The Woman Behind Elvira: Cassandra Peterson
PRIDE
PRIDE

Episode · 1 year ago

The Woman Behind Elvira: Cassandra Peterson

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

She's a sexy, campy, horror icon and the Mistress of Darkness herself, Elvira. Beloved for her vampire sex appeal and satire, Elvira has been in numerous films and even inspired a comic book character. The woman behind the character, Cassandra Peterson, has been sitting on her throne as the Queen of Halloween for 40 years. But a recent revelation in Cassandra's new memoir has us falling in love with Elvira all over again. Cassandra is queer and has been in a relationship with a woman for decades. Today, We speak with Cassandra about creating the character Elvira, her decision to come out, and how Elvira is celebrating the spooky season. 

Be sure to check out Cassandra's new book Yours Cruelly, Elvira! Your host is Levi Chambers, co-founder of Gayety. Follow the show and keep up with the conversation @Pride. Want more great shows from Straw Hut Media? Check out or website at strawhutmedia.com. Your producers are Levi Chambers, Maggie Boles, Ryan Tillotson and Edited by Silvana Alcala Have an interesting LGBTQ+ story to share? We might feature U! Email us at lgbtq@strawhutmedia.com. *This podcast is not affiliated with Pride Media. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

Straw hut media. When you think of Halloween icons, a couple of names come to mind. The Charming Vampire Dracula, the horrifying mass Michael Myers, maybe the Green Monster inspired by Mary Shelley's Frankenstein novel. In honor of the spookiest time of the year, we wanted to bring a special guest to the show. She's a sexy, campy horror icon and the mistress of darkness herself, Elvira, beloved for her vampire sex appeal and satire. ELVIRA has been in numerous films and even inspired a comic book character. The woman behind the darkness, Cassandra Peterson, has been sitting on her throne as the queen of Halloween for forty years, but a recent revelation in Cassandra's new memoir has US falling in love with Elvira all over again. CASSANDRA is queer and has been in a relationship with a woman for almost two decades. Today we speak with Cassandra about creating the character Elvira, her decision to come out and how Elvira is celebrating the spooky season. I'm Cassandra Peterson and this is pride Cassandra was born to farming parents in nineteen fifty one in Manhattan, Kansas, but she's well known by her stage name, otherwise known as Elvira, mistress at the dark. ELVIRA was introduced to audiences in one thousand nine hundred and eighty one, four decades ago, as the television host and Elvira's movie macab a program where the hostess introduces Old Horror Movies home. Before becoming Elvira, Cassandra's lifestyle was less flashy makeup in high heels and more muddy boots and hurting cattle. Because I think a lot of people go, oh, she's a Hollywood celebrity, she didn't never have to work or do anything. You know, it's like no, no, you know, I started out on farm in Kansas. My parents were literally dirt poor and when I was on the farm I climbed up on a chair when I was eighteen months old to, I guess, look at some eggs that my mother was boiling for Easter and she had a big metal pot up there. I must have lost my balance and I grabbed the pot and pulled it over on me. So thirty five percent of my body was burned third degree burns. I really, really barely, barely lived. They actually left me in the Little Hospital in Manhattan Kansas. CASSANDRA state at the hospital for several days with doctors concern and she wouldn't survive the incident. Back then, if you were burn pretty much twenty five percent of your body, you didn't survive it because of the infection. And when I was still alive a couple days later, it told my dad to get me the Kansas City as fast as he could to this big burn center that happened to be there, which was a really lucky like the thing for me. And they use this new derivative of penicillin that had never been used and they just shot me full of this stuff. I mean so full that today I can't take then a sillin because it's like taking water for me. So they shot me full of this stuff and Lo and behold, I stayed alive. And then they went through many months to skin grafting, where they removed the skin from my thighs and stomach and put it on my neck and shoulders and back. CASSANDRA had severe scarring over a lot of her body, but luckily I only got burned on all the parts that elbara does not have to show...

