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Cassandra Peterson
Cassandra Peterson by Gage Skidmore.jpg
Peterson in May 2011
Cassandra Gay Peterson

(1951-09-17) September 17, 1951 (age 72)
Occupation Actress, author
Years active 1970–present
Mark Pierson
(m. 1981; div. 2003)
Partner(s) Teresa Wierson (2002–present)
Children 1
Cassandra Peterson's Signature.png

Cassandra Peterson (born September 17, 1951) is an American actress. She is best known for her portrayal of the horror hostess character Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Peterson gained fame on Los Angeles television station KHJ-TV in her stage persona as Elvira, hosting Elvira's Movie Macabre, a weekly B movie presentation. A member of the Los Angeles-based improvisational and sketch comedy troupe The Groundlings, Peterson based her Elvira persona in part on a "Valley girl"-type character she created while a member of the troupe.

The popularity of Elvira's Movie Macabre led to the 1988 film Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, and later the 2001 film Elvira's Haunted Hills, both starring Peterson as Elvira. The television show was revived in 2010, featuring Elvira hosting public domain films, and airing on This TV until 2011. Elvira returned as a horror hostess in 2014 with 13 Nights of Elvira, a 13-episode series produced by Hulu, and again in 2021 for a one-night 40th Anniversary Special that aired on Shudder.

Peterson has made cameo appearances as Elvira in a number of films and television programs, including appearing as a guest commentator during WrestleMania 2 and as a guest judge on RuPaul's Drag Race, The Boulet Brothers' Dragula, and Halloween Wars.

Early life

Peterson was born in Manhattan, Kansas. When she was a toddler, she was scalded by boiling water, which required skin grafts to cover over 35% of her body to heal, resulting in her having to spend three months in the hospital. However, in her interview on the podcast Inside of You hosted by actor Michael Rosenbaum, Peterson stated that her scars were the result of a fire.

In a 2011 interview, Peterson stated that as a child, she was more fascinated by horror-themed toys while other girls were occupied with Barbie dolls. In elementary school, she watched House on Haunted Hill, which was the first horror film she ever saw. She graduated from Palmer High School in Colorado Springs.


Inspired by Ann-Margret in the film Viva Las Vegas, while on a trip to Las Vegas, Nevada, during high school, she convinced her parents to let her see a live show where she was noticed by the production staff; despite being only 17 years old, she convinced her parents to let her sign a contract. Immediately after graduating high school, she drove back to Las Vegas, where she became a showgirl in Frederic Apcar's pioneering "Vive Les Girls!" at The Dunes; there, she met Elvis Presley, with whom she went on a date. She had a small role as a showgirl in the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever (1971) and played in the film The Working Girls (1974). Peterson says that while she has no memory of the event, she appears to have posed for the cover of Tom Waits' album Small Change (1976).

In the early 1970s, Peterson moved to Italy and became lead singer of the Italian rock bands I Latins 80 and The Snails. After being introduced to film director Federico Fellini by the producer of a documentary on Las Vegas showgirls in which she had appeared, she landed a small part in the film Roma (1972).

In 1979, she joined the Los Angeles-based improvisational troupe The Groundlings, where she created a Valley girl-type character upon whom the Elvira persona is largely based.

Peterson was one of two finalists for the role of Ginger Grant for the third Gilligan's Island television movie in 1981, but was dropped before filming. Shortly after that, KHJ-TV offered her the horror host position. Peterson also was a personality on Los Angeles radio station KROQ-FM 106.7 from 1982 to 1983.

Elvira waving
Peterson as Elvira at the 2006 San Francisco Gay Pride parade

In 1981, six years after the death of Larry Vincent, who starred as host Sinister Seymour of a Los Angeles weekend horror show called Fright Night, show producers began to bring the show back.

The producers decided to use a hostess. They asked 1950s' horror hostess Maila Nurmi to revive The Vampira Show. Nurmi worked on the project for a short time, but quit when the producers would not hire Lola Falana to play Vampira. The station sent out a casting call, and Peterson auditioned and won the role.

After several years of attempts to make a sequel to Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, Cassandra and her manager and then-husband Mark Pierson decided to finance a second movie. In November 2000, Peterson wrote, again in collaboration with Paragon, and co-produced Elvira's Haunted Hills. The film was shot in Romania for just under one million dollars. With little budget left for promotion, Cassandra and Mark screened the film at AIDS charity fund raisers across America. For many people in attendance, this was their first opportunity to see the woman behind the Elvira character. On July 5, 2002, Elvira's Haunted Hills had its official premiere in Hollywood. Elvira arrived at the premiere in her Macabre Mobile. The film was later screened at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival.

In September 2010, Elvira's Movie Macabre returned to television syndication, this time with public domain films. In October 2014, it was revealed that a new series of thirteen episodes had been produced, 13 Nights of Elvira for Hulu. The show premiered on October 19, 2014, running through to Halloween.

As of September 2018, Peterson was working to develop a direct sequel to 1988's Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, as well as an animated Elvira project.

Non-Elvira career

Peterson has also portrayed non-Elvira roles in many other films, most notably Pee-wee's Big Adventure in 1985 alongside friend and fellow Groundling Paul Reubens, who starred as his Pee-wee Herman character; Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold, released in 1987, which starred Richard Chamberlain and Sharon Stone; and All About Evil, as a mother named Linda who says not to go to the old theater to watch scary movies.

Rob Zombie confirmed Peterson to appear in his The Munsters movie.

Personal life

Peterson married musician Mark Pierson in 1981, and he soon became her personal manager. They had one daughter, Sadie Pierson (born October 12, 1994), and were divorced on February 14, 2003.

Peterson released her memoir on September 21, 2021.

Peterson was a vegetarian for many years; as of 2021, she continues to maintain a "mostly vegetarian" diet.

Awards and nominations


Los Angeles Silver Lake Film Festival

  • Spirit of Silver Lake Award: 2001

Hollywood Horror Festival

  • Vincent Price Award: 2018


Saturn Awards

  • Best Actress: 1988

Raspberry Awards

  • Worst Actress: 1988

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Cassandra Peterson para niños

  • Midnight movie
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