Every year when Halloween rolls around, people ask each other “What should I wear?’ “who should I be?” But no matter which trends are popular (I’m predicting Donald Trump, Justin Bieber’s penis and Rachel Dolezal this year) there are a few old standards that are always a hit: Sexy Cat, Ugly Witch, Superhero and the always alluring, Elvira.
This week’s History of Sex delves into that cult classic character, Elvira – Mistress of the Dark. The voluptuous horror hostess – a scantily clad witch who combines her overt sex appeal with a great sense of humour and a dark side – was created in the 1980s by Cassandra Peterson from a Valley Girl character that she improvised onstage as a member of the famed LA comedy troupe, the Groundlings. Roger Ebert explains her character as a cross between Mae West and Vampirella, but Elvira describes herself more as a combo of “Ann Margaret and E.T.”.
Peterson’s on stage persona did not blossom out of her improv career. Born in Kansas, her family moved to Colorado and as a teen she moonlighted as a go-go dancer at a men’s gay bar. Just a few days after graduating high school in 1969, the precocious teen drove to Las Vegas to be a showgirl, even dating ’68 comeback special Elvis when she was only 17! She famously lost her virginity to crooner Tom Jones, who was so rough with her that she needed stitches that night and then ignored her when she approached him the next day.
Peterson also dabbled in a film career early on, playing a showgirl in the 1971 Bond film “Diamonds Are Forever”, and as a topless dancer in 1974’s “Working Girls”. Neither role was that challenging, so she broke out of her comfort zone and moved to Italy in the early 70s to become a rock star. In Italy, she met famed director Frederico Fellini and scored a small part in his 1972 film “Roma”. Upon her return to the US, she toured with her comedy/musical act, the “Mammas Boys”; modelled in various men’s magazines, and finally joined the Groundlings in 1979.
After landing the Elvira TV gig, Peterson’s fame soared. She said, “I figured out that Elvira was me when I was a teenager. She’s a spastic girl. I just say what I feel, and people seem to enjoy it.” And enjoy it, they did. Late-night audiences in America and Canada alike loved her self-referential, sarcastic wit, and low-cut dresses… the overt sexual innuendos didn’t hurt either. The cheeky show spent seven years in syndication and reached its peak of fame in 1988 when she co-wrote and starred in the film “Elvira: Mistress of the Dark” alongside some of her Groundlings improv buddies.
But there is a comeback brewing in the cauldron. These days, the 64-year-old actress isn’t afraid to slip right back into that Angelina Jolie-esque costume. Just last October, Hulu commissioned the series “13 Nights of Elvira”, and she hosted Funny Or Die’s “Halloween Anthology” series of spooky comedy sketches.
And, as she had once said, “I developed faster than a Polaroid”, but unlike Polaroid, she’s here to stay.