...off. But growing up, the other kids at school noticed that Cassandra looked different because of her scars. The scars were purple and red and very, very raised. They would call her a monster and even made up rhymes on the playground about her appearance. I literally heard some kids doing a jump rope thing that had the words in it that that something about me being a monster. Literally, and and here I am. Monsters are my friends. CASSANDRA's love for elaborate costumes and stage performers started at a young age, as did her love for the city of Las Vegas. I was obsessed with the movie Viva Las Vegas, that start Elvis, Presley and then Margaret, and I mean when I say absist I mean I thought about every day, but watch it a million times, dreamed about at night. They dreamed about it in a day. And so when my parents were headed for California, I beg to go along with them. Will be stopped in Las Vegas. CASSANDRA was only seventeen at the time, but that didn't stop her from asking her parents to take her to a tits and feathers show. I didn't call it that to my parents, believe me, but so they let me. I dressed up. I put a little wiglet on, but tons of eyelashes and high heels and they're super low cut, you know, sexy outfit, and I had a fake ID. So I went with my mom and dad see the show and we sat down and about the worst seats they had. My Dad tipped them a dollar and I got us into the corner and we're sitting there in the major day came over and asked me if I was in one of the shows and I was like, Oh my God, no, no, no, don't really. I was afraid I was going to get busted. You know, me and my parents would end up in the slammer, so I tried to ignore him kind of a few minutes later, they dance captain came out and asked me if I would come back stage with her where she asked me to dance to a record that she put on. She and the stage manager and I did and they said if you go and see the producer tomorrow, you could not do some for him? And we have new shows opening up called VV lay girls, which is really strange because the Las Vegas. Now I'm getting to be in Viva lay girls and I auditioned the next day and I got the job. So I had three more months to go home and finished high school and make my parents life a living hell because they didn't really want me to be danceing around semi naked on stage at seventeen. But I finally tortured them and designing the document that would allow me to do that. Immediately after graduating high school, she drove back to Las Vegas where she became a show girl in Frederick AP car's production of evilla girls at the Dunes Hotel. She became Las Vegas is youngest show girl at that time at the age of seventeen, and they ended up meeting Elvis and and Margaret, both while I was there. So the entire movie just completely came through. It did. It was so bizarre. Cassandra also brought her show were a roll to the big screen when she started in the James Bond film diamonds are forever and played a dancer in the one thousand nine hundred and seventy four film the working girls. She did it all. She was a lead singer into Italian rock bands Latins Eighty and the snails start in the film Roma. Toured the US with a musical comedy act called Mama's boys, before she settled in Los Angeles at an improvisational troupe known as the groundlings. It's here that she likely picked up the persona that would later carry her into the character of L Vira. I heard about the job for a horror host here in a local at a local television station in La I heard about it when I was on my honeymoon in one thousand nine hundred and eighty one and I did not want...

...to come back for it. But I got home a couple weeks later and they were still looking for someone to host these sort of got awful horror movies that they had, and I went in for the audition. There were many other women there and unfortunately I was not dressed spooky, but they all were. So I really thought my chances were less than zero, but I somehow got the job. I think it had to do with my comedy Improv background. I've been in the ground links for the previous four and a half years and I ended up getting the audition and then my best friend and I came up with a look and yeah, here I am forty years later, still doing it. The alviral we know and love has jet black hair, a smoky eye and Red Lips. Think Mortisha Adams from the Adams family, but sex here. We didn't want to you know, when they said you have two look spooky. We didn't want to do the regular old black dress, black hair, you know that go down that same road without let's do something different. And My friend Robert Reading at the time, he he and I both love the movie that Sharon Tate had start in, the fearless vampire killers. So we thought we'd go with a look like share and take in that movie. And that was like a die off in this pink sheer down and that was kind of tattered and then Pale face, long red hair and you know, kind of a dead girl makeup look, and that's what we wanted to do. But the station, I mean then we took the drawing that he did, the sketch, and they were like now, now, now it has to be all black. Yeah, to a black dress. You have that black hair. Forced to think inside the box, Cassandra had to get creative to bring to life a character different from the previous host vampire. So we tried to s so up a little bit. You know, we put a little some leather bracelets in there with studs on them and and of course made the cleavage as insanely low as we could see if we could get away with that. That's always good for ratings. We knew that and we were surprised they let us keep the cleavage. You kind of just drew it that way. And then we were actually shocked when we took the picture in and that the studio manager said, yeah, that that's okay, but can you raise the slid on the leg a little bit higher? And we were like, okay, see your station, whatever you want, and we did that and there you go with a wig, a full face of makeup and a new wardrobe. Cassandra said, taking on the roll of Elvira is a lot like drag I felt like I'm a drag queen since the second I started that. I honestly, I think all my life I felt like I was a gay man. That's the weird part. I hung out with so many gay men that I think I just became one. And and I am definitely a drag queen. People ask me about that and I say there's no difference between me and a drag queen. We all wear the same hair and the makeup and the dress and the push up things. Only differences. I don't Tuck, you know, and that's about it. Elvira challenges audiences expectations by demonstrating that looks are often deceiving, reaffirming the adage that you should never judge a book by its cover. She's someone who first surprises viewers with her appearance before putting them at ease with her sarcasm and sexual innuendos. She's not in a supporting role for the male characters. She's an empowered character who takes control of the narrative and jokes surrounding her sex and appearance. She's always making fun of herself. But I think when people look past the cleavage and the weird mag up in hair, that they sometimes overlooked the fact that elvire is actually knows what she's doing. In a strange way, I knows how to do...

