Elvira Is an Internationally Recognized Character Created by Cassandra Peterson

Updated on October 23, 2018
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Readmikenow enjoys writing about unique and interesting people. He likes to learn about individuals who live or have lived unusual lives.

Cassandra Peterson as Elvira
Cassandra Peterson as Elvira

She was first seen on KHJ-TV in 1981. The horror hostess character Elvira, Mistress of the Dark was portrayed by Cassandra Peterson and quickly became a huge sensation. Most were taken in by her wearing a cleavage-enhancing, gothic, black gown. On Elvira's Movie Macabre, many people would watch horror movies every week. The gown, combined with her offbeat, quirky personality and speaking like a Valley girl, made her an extremely unique television personality. The Elvira character would move on to do movies and television shows. The Elvira brand is also associated with various products including action figures, comic books, Halloween costumes, perfume, dolls, trading cards, and more. She has been on the Tonight Show seven time as well as appearing on Saturday Night Live, ABC's Last Man Standing, and others.

Early Years

Cassandra Peterson was born on September 17, 1951, in Manhattan, Kansas. When she was a year and a half old, Peterson accidentally pulled a pan of eggs and boiling water from a stove. It was a terrible accident that resulted in over a third of her body being burned. Growing up, she was often teased because of her scars. Peterson's mother had a costume business. Whatever kind of costume she wanted, Peterson's mother would make for her. When she was in second grade, Peterson won a Halloween costume contest dressed as Miss Kitty from the television show Gunsmoke. She got a $100 savings bond. In 1969, Peterson graduated from General William J. Palmer High School. As a teenager, she worked at a local gay bar as a go-go dancer.

Career Start

Cassandra Peterson was a big fan of Ann Margaret's character in the movie Viva Las Vegas. When she was 17 years old, her family visited Las Vegas. During this trip, she talked her parents into letting her see a live show. During the show, Peterson was noticed by the production staff. She convinced her parents to let her join the production. After Peterson graduated high school, she drove back to Las Vegas and worked at the Dunes as a showgirl in Viva Les Girls. It was during this time she was able to meet Elvis Presley. He recommended she consider becoming a singer.

Cassandra Peterson in The Working Girls
Cassandra Peterson in The Working Girls

Movies and More

Peterson was 20 when she appeared as a showgirl in the James Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever. In 1974, she played a topless dancer in the movie The Working Girls. Peterson was also on the cover of a Tom Wait's album Small Change in 1976 where she posed as a stripper.

Singer

Acting on advice from Elvis Presley, she moved to Italy. Peterson was able to get a job as the lead singer for Italian rock bands. They were the Snails and the Latins 80. During this time, she was introduced to director Federico Fellini. Peterson also met a documentary producer working on a film about Las Vegas showgirls. She was able to get a small part in the 1972 movie Roma.

Modeling, Comedy, and More

She returned to the United States soon after being in Roma. Peterson then worked with Mama Boys. It was a musical-comedy act. She and seven other men were part of the act and toured discos and nightclubs. During this time, Peterson modeled for various men's magazines including Modern Man, High Society as well as Man's Delight. She also posed nude for an edition of Playboy magazine. Peterson joined The Groundlings in 1979. This was a Los Angeles-based comedy troupe. Her goal was to further develop her comedic and acting skills. It was a time when she invented a character that sounded like a valley girl. She also had a job during this time with KROQ-FM, a radio station based in Los Angeles.

Creation of Elvira

A popular weekend horror show in Los Angeles hosted by Larry Vincent was known as Fright Night and ended in the 1970s. In 1981, the show's producers wanted to create a similar show. This time, they wanted a female host. They asked Maila Nurmi to bring back The Vampira Show. Numri worked on it for a short time but quit. This is when the show’s producers put out a casting call. Cassandra Peterson auditioned for it and was given the role. She was permitted to create the image for the show. Peterson and a friend created the sexy vampire image that would become known as Elvira.

Poster for Elvira's Movie Macabre
Poster for Elvira's Movie Macabre

Elvira's Movie Macabre

In September of 1981, the show was launched. It showed audiences B-grade horror movies. Part of the show involved the hostess Elvira interrupting the movie to have a sarcastic or funny comment about it using a Valley girl voice. The show was a huge success and the low-cut, tight-fitting black gown designed to display her cleavage got a lot of attention. Peterson was interviewed about the success of Elvira. She said the Elvira character is her when she was a teenager. Peterson told the report she just says what she feels and people who watch the show seem to enjoy it.

Elvira in Macabre Mobile
Elvira in Macabre Mobile

Elvira Movies

In 1988, the movie Elvira, Mistress of the Dark was released. Peterson collaborated with Sam Egan and John Paragon to write the screenplay for the movie. There was always a desire to make a sequel to the movie. Peterson and her husband financed a second movie based on Elvira. In 2000, Elvira's Haunted Hills was released. It was filmed in Romania and cost just under a million dollars. There was no money left for promotion so it was screened at a charity fund for AIDS. The official premiere of the movie took place in 2003 and Elvira arrived in her Macabre Mobile. In 2003, it was screened at the Cannes film festival.

Elvira Comic Book
Elvira Comic Book

Comic Books

There were a series of comic books based on Elvira created by DC Comics. It was titled Elvira's House of Mystery. The next series was Elvira, Mistress of the Dark comic series. The comic series ran for over 165 issues and included two collections of trade paperbacks.

Novels

In 1996, three books were published by Berkley books and labeled as Elvira novels. They were The Boy Who Cried Werewolf, Transylvania 90210 and Camp Vamp. The books eventually went out of print but in 2018 were published again and sold as E-books. In 2016, Elvira 35th Anniversary Photographic Retrospective was published. She referred to the picture book as a coffin table book.

Elvira with pinball machine
Elvira with pinball machine

Computer and Arcade Games

During the late 1980s, and at the beginning of the 1990s, there were various computer games based on Elvira. They were Elvira 2, The Jaws of Cerberus, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark and others. There were also two pinball machines created based on Elvira. They were Scared Stiff as well as Elvira and the Party Monsters. The character of Elvira has also been featured in some PlayStation 3 games.

Cassandra Peterson
Cassandra Peterson

Cassandra Peterson was married for 22 years to Mark Pierson who was her personal manager. They divorced in 2003. She has a daughter that was born on October 12, 1994, and is named Sadie. She is busy managing her production company and promoting the Elvira brand. Some may believe she only works between October and November, but she tells people she's busy all year. When asked why she works so hard Peterson will often respond by saying there is no rest for the wicked.

Cassandra Peterson on Larry King Live

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