If there was ever a Classic Hottie more in keeping with the spirit of this time of year, it's Elvira. One part cheesy horror vixen, one part sex kitten, one part insult comic and 100% woman, she's been the embodiment of the sexy horror hottie for over 30 years. By infusing generous helpings of sex into the horror and macabre genres, Elvira and her real life alter ego have built themselves a healthy franchise and a lasting legacy out of little more than a tight dress, a pair of fine tits, a black wig and a sardonic sense of humor. Honestly, what more do you need?
Of course, there's a real person behind the character we've always known as Elvira. Her name is Cassandra Peterson and she was born in Manhattan (that's Manhattan, Kansas) on September 17, 1951. Little Cassandra was never your typical mid-western girl. Preferring to play with horror movie dolls than Barbies, there was already a little Mistress of the Dark in her from the start. Unfortunately for little Cassandra, her early days were beset with tragedy when at the age of 3 she accidentally pulled a pot of boiling water off the kitchen stove, burning a 3rd of her body in the process. The resulting scars were a source of humiliation and teasing from her peers for a time. Her mother's costume shop offered a welcome reprieve from all that. Often serving as model for the most popular costumes of the season, Cassandra learned the art of dressing up from an early age. She didn't know it yet, but all those early joys and pains were going to make her a big star one day.
Yet before stardom arrived, Cassandra had to pay her dues. Her first payment came in the form of a Las Vegas showgirl gig, at the age of 17. Being the youngest Vegas showgirl ever, Cassandra had to figure out a few things first. Things like graduating high school for one, as well as obtaining signed permission from her parents, which she got, though not without persistent threats of what the alternative consequences to her life choices might be should they refuse. Being Vegas's youngest sex symbol in the late 60s got her plenty of attention from plenty of men, among them one Elvis Presley, who she dated briefly. It was The King's advice that Cassandra should follow her dreams to become a singer. And so she did just that, though perhaps not in the way most other aspiring singers might.
In the early 1970s, Cassandra had moved on from the Vegas showgirl circuit in favor of a singing gig in the Italian pop rock band I Latins Ochanats. A chance encounter with legendary film director Federico Fellini also led to a small role in his 1972 film ROMA. Her time in Italy didn't last long though and by the mid 70s she was back home in the States. There she posed nude for Playboy, showing off her natural, strawberry blonde locks and pretty much everything else. She also may have appeared nude on the cover of Tom Waits' 1976 album Small Change, though she can't confirm that. As Cassandra put it, "I don't remember having done it. But of course, I don't remember a lot of stuff I did in the 70s." She toured the US with her own comedy dance show "Mama's Boys" before settling down in Los Angeles in the late 1970s. There she further refined her comedic skills by joining the Groudlings improv comedy troupe in 1979, where she developed a valley girl routine she performed alongside such comedians as Paul Reubens and Phil Hartman. Large parts of that routine soon paid off big when TV came calling.
By the early 80s, Cassandra was doing a radio show on LA's KROQ and auditioning to play Ginger for Gilligan's Island TV movies. However, it was an empty slot in the late night schedule for local LA TV station KHJ-TV that offered Cassandra the most interesting opportunity. Looking for someone fresh and exciting to replace the deceased host "Sinister Seymour" on their late night monster movie show Fright Night, producers had begun scouting for a woman. At first their goal was to bring in Maila Nurmi, aka Vampira, to develop the show. However, when her choice of actress to play Vampira was rejected, she left the show. Cassandra later won the $350 a week part following an open casting call. All she had to do was figure out what to do with it.
Being a relatively low budget affair, Cassandra was left essentially to her own devices as to how the character should look and behave. The show's producers required only that any character Cassandra devised be vampy and dressed all in black. Bringing in friend and make up artist Robert Redding, Cassandra fabricated a look intended as a take-off on Morticia Addams from The Addams Family, mixed with a little witch, a little vampire and a little 80s rock star. Generous parts of her Groudlings valley girl character helped to establish Elvira's personality and a random draw from a coffee can full of potential names gave her a name. It was from this witch's brew that the character we all know today as Elvira was born and her first stint as the sarcastic b-movie horror host began. She was an immediate hit with local LA audiences. Her penchant for risqué double entendres and plunging necklines soon expanded her audience well beyond the confines of her late night TV britches and firmly into the big time. There she went on to appear on everything from Halloween costumes to calendars, perfume to pinball machines.
As such, by the late 80s Elvira was a full on franchise, earning Cassandra huge bank from various record albums, comic books, home video tapes, multiple TV shows, video games and even movie posters, thanks to her 1988 feature film ELVIRA, MISTRESS OF THE DARK. An Elvira popularity resurgence in the early 2000s spawned a sequel to that first film called ELVIRA'S HAUNTED HILLS, in 2001. She followed that up with the syndicated reality show "The Search for the Next Elvira" which aired on Fox. Cassandra routinely employs female impersonators to play Elvira at various public functions and charity events, something that no doubt stems from her long-standing affinity for the LGBT community. She's also heavily invested in animal rights and AIDS awareness efforts and routinely lends the use of her Elvira character to support those causes.
Now 62, Cassandra is still going strong and still in control of most everything related to her vampish claim to fame. Though unlike days past, Cassandra doesn't have a problem leaving the wig and make up at home once in a while for her various public appearances. After 30 years of putting humor into the horrible and sexy into the sadistic, it seems Cassandra has earned the right to finally be herself. As the lady herself puts it, "I like being two people. I like having a normal side and a weird side. I feel like I have two lives in one. And I just get do so much cool stuff."