Saturday, September 18, 2010

Happy birthday Elvira !

Yesterday actress Cassandra Peterson celebrated her 61st anni-
versary and that may not tell you much. Which may be because she´s most famous for playing the part of horror hostess / movie star / cult siren / pop icon ELVIRA a.k.a. Mistress of the Dark.

I already did a post about her and while I´m still working on this year´s ELVIRA birthday post I realized that I never got around to post the follow - up. So without any further introduction is the post about ELVIRA in the original form without any new comments by me :

Originally posted on Sunday, November 9th, 2008

ELVIRA - Mistress of the Dark

I'm still reeling from Yesterday's herculean effort of finishing a post I usually need two days for in one. So today I'm going to do it nice and relaxed. That's why, to continue RETRO WEEK, I've decided to do ELVIRA. I mean to do a post about her. Dammit, you just can't help seeing double meanings in everything with her - even in a simple word like double. Must be her big pumpkins ( 34 - 21 - 34 ).

I already did a post about her on the 100th post on TALES FROM THE KRYPTONIAN but it doesn't have much links or clips, just the one for SEARCH FOR ELVIRA. So I'm doing a more extensive post although I totally swiped the text from CULT SIRENS. What did you expect ? I said I was going to do it more relaxed. Seems I'm the only one around here who plans on doing that since my mother is already beginning to sabotage my work by opening the drapes and blinding me with the sun. Which means that I have to do other stuff and can't add the pictures. Which would be useless anyway since I'm blind at the moment.


Cassandra Peterson was born on September 17, 1949, in Manhattan, Kansas and grew up in Colorado Springs. As a youngster, her idol was Ann-Margret, after seeing her performance alongside Elvis Presley in Viva Las Vegas, where A-M dances frenetically from start to finish. With a straight goal in mind, Cassandra finished high school and then moved to Vegas, where she became the youngest showgirl ever in the colorful history of the town. Happily, Elvis, in one of his many stops in Vegas, met Cassandra, advising her to became a singer. When the King himself backs you up, how can you go wrong? There's a rumor that Cassandra can be seen as a dancer in a club in the James Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever, resulting in her being an unexpected Bond Girl.

Suddenly, Cassandra found herself in Europe, as she became lead singer in an Italian rock band. Stopping in Rome, good luck permitted her to be cast in a future movie classic, nothing less than Fellini Roma. In 1973, she appeared in Working Girls in the U.S., with a rare (and very brief) nude scene. Cassandra created her own variety show, Mama's Boys, which she would take on tour around the country. At the end of the seventies, she joined an improvisation group having already Pee Wee Herman, Jon Lovitz and the late Phil Hartman as members. No doubt that this experience gave her solid grounds in playing comedy. All this alongside appearances on television (for Fantasy Island, Happy Days and St.Elsewhere) and motion pictures (for Cheech & Chong's Next Movie and Eyes of a Stranger).

But, finally, our actress' big break was on the horizon. I will digress a bit here, as I'll explain the "horror host" phenomenon on American TV. At the start of the fifties, as the new media of television was in its infancy, many stations bought packages of old horror movies from the thirties to be scheduled for late night programming. Very popular at that time was the series of Universal monster movies, which was introduced to a whole new generation watching these productions in what was often titled Shock Theatre. Thus, the tradition of having an host to introduce horror pictures to viewers was born with Vampira in 1954.

All this to mention that hosts were soon to be in vogue: other popular characters were Zacherle, Ghoulardi, Sir Graves Ghastly and many more, the vast majority using macabre humor and satire to spice up the viewing experience. So here's when and why Elvira was born, becoming host of Movie Macabre in October 1981 at KHJ-TV, a Los Angeles station. As she ridiculed the many lousy grade-Z pictures that she hosted, Elvira didn't shy away to use self-parody, with many subtle and unsubtle play on words, raunchy jokes and allusions to her personal life (and her prodigious physique). Of course, this was helped by an outrageous and sexy costume, a different wig that the one known today, and a personality based on the "Valley Girl"-type popular at the time.

May 28, 1982, remains an important date for Elvira's popularity, as she was host to a 3-D showing of The Mad Magician, starring Vincent Price. The film was really broadcasted in three dimensions, as was Elvira's bits. More than two million and a half special glasses were sold in the Los Angeles area. Were viewers more interested in an old and corny Price vehicle or in the sight of the charming hostess' ample chest? YOU TELL ME. This event would be followed by a first visit to The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and Movie Macabre would be now broadcasted across the country (excluding the State of New York!). Elvira recorded an album for Rhino and gave a short show in Times Square's Tower store. As Cassandra believed that no more than 10 persons would visit, a mob was involved in a riot and the police authorities were called to take charge. Elvira would next start a tradition to appear in popular TV shows, like CHiPS. At the end of 1982, she even was nominated for an Emmy for Best Local Show.

