When Cassandra Peterson took a job at a local Los Angeles television station back in 1981, she had no idea that it would change her life forever. In the dead of night, the gorgeous young actress breathed life into a character that would go one to become on of the coolest figures in pop culture icon history. That night that Elvira was born! Armed with her quirky and quick-witted personality, an arsenal of risqué double entendres and her low-cut black gown (which showed more cleavage than had ever appeared on local television), ‘Elvira’s Movie Macabre’ quickly became as a must-see for fans of the horror genre. As people continued to take notice her “considerable assets” word of the “Mistress of The Dark” spread like wild fire. Soon she became the first horror host in history to become syndicated nationally. The growing buzz spawned two feature films, many memorable stints on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, a plethora of delightfully spooky ad campaigns and merchandising galore! Three decades later, her reign as ‘Queen of Halloween’ is far from being in the grave as she continues to put scares in to fans worldwide and has no plans to slow down anytime soon! Icon Vs. Icon’s Jason Price recently spoke to Elvira’s alter-ego Cassandra Peterson about the character’s longevity, career milestones, her exciting new projects and what the future holds for The Mistress of The Dark.
Elvira is celebrating her 30th anniversary. That is an amazing milestone for any performer.
Did you have any idea when you started out that she would still be going strong all these years later and to what do you attribute that longevity?
No, I didn’t think that I would still be going strong. That is for sure! I was actually surprised that it lasted more than a week on TV! [laughs] Actually, I am still surprised! I attribute it to the fact that I am so closely tied with Halloween. It’s kinda like Santa Claus, even though people don’t think about Santa all year round, at Christmas they think of him. At Halloween, I think the same is true of Elvira. So I think that the holiday has a lot to do with it and I have, luckily, been able to keep the character out there through different licensing and merchandising through the years.
It is a year of celebrations for Elvira! Ten years ago, Elvira hit the big screen for a second time with “Elvira’s Haunted Hills.” The film just got its 10th anniversary re-release on October 4, 2011! Looking back on the film, what are your fondest memories of putting that project together?
Well, “Haunted Hills” was tough! If you see the new one, you will see all sorts of new interviews, a new audio commentary track and a lot of things that we just did recently which are really, really cool. I talk a great deal about the making of “Haunted Hills.” It was a really tough project. Ya know, it is an independent film, financed and produced by myself and my ex-husband. We shot it in Romania and it was a tough film to make! Ask anybody who has made an independent film, you are holding your breath every day! [laughs] You are always hoping that nothing happens that will shut down the production! It was tough in that way. I was happy to make it, thrilled actually to have it made and get it done. It was a tribute to Vincent Price, who was my favorite actor and my idol growing up. It is also a tribute to the Roger Corman’s Edgar Allen Poe films that I grew up with as a kid. I loved them! The obviously had a great deal to do with shaping my life!
I know you have many irons in the fire but when we talked a few years back, you had an animated project in mind for Elvira. What are the chances of a third Elvira film to complete your “Unholy Trilogy” of sorts?
It is not something, unfortunately, that I have been spending a lot of time on lately because as you said, I have so many other things that are more pressing. It is always something that is always in the back of my mind and I really do hope that I can move forward with it. It is just a matter of selling it to someone. Ideally, I would like Tim Burton to be the one that I sell it to. He doesn’t know it yet, but he is going to make it, someday!
We will make sure he finds out because that would be terrific!
Thanks! [laughs] Tim is always the last one to know!
One of your coolest projects over the last year has been “Elvira’s Movie Macabre.” I know you fought tooth and nail for its return and it has been well worth the wait.
What has been the biggest challenge in bringing that project to life?
Oh man! I tell you, just finding a home for it and trying to get it out in syndication was really daunting. The syndication market was never great but now with the advent of the Internet and Hulu and with television struggling along like it is, it was really hard to get a place to air the show. It was very, very challenging and nothing short of a miracle that I got it back on the air. Unfortunately, that was only for a year and the series just ended in September. So now, I am looking for another home for it. I am exploring different cable venues and also foreign distribution. I think that my next frontier is definitely going to be the Internet. I just have to figure out how to make money doing that, ya know! [laughs]
There is little doubt it is tough making money from the Internet!
Yeah, it’s just me, you and everybody else trying to figure that one out, right! [laughs]
Has the process of putting together shows like “Elvira’s Movie Macabre” gotten any easier through the years?
NO! [laughs] It really hasn’t! It is a struggle. More and more people are vying to do that kind of thing and there is a bigger market — I can’t say that. How can I put it without going into a very long story? You see, there are smaller and smaller pieces of the pie but every individual person is able to get out there and do their own thing now. The television and music industries are going through now, what the music industry went through a few years back. Everyone is kinda making their own programming, ya know? That is really good for the little guy as opposed to the big guy, the corporations. It is both good and bad.
With the market changing the way it is, do you think we will ever see a return to that amazing era of “The Horror Host” you helped pioneer in some form or another?
Yeah, I definitely do! For a while there, even if you would have asked me that question about a year ago, I would have said, “No! I think that it’s dead and gone.” I now see, when I travel around the country, so many more people, younger people, getting into the whole genre and doing the whole horror hosting thing in their little area of the world, doing it on their own and on the Internet as I mentioned. I think that just because of the Internet, that it will be back and it will stay around. I think that if things stayed the way that they were a few years ago, that it definitely would have been a dying art. I am really glad to see that it is back and that more people are hosting horror movies than ever or at least more than has been done in the past 10 years or so! It’s great!