...it and kind of does it all for herself. She doesn't wait for anybody to do it for her or to rescue her from that mackey situations she gets in. She just lays it all out there. You know on her own. ELVIRA was the first horror host ever to be syndicated nationally. She went on to create self titled Movies, Halloween Albums, books and countless products. In September two thousand and ten, elvirus movie macab returned to television syndication, this time with public domain films. In two thousand and fourteen, Elvira moved to streaming services. Her new thirteen episode series, thirteen nights of Elvira, premiered on Hulu. CASSANDRA's own everyday look could not be more different from her character Elvira. If you saw her out on the street, you probably wouldn't recognize her. I'm telling you, I could walk into giant crowd and no one would know it was me. I'd walk around comic cons and stuff looking at what was going on and nobody would know it was me back then. Now, I think, you know, they're seeing me more and they've seen me more over the years, so they're kind of putting two and two together once in a while, but still not even that frequently. So that was awesome actually, because it was great to be a celebrity when you wanted to be one and be a regular person when you didn't want to be one. When it comes to the personality of Cassandra and Elvira, she used to say they had nothing in common. People would say, are there any characteristics that you two share in a no, none. She is this and I am that. And then one day I came to realize that Elvira is really a part of my personality and that part is my teenage self. I think when I was like fourteen to seventeen, I was kind of this loud mouth, smartass, don't take any shit from anybody, kind of teenager. I was really tough and I think Elvira, I think I honestly channeled that part of my personal now at the off into this character of Elvira. I really believe she is my teenage self. So so, yeah, there are similarities and stuff, but it's it's great to keep the two separate. When we come back coming out her new book and what Elvira is up to this Halloween, welcome back. Today we're chatting with Cassandra Peterson, who brought to life our favorite horror hostess, Elvira, the mistress of darkness. After four decades of stardom, Cassandra came out to her fans as queer when she published her Memoir Yours, cruelly, Elvira, I really thought about writing my book for almost more than fifteen years. I my fans would always say when you're going to write your autobiography, and my friends used to beg me to tell my life story because they said it's so bizarre nobody's going to believe it. So I thought about it for a long, long time and then I finally sat down and, you know, did the actual work. The memoir gives readers a look at the woman behind the Queen of Halloween. It details her upbringing, her rocky relationship with her mother and her road to Hollywood. But what fans weren't expecting was to be introduced to Teresa Weirson, t CASSANDRA's longtime girlfriend. Well, there were a lot of things in my book that I had to think long and hard about putting in the book. Yeah, there are a number of those things, but I decided if I'm going to tell the story of my life, then I'm going to tell it and I'm going to say everything that I've never said. I'm going to just spill it all out there, you know. And and why write an autobiography and keep all of that to yourself and not tell anyone. So there were a number of things like...

...that, but I really figured, if not now, when am I going to tell that story? Before publishing the book, Cassandra was worried about how her fans would react. With Alvirah being well known as a sex icon and her previous marriage to her manager Mark Pearson, everyone already had this idea of Cassandra. It was a big decision and I'm glad I actually waited till now because I don't want to take any of the mystery away from the character. or it really didn't. I kept my private life very private because I didn't want outpire to be Jesus entity to her own, you know, and I didn't want to screw it up and water down with my life. You know, I'm married, I have a baby, or now I have a no partner of female partner. I didn't want all that to come in and sort of taint the brand in a way, you know. But it had to come out sometime. CASSANDRA and tea had lived in the shadows for nearly two decades and she knew things needed to change. Not Telling people about that was such a weird feeling. I'm always introducing my partner as my assistant and it it feels bad for her, felt bad for me, and I just was looking forward to the day when I didn't have to do that and we didn't have to pretend to be something we're not, you know. So it was really a gigantic relief for both of us. So far it's been fantastic and the outpouring of love from the especially from the gay community, has been amazing. CASSANDRA and tea have been together for more than nineteen years. When they initially met, the horror hostess mistook tea for a man. In her memoir she said often when I was doing my pre workout on the treadmill, I couldn't help noticing one particular trainer, Tan tattooed and muscular, stalking across the gym floor, Nick Cap pulled so low over his long brown hair that it nearly covered his eyes. Dark and brooding, he gave off such intense energy that when we crossed the enormous gym floor, the waters parted and people stopped in their tracks to stare. Cassandra realized her partner was actually a woman. After encountering her in the women's Locker Room. A friendship formed, but eventually became romantic. After CASSANDRA's twenty five year marriage to a man ended, tea had also just gone through a breakup and showed up at her house one rainy night. How fitting. After that, Cassandra noticed she had this desire to kiss tea. She wrote. I think I was even more surprised. What the hell was I doing? I'd never been interested in women as anything other than friends. I felt so confused. This just wasn't me. I was stunned that I'd been friends with her for so many years and never noticed our chemistry. I soon discovered that we connected sexually in a way I'd never experienced, which is a great story right, good enough to be an elvirus storyline one day maybe. I think it's already been done in rocky horror pictures show this show up in the rand rainy night, you know, end up with a you know, transsexual, transvestite, whenever frank converter called himself. But yeah, there's a little element of that. I don't know. I don't know. ELVIRA is Alva is as just pretty straight, and I'll tell you she's a big horn dog that she is after guys all the time, so I don't know if that would ever leak over into the ELVIRA world. I think that part's probably going to stay with me. There are a lot of drag queens who impersonate you, specifically during the month of October, as you would imagine. Have have you had any run INS with Alviras in the wild that really left an impact on you? Well, the main one that really left an impact on me is my the guy that does my social media,...

