Childhood & Early Life
Cassandra Peterson was born on September 17, 1951 in Manhattan, Kansas. She grew up in the Randolph area of Kansas until the area was flooded to build the Tuttle Creek Reservoir. Then she, along with her family, moved to Colorado Springs.
When she was a year and a half, she met with a kitchen accident. She accidentally pulled a pan of boiling eggs off the stove, and burned over a third of her body. At school, she was teased for her scars.
Her mother ran a costume business, and whatever costumes she liked, her mother made one in her size, which she wore to school.
She attended General William J. Palmer High School and graduated in 1969. When she was just a teen, she worked as a go-go dancer in a local gay bar.
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Cassandra Peterson dreamed of a career in the show business from a young age. At the age of 17, she convinced her parents to let her sign a contract to become a showgirl in Viva Les Girls at The Dunes in Las Vegas.
In 1971, she appeared in a brief role as a showgirl in the James Bond film ‘Diamonds Are Forever’, and was featured as a topless dancer in ‘The Working Girls’ in 1974. She posed as a stripper on the cover of Tom Waits' album ‘Small Change’ in 1976.
In Las Vegas, she befriended Elvis Presley, who encouraged her to become a singer. Acting on his advice, she moved to Italy in the 1970s to become the lead singer of the Italian rock band Latins 80 and The Snails.
After she returned to the United States, she toured nightclubs and discos with a musical-comedy act, ‘Mama’s Boys’, along with seven men. She also posed in the nude for ‘Playboy’ magazine, and modeled for several men's magazines like ‘High Society’, ‘Man's Delight’, and ‘Modern Man.’
In 1979, she joined the Los Angeles-based comedy troupe ‘The Groundlings’ to learn acting and comedic skills. There she created a ‘valley girl’ type character, on which the character of Elvira was loosely based. For a year, she also worked with the Los Angeles radio station KROQ-FM.
In 1981, the producers of the horror show ‘Fright Night’ on KHJ-TV wanted to revive the popular show. They held an audition, which was cleared by Peterson. The producers gave her a free-hand to create the image of the horror hostess. She took her friend Robert Redding’s help and created the sexy vampish look of her character ‘Elvira’.
Before the show could be aired, Maila Nurmi, the former host of ‘The Vampira Show’, sent a cease and desist letter to the producers, complaining that the character and costume of Elvira were similar to those of ‘Vampira’. However, the court ruled in favor of Peterson.
The show, ‘Elvira’s Movie Macabre’ was launched in September 1981. It aired B-grade horror movies, and was occasionally interrupted by sarcastic comments from the hostess Elvira. It ran for five seasons.
Within a short period of time, her character ‘Elvira’ became a craze and a brand. The character was soon associated with many products like Halloween costumes and decors, comic books, trading cards, calendars, perfumes and dolls, to name a few.
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In order to branch out, she hosted a home video series, ‘ThrillerVideo’ in 1985, which became successful, leading to a second video series, ‘Elvira's Midnight Madness’. The same year, she appeared in a non-Elvira film, ‘Pee-wee's Big Adventure’, followed by ‘Echo Park’ and ‘Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold’ in 1986.
Her popularity as Elvira reached the peak with the release of the feature film ‘Elvira, Mistress of the Dark’ in 1988, where she reprised her role as Elvira. She also co-wrote its script with John Paragon and Sam Egan.
In 2001, she co-wrote and co-produced ‘Elvira's Haunted Hills’. Due to the lack of funds for promotion, she screened the film at an AIDS charity event. Eventually, the film was premiered in Hollywood in 2002 and was screened at the Cannes Film Festival the following year.
In September 2010, ‘Movie Macabre’ with Elvira returned in syndication. Another show ‘13 Nights of Elvira’ started airing in October 2014 on Hulu, an American subscription video platform.
She also appeared as Elvira in comic books from DC Comics, Eclipse Comics and Claypool Comics. While DC Comics published ‘Elvira's House of Mystery’, Claypool Comics published ‘Elvira: Mistress of the Dark’. Two more paperback collections were published—‘Elvira Mistress of the Dark: Comic Milestones-Comics Format’, and ‘Elvira Mistress of the Dark: Double Delights’.
In the 1980s and 1990s, a number of computer games based on Elvira were developed, including Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, Elvira 2: The Jaws of Cerberus, and Elvira: The Arcade Game. Some Elvira-themed pinball games were developed as well. The character of Elvira was also featured in the PlayStation 3 game ‘Pain,’ produced in 2007.