September 17th 1951
On this day in horror history Cassandra Peterson, aka Elvira Mistress of the Dark, was born.
Ms. Peterson was born in Manhattan, Kansas, and grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
As a toddler, she pulled a tub of boiling Easter eggs off of the stove, burning over a third of her body and leaving her visibly scarred. She underwent seventeen skin grafting operations over the course of her childhood to repair the scar tissue. Now she covers some of her remaining scars (around neck and shoulders) with make-up or clothing.
Her mother ran a costume shop and frequently used the Cassandra as a model. “I would pick out whatever was the hot costume that year—Ginger from Gilligan’s Island, I Dream Of Jeanie, Miss Kitty from Gunsmoke—and my mom would make one in my size, so I would wear costumes to school all the time. Everyone thought I was a total freak. But I knew I would grow up and wear a costume one day, and that’s exactly what happened.”
She began her career at age 17 as the youngest showgirl in Las Vegas history in the show “Vive Les Girls” at the Dunes Hotel. After receiving advice from “The King” himself, Elvis Presley, she traveled to Europe where she pursued a career as a singer and actor. She worked in several Italian films, including Federico Fellini‘s (1972) and performed throughout Europe as lead singer of an Italian rock band.
Wanting to develop her acting and comedic skills, she joined the Groundlings improv troupe in 1979. “The Groundlings were definitely responsible for me being Elvira because I learned to be fearless, basically.”
In the spring of 1981, Cassandra Peterson was hired by KHJ-TV to host the Movie Macabre series for $350 a week. For the hostess role, they wanted a character who was vampy and dressed all in black, a take-off of Morticia Addams of The Addams Family. “Robert Redding, Peterson’s friend and make-up artist, came up with a brilliant take on a spooky female. Not quite witch, not quite vampire, just kind of a cross.” With a tight, black dress that revealed both leg and cleavage, and with a black beehive wig covering her natural strawberry-blonde hair, the character of Elvira was born.
“I like being two people. I like having a normal side and a weird side. I feel like I have two, two, two lives in one. And I just get do so much cool stuff.”