Cassandra Gay Peterson
September 17, 1951
Manhattan, Kansas, U.S.
(m. 1981; div. 2003)
|Partner||Teresa Wierson (2002–present)|
Cassandra Peterson (born September 17, 1951) is an American actress. She is best known for her portrayal of the horror hostess character Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Peterson gained fame on Los Angeles television station KHJ-TV in her stage persona as Elvira, hosting Elvira's Movie Macabre, a weekly B movie presentation. A member of the Los Angeles-based improvisational and sketch comedy troupe The Groundlings, Peterson based her Elvira persona in part on a "Valley girl"-type character she created while a member of the troupe.
The popularity of Elvira's Movie Macabre led to the 1988 film Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, and later the 2001 film Elvira's Haunted Hills, both starring Peterson as Elvira. The television show was revived in 2010, featuring Elvira hosting public domain films, and airing on This TV until 2011. Elvira returned as a horror hostess in 2014 with 13 Nights of Elvira, a 13-episode series produced by Hulu, and again in 2021 for a one-night 40th Anniversary Special that aired on Shudder.
Peterson has made cameo appearances as Elvira in a number of films and television programs, including appearing as a guest commentator during WrestleMania 2 and as a guest judge on RuPaul's Drag Race, The Boulet Brothers' Dragula, and Halloween Wars.
Peterson was born in Manhattan, Kansas. When she was a toddler, she was scalded by boiling water, which required skin grafts to cover over 35% of her body to heal, resulting in her having to spend three months in the hospital. However, in her interview on the podcast Inside of You hosted by actor Michael Rosenbaum, Peterson stated that her scars were the result of a fire.
In a 2011 interview, Peterson stated that as a child, she was more fascinated by horror-themed toys while other girls were occupied with Barbie dolls. In elementary school, she watched House on Haunted Hill, which was the first horror film she ever saw. During her teens, Peterson worked as a drag queen go-go dancer in a Colorado Springs, Colorado gay bar and as a go-go dancer for soldiers at Fort Carson. She graduated from Palmer High School in Colorado Springs.
Inspired by Ann-Margret in the film 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 where she was noticed by the production staff; despite being only 17 years old, she convinced her parents to let her sign a contract. Immediately after graduating high school, she drove back to Las Vegas, where she became a showgirl in Frederic Apcar's pioneering "Vive Les Girls!" at The Dunes; there, she met Elvis Presley, with whom she went on a date. She had a small role as a showgirl in the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever (1971) and played a topless dancer in the film The Working Girls (1974). Peterson says that while she has no memory of the event, she appears to have posed for the cover of Tom Waits' album Small Change (1976).
In the early 1970s, Peterson moved to Italy and became lead singer of the Italian rock bands I Latins 80 and The Snails. After being introduced to film director Federico Fellini by the producer of a documentary on Las Vegas showgirls in which she had appeared, she landed a small part in the film Roma (1972). When she returned to the United States, she toured nightclubs and discos around the country with a musical/comedy act, Mamma's Boys.
In her 2021 memoir Yours Cruelly, Elvira, she writes, "Perhaps the biggest mistake I made in my twenties was posing nude for a husband-and-wife photography team, who bullshitted me into doing what they said was a 'test shoot' for Penthouse magazine. They guaranteed me it would never be seen anywhere publicly." She adds, "I never saw or heard from them again, and as far as I knew, that was the end of that... until 1981 when I became famous. Those photos, pubic hair and all, appeared in every sleazy men's magazine on the stand and there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it."
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.
Peterson was one of two finalists for the role of Ginger Grant for the third Gilligan's Island television movie in 1981, but was dropped before filming. Shortly after that, 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.
Main article: Elvira's Movie Macabre
In 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 hostess. 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 goth/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 camp 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 1988 feature film Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, on whose script, written directly for the screen, Peterson collaborated with John Paragon and Sam Egan.
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 was later screened at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival.
In September 2010, Elvira's Movie Macabre returned to television syndication, 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 premiered on October 19, 2014, running through to Halloween.
As of September 2018, Peterson was working to develop a direct sequel to 1988's Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, as well as an animated Elvira project.
In 1985, Elvira began hosting a home video series called ThrillerVideo, 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, 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. 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 Thriller Video 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 hostessing after a ten-year absence.