Christian Greenia, and he's a part time drag queen known as Cassan for fever, and he is a fantastic, and I'm mean fantastic, elbara drag queen. We have some footage that I don't know if it's him or me, that's how weird it is. He even talks in my voice. It's so bizarre. But because he was a my drag queen, we became friends. I met him when he was really young. Then he started doing Elvir drag and we became really close. I call him my illegitimate son, and he does all my social media for me and he does a fantastic job on it because he knows me inside and out. He knows everything about me and he's been in on the Alvar again doing my wigs and and helping me with everything, with my my previous book. That was a photos alvar. Those my coffin table book, and and he just he knows more information about me than I do. I think so. Yeah, that was a major thing. That drag queen becomes my my alter ego, almost just like December for Santa Claus, October is Cassandra's busy season. Well, it's the month where I pack like one year's worth of work into one month, and I'm not kidding. I start working at sometimes five six in the morning and finished late at night, and that's about seven days a week during October. During the rest of the year I'm getting everything set up and I do all the business and of Elviraate the licensing merchandising. Of course I have a great team that does it with me. If the time of year were Cassandra and Elvira become one in the same Cassandra said she's always had a soft spot for the fall season. Halloween was always, always my favorite holiday, even as a child, because my mom and my aunt owned a costume shop. So that was our big, big holiday, was when my mom made most of her money and when our whole family came and pitched in at the costume shop and when I got to wear fabulous costumes because they would make them for me. So so Halloween. You know, Halloween turning out to be the main source of my income, the main source of my pleasure. Everything is kind of I think that was meant to be, because it always has been. But now I do have a little bit of a love hate relationship with Halloween because, I mean, I I love Halloween on one hand and on the other hand, I working my ass off during that month. I don't really get to go to parties or where different costume or, you know, open the door for trigger treaters or any it's kind of like power dude, all the fun parts went away. That's because you are the fun part for everyone else. Yeah, exactly. Somebody has to do it, somebody asked to do it, might as well be me. If you're looking for moral Vira in your life, this is your lucky year. Cassandra said she's busier this year with projects than she's ever been. But how can you get involved? For One pick up the book yours, cruly Elfira. I have thousand copies here behind me. And for another I'm on shutter streaming, on shutter where I host for awesome, awesome horror movies, one being Elvira, mistress at the dark, which is the best one of all, and I'm also doing an episode of the Goldbergs this last week of Halloween. I'm on billboard, so allar over the country for Netflix, you know, kind of hawking their movies that are coming out all month long, their horror movies. So it's like an exciting year for me and maybe the biggest year I've ever had. But the most important question to ask the Halloween Queen is if she's on a date with the...

...most dashing creature of the night. Who's sitting opposite her? You know, I think I have to go with Dracula because, I mean, come on, it's so sexy. I mean he's a vampire and you're been female draculast like one of my favorite old, old, old movies is Dracula's daughter, and there's always this sexiness involved. They're not just a monster, you know, stumping through places leaving mayhem in their wig. They are so dark and sexy and smooth, so I'M gonna GO WITH DRACULA. Pride is a production of Straw heat media. If you like the show, leave us are rating and to review on Apple, podcast, spotify orhever you listen to podcast, then follow us on Instagram, facebook and twitter at pride and tune in weekly for new episodes. Be Sure to share this episode with your friends and subscribe for more stories from Amazing Queer people. Subscribe seriously, at the button subscribe. Do it. Leave a review, a positive one. I don't want you to negative reviews. If you'd like to connect with me, you can follow me everywhere at leave by chambers. Pride is produced by me, you, by chambers, niggie polls, Ryan Tillotson, Caitlyn mcdaniel and Brandon marlow edited it by Silvana, I'll Calla, and Daniel Ferreira, sound mixing by Silvana, I'll calla. I mean, I would imagine. To be honest with you, growing up I didn't know. I honestly thought ELVIRA was Elvira in real life, like that's just I've just pictured this person who lived in, like you know, the haunted house on the hill and was like a real life monsters.

In-Stream Audio Search

NEW

Search across all episodes within this podcast

Episodes (151)