Cassandra Peterson

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Cassandra Peterson
Cassandra Peterson by Gage Skidmore.jpg
Peterson in May 2011.
Born (1951-09-17) September 17, 1951 (age 70)
Manhattan, Kansas, U.S.
Occupation Actress and TV hostess
Years active 1970–present
Spouse(s) Mark Pierson (m. 1981–2003)
Cassandra Peterson's Signature.png

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 wearing a black, gothic, revealing, 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.

Early life

Born in Manhattan, Kansas, Peterson grew up near Randolph, until the area was flooded to create Tuttle Creek Reservoir; her family then moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado. According to a 2011 interview, Peterson states that as a child, while other girls were occupied with Barbie dolls, she was more fascinated by horror-themed toys.[1] During her teens, Peterson worked as a go-go dancer in a local gay bar.[2]

She graduated from General William J. Palmer High School in 1969. Days after graduating, she drove to Las Vegas, Nevada, where she became a showgirl in "Viva Les Girls" at The Dunes, where she met Elvis Presley. She had a small role as a showgirl in the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever, played a topless dancer in The Working Girls (1974). She also purportedly posed for the cover of Tom Waits's 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.[3] She is a vegetarian[4][5] and has appeared in a humorous Halloween-themed ad for PETA promoting a vegetarian diet.[6]


Early career
Cassandra Peterson in Pee-wee's Big Adventure.

In the early 1970s, Peterson moved to Italy and became the lead singer of the Italian rock band I Latins Ochanats and The Snails. 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 is largely based.

During the 1970s, Peterson also modeled for several men's magazines, such as High Society, Man's Delight (magazine) 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.[7] Peterson also was a personality on Los Angeles radio station KROQ 106.7 from 1982 to 1983.

Elvira Begins
Movie Macabre
Peterson dressed as Elvira at the 2006 San Francisco Gay Pride parade.

In the late spring of 1981, six years after the death of Larry Vincent, who starred as host Sinister Seymour of a local Los Angeles weekend horror show called Fright Night, show producers began the task of bringing 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 eventually 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 in The Fearless Vampire Killers.

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,[8][9] 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, co-written by Peterson and released in 1988.

After several years of unsuccessful attempts to make a sequel to Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, Cassandra and her manager and then-husband Mark Pierson decided to take matters into their own hands and finance a second movie themselves. In November 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 fund raisers 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 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 commenced on October 19, 2014, running through to Halloween.[10]

She has also played non-Elvira roles in many other films, most notably Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) with friend and fellow Groundling Paul Reubens (as his Pee-wee Herman character) and Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold (1985) starring Richard Chamberlain and Sharon Stone and in All About Evil as a mother named Linda who says not to go to the old theater to watch scary movies.

Elvira on home video

In 1985, Elvira began hosting a home video series called ThrillerVideo for U.S.A. Home Video and later International Video Entertainment (I.V.E.). Many of these films were hand-selected by Peterson. Choosing to stay away from the more explicit cannibal, slasher and 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. She refused to host Make Them Die Slowly, Seven Doors of Death, and Buried Alive, so the videos were released on the ThrillerVideo label without Elvira's appearance as hostess. After this, several extended episodes[11] 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 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.

Comic books

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. In 2012 another series, also titled Mistress of the Dark, was announced for a 2013 debut. It will be written by R.H. Stavis and drawn by Jeff Zarnow.

Computer and pinball games

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a number of Elvira-themed computer games were produced:[12] 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[13] (1989) and Scared Stiff[14] (1996).

Calendar series

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.

Comikaze Expo

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".[15]

Personal life

Peterson briefly dated Elvis Presley when she was 17.[16]

In a 2008 interview, Peterson claimed that she lost her virginity to Tom Jones and needed stitches due to him being an aggressive lover.[17]

She married her personal manager, Mark Pierson, in 1981. They divorced in 2003.


