The evolution of Elvira: Cassandra Peterson is not so dark

Cassandra Peterson as Elvira.

Cassandra Peterson as Elvira.

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When Cassandra Peterson came up with the character of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, she didn’t think it would be a longtime commitment.

“I swear, when I first started doing the television show I didn’t think it was going to last past its first airing,” she says. “And the (television producers) didn’t either, because they were renting my couch, thinking the show wouldn’t last. Someone forgot to buy the couch and four or five years later the price of the couch, what they’d paid, was about $26,000! I bought it from them for $350, so I got the deal of the century!”

Peterson will appear in Knoxville at the Fanboy Expo this weekend at Chilhowee Park. She says she appears at 11 or 12 fan meeting events per year.

Peterson grew up in Kansas and Colorado, but Elvira grew up on TV. Peterson, who had a background in comedy and acting, was tapped to create a horror-show host character on KHJ-TV in Los Angeles in 1981.

Peterson says the character evolved slowly — much like the way she used to speak. That, she says, was because she was reading cue cards and, because she was nearsighted, the words had to be written very large and not many words would fit on a card and the cue card person couldn’t change them fast enough. She later had eye surgery, which was experimental at the time, to correct her vision.

“Then my speech got faster and faster,” she says. “So that evolved and my hair continued to get higher. It got higher and higher until around 1987 when I looked like Marge Simpson. It was ridiculous!”

The hair has since deflated and her dress “clevageness” has increased.

She says the main qualities that the character embodies are: “Spooky, sexy and fun.”

“I think of myself as a comedian ... without the funny element, it’s just another goth character. ... Without that I wouldn’t be Elvira — I would be Vampira. Without the background in the Groundlings and in improv there wouldn’t be a character.”

She worked with fellow comedian/writer John Paragon (who also played Jambi on “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse”) coming up with banter for the character for the television show.

The character quickly jumped from simply being a horror movie host to becoming a full-blown celebrity. At this point, her likeness or name has graced more than 400 products, from video series to perfumes. She has a new perfume in development now.

“Elvira is a little company and I make 100 percent of the profits,” says Peterson.

She’s working on a reality show, the details of which she’s not yet at liberty to discuss, and also working on her autobiograpy.

Peterson says fans rarely recognize her when she’s not wearing the Elvira costume, which is a wonderful type of fame to have. Other celebrities she’s friends with have to wear disguises to go out in public while she only has to be herself.

She says the one thing that’s surprised her about meeting fans is how many people tell her they watched the show with their parents.

“It’s not exactly family entertainment, but I’ve worked very hard to keep the character PG-13.”

She’s also not a fan of most modern horror movies.

“None of them leave anything to the imagination. There’s so much CGI and detail, your imagination doesn’t have to work. They also got way into violence against women, like ‘Saw.’ I don’t consider that horror. It’s more like the evening news. I have a love for ’50s and ’60s horror films. They’re like comfort food for me. I’ll just get my blankie and snuggle up.”

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Fanboy Expo

With: Elvira, Lee Majors, P.J. Soles, Billy Dee Williams, stars of “The Walking Dead,” and many others

When: Friday-Sunday, May 31-June 2

Where: Jacobs Building, Chilhowee Park, 3301 E. Magnolia Ave.

Tickets: $20 daily, $40 weekend pass, VIP packages available, celebrities charge for autograph sessions, www.fanboyexpo.com.

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Comments » 2

ccjs writes:

HOw old is this woman? I went to a Halloween party dressed like her in 81/82.

OneModerateVoice writes:

in response to ccjs:

HOw old is this woman? I went to a Halloween party dressed like her in 81/82.

Forget that... how long is the shelf life of Silicone?

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