In 1993, she filmed a pilot for CBS called The Elvira Show. An expansion of the 1988 film with a sitcom setting, the premise had Elvira and her family moving into a new neighborhood with her older aunt and dealing with nosy neighbors and uptight conservatives who all want them to move out. It also starred Katherine Helmond, Phoebe Augustine, Cristine Rose, Ted Henning, Lynne Marie Stewart, Claudette Wells, John Paragon, Laurie Faso, and Basil Hoffman. It was not picked up by a TV network.
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.
Rob Zombie confirmed Peterson to appear in his The Munsters movie.
Peterson married musician Mark Pierson in 1981, and he soon became her personal manager. They had one daughter, Sadie Pierson (born October 12, 1994), and were divorced on February 14, 2003.
Peterson released her memoir, Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the Dark, on September 21, 2021. She revealed in the book that she has been in a relationship with a woman, Teresa "T" Wierson, since 2002. They began their romantic relationship following Peterson's separation from her husband. In the book, she also accused basketball player Wilt Chamberlain of sexually assaulting her during a party at his Bel Air mansion in the 1970s.
Peterson was a vegetarian for many years; as of 2021, she continues to maintain a "mostly vegetarian" diet.
|1971||Diamonds are Forever||Dancer||Uncredited small role|
|1972||Roma||Dancer||Uncredited small role|
|1974||The Working Girls||Katya|
|1978||Fantasy Island||Ftatateetah||Episode: "Homecoming/The Sheikh"|
|1980||Coast to Coast||Dinner party guest|
|Cheech and Chong's Next Movie||Hostage|
|1981||King of the Mountain||Neighbor|
|1981–1986, 2010–11||Elvira's Movie Macabre||Elvira||TV horror hostess|
|1982||Jekyll and Hyde... Together Again||Busty nurse|
|CHiPs||Elvira||Episodes: "Rock Devil Rock" and "Things That Go Creep in the Night"|
|1983||The Sting II||O'Malley's girl|
|Stroker Ace||Girl with lugs|
|Fantasy Island||Esther||Episodes: "What's the Matter with the Kids?/Island of the Horrors" and "God's Child/Curtain Call"|
|1984||Cheeseball Presents||Elvira||TV movie|
|The Fall Guy||Elvira||Episode: "October the 31st" (S04.EP7)|
|1985||Pee-wee's Big Adventure||Biker mama|
|ThrillerVideo||Elvira||Home video series for USA and later IVE|
|The Fall Guy||Elvira||Episode: "October the 32nd" (S05.EP6)|
|Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold||Sorais|
|WrestleMania 2||Elvira||Guest commentator in Los Angeles segment with Jesse Ventura and Lord Alfred Hayes|
|Elvira's Halloween Special||Elvira||TV special for MTV hosted by Elvira, which included skits with Elvira as well as music videos. The Halloween Special was a four-hour production.|
|1988||Elvira: Mistress of the Dark||Elvira|
|1989||The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!||Elvira (as herself)||Episodes: "Mommies Curse" and "The Ghoul of My Dreams"|
|NWA Halloween Havoc 1989 promo||Elvira|||
|1990||NWA Halloween Havoc 1990 promo||Elvira|||
|1991||Ted & Venus||Lisa|
|WCW Halloween Havoc 1991 promo||Elvira||Claims in the promo to be in the process of constructing the "Chamber of Horrors" cage for the event.|
|1992||The Ketchup Vampires||Elvira||Narrator|
|Parker Lewis Can't Lose||Elvira||Episode: "Boy Meets Girl II"|
|1993||The Elvira Show||Elvira||Unaired CBS pilot|
|1993–1995||Helicopters with Elvira||Elvira|
|1996||Space Ghost Coast to Coast||Elvira||Episode: "Switcheroo"|
|It's My Party||Party guest||Uncredited role|
|1997||Nash Bridges||Elvira||Episode: "Sniper"|
|Draw Your Own Toons||Series 1 only|
|Elvira's Ghost Stories Spooktacular||Elvira|
|The Martin Short Show||Elvira||Episode: #1.35|
|The Howard Stern Radio Show||Herself||Episode 19|