Title Year Role Notes
Diamonds are Forever
Dancer Uncredited small role
Dancer Uncredited small role
The Working Girls
Cheech & Chong's Next Movie
Hostage Small role
Coast to Coast
Dinner party guest
King of the Mountain
Jekyll and Hyde... Together Again
Busty nurse
The Sting II
O'Malley's girl
Stroker Ace
Girl with lugs
Angie Stockard
Pee-wee's Big Adventure
Biker mama
Echo Park
Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold
Elvira, Mistress of the Dark
Ted & Venus
The Ketchup Vampires
It's My Party
Party guest Uncredited role
Elvira's Haunted Hills
Red Riding Hood
Hunter's mom
The Haunted World of El Superbeasto
Amber Voice
All About Evil
Bruno & Earlene Go to Vegas
Artie Duke
First Period
Ms. Glenn
Additional credits


Peterson recorded several songs for her Elvira Halloween albums in the 1980s and 1990s:

  • 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)
  • Elvira's Gravest Hits (Shout! Factory, 2010)

She also performed on a track called "Zombie Killer" for the band Leslie and the Ly's, released in February 2008. The music video for the track features Leslie & The Ly's performing to a sold out audience of zombies in a fictional venue called "Elvira Stadium." A 7" single was released.

Elvira impersonators

In the mid-1990s, Cassandra Peterson enlisted female impersonators Christian Greenia (Cassandra Fever) from Los Angeles, California, and Patterson Lundquist ("Elvira's Twin") from Atlanta, Georgia as her "official Elvira impersonators", calling them "the best she'd ever seen." They later appeared with her as co-judges on The Search for the Next Elvira.[22] The first official female Elvira impersonator, April Wahlin, the winner of The Search for the Next Elvira, was passed the crown on October 31, 2007. As the winner of the reality show, Wahlin made a few appearances during her one-year "reign" from October 31, 2007 to October 31, 2008. Greenia and Lundquist continue to appear as Elvira for various events across the country.

Awards and nominations


Los Angeles Silver Lake Film Festival

  • Spirit of Silver Lake Award: 2001[23]


Saturn Awards

Raspberry Awards

  • Worst Actress: 1988[26]

See also


  1. "This Week in Horror - Summer Spooktacular: Cassandra Peterson aka Elvira: Mistress of the Dark". YouTube. 2011-06-28. Retrieved 2013-12-04.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Del Mar, Pollo (2009-01-21). "Elvira Was Raised By a Pack of Wild Drag Queens". San Francisco Bay Guardian. Retrieved 2009-10-04.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[dead link]
  3. O'Neal, Sam (2009-10-28). "Elvira, Mistress Of The Dark (and merchandising)". The Onion A.V. Club. Retrieved 2009-11-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Elvira Interview
  5. "Famous Vegetarians: Elvira, Mistress of the Dark". Retrieved 2013-12-04.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Elvira's Halloween Ad". 2006-07-03. Retrieved 2013-12-04.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Femme Fatales, 1:3, Winter 1992/1993, p. 6
  8. Elvira's House of Mystery DC Comics (11 issues) at the Grand Comics Database
  9. Elvira, Mistress of the Dark Claypool Comics (166 issues) at the Grand Comics Database
  10. Turek, Ryan (2014-10-02). "Elvira Heads to Hulu for All-New Series". Shock Till You Drop. Retrieved October 3, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Thriller Videos & DVDs". 2005-07-18. Retrieved 2013-12-04.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "List of games at Gamespot".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[dead link]
  13. "Internet Pinball Machine Database: Midway 'Elvira and the Party Monsters'". Retrieved 2013-12-04.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "Internet Pinball Machine Database: Midway 'Scared Stiff'". Retrieved 2013-12-04.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "Stan Lee's Comikaze Expo partners with Legendary Horror Icon Elvira Mistress of the Dark - The Business Journals". 2012-05-16. Retrieved 2013-12-04.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "'Elvira' Actress Cassandra Peterson Dishes On Her Dream Date With Elvis Presley". Huffington Post. July 7, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "Elvira Was Deflowered By Tom Jones; Needed Stitches". 9 July 2008. Archived from the original on July 12, 2008. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "The Elvira Show on". Retrieved 2010-01-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "Elvira seeks a successor, via reality TV". MSNBC. 2006-04-19. Retrieved 2013-12-04.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. "Bio Elvira".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. *Elvira's Not a Witch on YouTube
  22. "Search 4 next Elvira on Fox Reality cable channel". Archived from the original on March 31, 2008. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. IMDb Los Angeles Silver Lake Film Festival 2001
  24. IMDb Saturn Awards 1990
  25. "Saturn Awards". Saturn Awards. Retrieved 2013-12-04.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. "Razzie 1988". Retrieved 2013-12-04.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links