy Who Cried Werewolf. Long out-of-print, all three titles were republished and made available as E-books in 2018.
In 2016, Peterson published an Elvira 35th anniversary photographic retrospective she dubbed a “coffin table” book.
Computer, video 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 in 1989 and Scared Stiff in 1996.
Elvira was also one of the special characters featured in the 2007 PlayStation 3 game Pain.
Elvira stars in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare “Absolution” released in 2017.
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.”
Peterson has also portrayed non-Elvira roles in many other films, most notably Pee-wee’s Big Adventure in 1985 alongside friend and fellow Groundling Paul Reubens, who starred as his Pee-wee Herman character; Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold, released in 1987, which starred Richard Chamberlain and Sharon Stone; and All About Evil, as a mother named Linda, who says not to go to the old theater to watch scary movies.
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