|2000||Bride of Monster Mania||Elvira|
|2001||Scares & Dares|
|Elvira's Haunted Hills||Elvira|
|2004||E! True Hollywood Story||Herself||Episode: "Scream Queens"|
|Monsterama: A Tribute to Horror Hosts|
|Elvira's Box of Horrors||Elvira||Horror film collection on DVD|
|I Love the '80s||Herself and Elvira|
|2005||I Love the Holidays|
|I Love the '80s 3-D||VH1 TV miniseries|
|Playboy Presents: Hef's Halloween Spooktacular||Hostess|
|TV1||Elvira||Australian-based cable TV channel TV1; the format was similar to her old show|
|2006||Red Riding Hood||Hunter's mom|
|The Secret Life of Superfans|
|Vampira: The Movie||Herself||Peterson discusses the Vampira lawsuit|
|I Love the '70s: Volume 2||VH1 TV miniseries|
|Living in TV Land – Sherman Hemsley||TV episode|
|Elvira's Movie Macabre||Elvira||DVD series|
|The Girls Next Door||Elvira||Episode: "Girls Will Be Ghouls"|
|2007||The Search for the Next Elvira||Elvira||Reality television series|
|2009||The Haunted World of El Superbeasto||Amber||Voice|
|Medium||Elvira||Special cameo appearance as Elvira in the beginning of the episode "Bite Me"|
|2010||All About Evil||Linda|
|Elvira's Not a Witch||Elvira||45-second viral video that spoofed a campaign ad by US Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell|
|2011||Last Man Standing||Elvira||Cameo appearance|
|2012||RuPaul's Drag Race: All Stars||Elvira||Guest judge; episode: "Dynamic Drag Duos"|
|Counting Cars||Herself and Elvira||Episode: "Satanic Mechanic"|
|2013||Bruno & Earlene Go to Vegas||Artie Duke|
|First Period||Ms. Glenn|
|2013–2017||Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012 TV series)||Mrs. Campbell / Computer voice / Utrom Queen (six episodes)||Voice; six episodes|
|2014||Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films||Herself|
|13 Nights of Elvira||Elvira|
|2015||Halloween Wars||Elvira||Guest judge|
|2016||LEGO Scooby-Doo! Haunted Hollywood||Drella Diabolique||Voice|
|Halloween Wars||Elvira||Guest judge|
|Talking Dead||Herself||Episode: "Swear"|
|2017||Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare||Elvira||Video game|
|2018||Hollywood Weapons: Fact or Fiction?||Elvira||Episode: "Terry's Underworld"|
|Storage Wars Halloween "Scariest Lockers" Special||Elvira||Host|
|2019||RuPaul's Drag Race||Elvira||Guest judge; episode: "Monster Ball"|
|In Search of Darkness||Herself||Documentary film|
|Scooby-Doo! Return to Zombie Island||Elvira||Voice|
|Halloween Wars||Elvira||Season 9, episode 1; guest judge|
|2020||To Tell the Truth||Herself|
|JJ Villard's Fairy Tales||Queen||Voice; one episode|
|Happy Halloween, Scooby-Doo!||Elvira||Voice|
|In Search of Darkness: Part II||Herself||Documentary film|
|2021||Elvira's 40th Anniversary, Very Scary, Very Special Special||Elvira||4 episodes|
|The Goldbergs||Elvira||Episode: "The Hunt for the Great Albino Pumpkin"|
|Netflix and Chills with Dr. Elvira||Dr. Elvira||Netflix shorts|
|2021–2022||Dota: Dragon's Blood||Lirrak||3 episodes|
|2022||The Munsters||Barbara Carr|||
|The Last Drive-in with Joe Bob Briggs||Herself||Special: "Joe Bob's Haunted Halloween Hangout"|
|In Search of Darkness: Part III||Herself||Documentary film|
|1980||Mondo Sinistro||Al Stewart|
|1985||Born in East L.A.||Cheech Marin|
|1986||My Mistake||Phantom, Rocker & Slick|
|2008||Zombie Killer||Leslie and the LY's|
|2009||Mistress of the Dark||Ghoultown|
|2014||Gimme Something Good||Ryan Adams|
Peterson recorded several songs and skits for her Elvira Halloween albums in the 1980s and 1990s:
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 and the LY's performing to a sold-out audience of zombies in a fictional venue called "Elvira Stadium". A 7" single was released.
((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)