You have had one of the most unique careers in Hollywood and surely have seen interesting things along the way. Any chance for an autobiography documenting some of your adventures in the future?
Oh my God! [laughs] I have been talking about doing one for about 20 years! It is one of those things that takes a lot of time and right now — I don’t have a lot of time! [laughs] I am busy making money over here, trying to find new projects and do new things, so an autobiography, which I would love to do, is something that I need to sit down and take a big chunk of time to do. I don’t want to get a ghost writer. I want to write it myself, since I am a writer after all! [laughs] I just can’t find those several months to take out and not do all of the rest of the stuff that I need to do!
As you mentioned, you always have a lot of irons on the fire. What can you tell us about the things you have coming up we should be on the lookout for?
I am very excited that the DVD of my syndicated show, “Elvira’s Movie Macabre” is on DVD, as you mentioned. That is coming out every other month, as they are releasing a couple at a time, there will be 26 total. There will be six that haven’t aired on television! Having six never-before-seen episodes is really cool! And of course, we mentioned that “Haunted Hills” has just been released with tons of bonus features that have never been seen! Something else that I have coming out is a social networking game that I am very excited about! That will be out next year! The thing I am most excited about right now is the Elvira wine! It will be out this month! I have a new makeup kit as well. It is a high-end Elvira makeup kit, which I have never really had on the market. So, lots of little items coming up during the month of October and beyond! It’s moving right along! Elvira jewelry is on the way, even an Elvira tampon case! Being a guy, I am not sure you want to hear too much about that but it is pretty exciting for some of us! [laughs]
They say a career in the entertainment industry isn’t for the faint of heart. I am sure you’ve seen that first hand. What is the best piece of advice you can pass along to those out there who want to pursue a career in show business?
It would be one word — persistence. Just hang in there and don’t give up if that is really what you want to do! If you really enjoy entertaining in one form or another, whether it is being a director, writer, actor or musician, if that is really what you want, not just being famous, but you really enjoy creating and being a creative person, then just hang in there! I mean, it took me 30 years before I got the gig of “Elvira” and started making some money. For the first 30 years, I struggled, I took classes, I went on interviews just about every day, I basically starved and drove a really crappy car and lived in a horrible looking apartment! But if you can just hang in there, or out there in my case, long enough you will eventually make it!
Do you think there are any misconceptions about Elvira?
Yes! That I am the illegitimate child of Vincent Price and … — some drag queen! And Ru Paul! [laughs] No, I think that everybody pretty much knows everything about me. With the Internet, there is really nothing you can hide!
Being the driving force behind Elvira, what do you think the future holds for the Mistress of The Dark (and yourself for that matter!)? Hopefully, you don’t have any plans on hanging it up any time in the near future!
I don’t! I am going to hang in there as long as I can. I mean, you never know, look at Mae West, she was like 82 or something and still doing her gig! I think that even without me playing the part, the character will still stick around as a cultural icon. I am sure you will still see T-shirts and other merchandise, kinda like Betty Page or Marilyn Monroe. Hopefully, Elvira will be around for a long, long time!
Recently there were some rumblings about you doing fan conventions and if you would be putting the Elvira costume aside to do so. Just to clear up any confusion on that front, does this mean you will be doing more conventions but just not fully decked out in character?
Yeah! I actually am. I just decided that as far as doing conventions, I am going to hang up the costume because I look around and I see Bill Shatner and he isn’t wearing a Star Trek outfit. I see Robert Englund and he doesn’t have his fingernails on! I just started to think, “Why am I sitting here in costume?” I know that people love to see me in costume but it is tough to get all dolled up like that and then sit for four hours. I just decided to let Cassandra Peterson get out there and do all the heavy lifting and let Elvira relax a little bit!
Putting her to work are ya? [laughs]
Yeah! But as far as shows, hosting things and doing live appearances, I am definitely not ready to hang it up just yet!
I know you do a lot of charity work. Anything we should let people know about that you currently have going on?
Oh God! This sounds so bad but during Halloween, I am my favorite charity! [laughs] Halloween is the time of year where I work and make the largest segment of my income, so there isn’t any charity work that I am doing immediately. I always do a few little things though. For example, I have a little radio program in California, Santa Barbara County, for Halloween that helps foster kids. I am also working on a project for animals. It is a sterilization pill for dogs, which sounds scary but there are so many unwanted dogs, especially in foreign countries. In those countries, the dogs aren’t spayed or neutered and they are multiplying like rabbits and they end up starving to death or getting hit by cars. It is a really horrible situation. I am working on getting the word out about this new pill makes dogs sterile. I think it would be a huge boom to countries like India, Romania and Mexico where it is a serious problem.
Wow! That is very interesting. I know we here in America don’t often give the animal population problems elsewhere in the world a lot of thought.
Yeah. It sounds kinda creepy, I know but it would change the world as far as unwanted dogs go. So, we will see!
What is the best tip you can give your fans on making this Halloween memorable?
Hmm … dress up like Elvira! Buy the costume and you will have the best night that you have ever had! It will be memorable — whether you are a guy or a girl! Trust me! You won’t forget it!
Awesome! I may have to try that and I will report back to you! [laughs] Is there anything you would like to say to your fans before I let you go?
Absolutely! I just want to say thank you because I have the best damn fans that have ever lived! I really do! My fans are so lovable. They really, really, really love me and I just want to give them all a big, gigantic thank you! Keep checking in on Elvira.com and Elvira’s official page on Facebook!
Thank you very much for your time and all your hard work! As a fan, I really appreciate your dedication!
Thank you and Happy Halloween!