Elvira Day was held on March 9, 1984, in Los Angeles, as announced by Mayor Tom Bradley. In 1985, Elvira launched her own videocassette line, as she became host to Thriller Theater for LIVE Entertainment, introducing many classic bad movies. For us Canadians, it was the first opportunity to have a glimpse at what could be a typical Movie Macabre soirée. In selecting the titles herself, Elvira choose to be selective, refusing to present too gory productions (nixing Cannibal Ferox, for example). Cheesy monster movies from the fifties remained her personal favorites. Somewhere, a lucky artist got to reproduce our fiendish friend to became an immortal in the Movieland Wax Museum. D.C. Comics, in 1986, were the first to produce an Elvira comic book.

In 1987, Elvira became the first woman to be spokesperson for a beer company, that being Coors. 1988 is the year when Elvira invaded movie theaters with Elvira Mistress of the Dark. The movie didn't do much at the box-office but would become an incredibly good seller on home video.

Elvira began a big tour to promote the movie overseas, particularly in England, Spain and Japan. This time, Marvel Comics took care of the film adaptation in comic book form. The movie won the Critics and Audience prizes at the 18th International Fantasy Film Festival in Paris. Not the most subtle thing, Elvira Mistress of the Dark remains a pleasant viewing experience, for the star's many one-liners and imaginative costumes, as for its Las Vegas-style closing number.

1990 was the year when the official Elvira perfume came to be, named Evil, and which would be distributed in 15,000 stores. At this point, enumerating all the products bearing Elvira's name could take an entire website: video games, costumes, books, pinball machines, musical albums... a marketing flood still going strong to this day. Ah, those Elvira calendars...! 1991 saw the birth of Cassandra's only child, Sadie. In 1993, CBS canceled The Elvira Show after viewing the pilot episode, deciding that it was "too sexy"! Ignorant weaklings! Without any sign of being tired, Elvira continued to pop up everywhere, introducing Alice Cooper or White Zombie on stage, sharing bawdy jokes with Howard Stern on radio, participating in a horror show at Knotts Scary Farm (which she does since 1982). Her name would be associated with a series of frightful novel for youngsters and she eventually produced her own beer label, Elvira's Night Brew!

In 1997, her first official haunted house opened, Elvira's Nightmare Haunted House in Atlanta. She appeared on Nash Bridges as an owner of a S&M boutique (ouch!). In 1999, she was present at the Annual Roses Parade in Pasadena, well placed on a chariot displaying the newly created stamps honoring the great horror actors.

What about Cassandra Peterson in all this? She appeared sans Elvira disguise in Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold in 1987, playing the princess of the title city, under her real face, that of a gorgeous redhead with contagious smile. She also became a militant for groups fighting cruelty against animals. In 1994, she hosted an E! special dedicated to Scream Queens. She more recently was a guest right here in Montreal to introduce her last movie, Elvira's Haunted Hills.

Elvira's contribution to the world of horror fandom remains considerable. Since 1981, she's one of the genre's most passionate defenders. In consulting many of her interviews over the years, I can only deduce that she's an intelligent and wise businesswoman. What is her secret to conserve a youthful appearance? Is she the originator of the serum that many of our Sirens use? In any case, if Elvira is unable to spice your life with a bit of joy, well, there's no hope for you. Everyone on their knees, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark is now our High Priestess! Adore! Love! Worship! Make sacrifices!

By the way, the Spider - Man comic the guy is reading in the scene in the diner is AMAZING SPIDER - MAN 299 by Todd McFarlane .

more Elvira links : elvira entry at cult sirens / vampira entry at cult sirens

cassandra peterson wiki / cassandra peterson imdb

official elvira homepage / elvira fanpage / elvira on facebook

New to the blog ? Everything you need to know about TALES FROM THE KRYPTONIAN : top ten posts / more posts of interest


Terry Hooper said...

Wow. The cosmos is in balance! I was just reading something about Peterson,quite a few non-Elvira films to her credit. Of course,she did some very revealing nude shots when younger though is not ashamed of them -I never understand why in the US or UK actresses always claim they were young and ashamed of nude shots.
Peterson is a very attractive redhead in real-life and I think the perfect fantasy model for comic artists!
This is a great article -well done!

SUBZERO said...

Thanks for your comments. I just hope it´s okay to do two posts about Elvira in a row.

It´s not that comic related but since I already did a short post about her I can make an exception. Hey, what´s life worth if you can´t indulge yourself from time to time ?

In any case, this post was already written I had just forgotten to post it. Although I´m not sure if I can take credit for it all. I think I used a great part from the post at CULT SIRENS that you can find at the link section.

And I was already writing on the next Elvira post. So it´s better to have no content at all. Now bow down and praise the Mistress of the Dark, you maggots !