A brief note before the interview begins: Since Ms. Peterson is a very busy actress, she was only able to answer about half the questions I had for her. As such, this interview won't be as long as some of my others. I appreciate Ms. Peterson's agreement to work with me, and Paul Gendreau for helping to set things up.
When one thinks of horror movies, one thinks of names like Frankenstein and Dracula, the Thing From Another World and The Blob, Jason and Freddy. All of them were men, or at least man-like.
There is one woman, though, who stands atop the mountain of horror, with a hurricane of puns and double entendres at her disposal. That woman is Cassandra Peterson, also known as Elvira, Mistress Of The Dark.
Since the early 80s, Elvira has been a representative of horror movies in all their glory, scary, campy and otherwise. As Elvira enters her 4th decade, here's a quick interview with the woman whose name has become synonymous with Halloween.
The RetroJunk Interview With Cassandra Peterson!
Caps: What were your pop-cultural likes growing up?
Cassandra: As a kid, I was, oddly enough, really into collecting and putting together model kits of famous monsters...Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy...All by Aurora, I believe. A little later on, in my teens, I got into Beatle memorobilia big-time! I had everything...Trading cards, bobble head dolls, posters, t-shirt, books, and on and on. Sadly, my mom dumped it all after I left home.
Caps: What were your school days like?
Cassandra: Pretty lonely. I was a geek and had a hard time making friends with mutual interests. By the time I was in high school. I was already working outside of school or hanging with the hippies in the park, so hardly remember being there!
Caps: What inspired you to become an entertainer?
Cassandra: I remember the first time I decided that I was going to be an entertainer. It was when I was about 14 and I was sitting in the Chief Theatre in downtown Colorado Springs, CO, watching Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret In "Viva Las Vegas"! I knew at that moment that I wanted to be whatever Ann-Margret's character was, which I took to be a Vegas showgirl. In any case, I obsessed night and day about it for almost 3 years, until a pretty amazing thing happened. I ended up in Vegas, as a showgirl at the Dunes Hotel...and dated Elvis!
Caps: You made your film debut in "Fellini's Roma". Can you still speak Italian, and if so, have you dubbed your Elvira projects for broadcast in Italy?
Cassandra: I lived in Italy for almost a year and a half, & yes, I speak Italian, although I haven't spoken it since the 70s, so am pretty rusty right now. I wanted so much to dub the Italian version, but because I wasn't in Italy at the time it was done, wasn't able to.
Caps: You worked alongside Phil Hartman in the Groundlings as well as in several other projects. For all the praise given to Mr. Hartman, there were also some people saying that he hid behind his characters the way that Peter Sellers did. Did you ever get that vibe when working with him?
Cassandra: Phil was one of my best friends and no, I never felt he hid behind the characters he portrayed. Perhaps he felt a need to be 'funnier' or perform in front of people who didn't know well. I don't know. I know a lot of comedians who can't turn off the funny, but Phil was definitely not one of them. He was a very sincere and honest individual who was liked by everyone he knew.
(On the left is an image of Cassandra in "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure", which was co-written by Phil Hartman)
Caps: How did you come up with the character of Elvira?
Cassandra: I was an actor in Hollywood looking for a job when I heard about a casting call for a horror host at a local L.A station to take the place of the former horror host there, Seymour, who had passed away. After getting the job, dressed in my regular clothes, I was told I needed to come up with a "spooky look". Together with my best friend, Robert Redding, who was an artist and designer, we came up with a look that was something like Sharon Tate in "The Fearless Vampire Killers": Gauzy tatttered gown, long red hair and pale ghostly make-up. The general manager put the kibosh on that idea, saying I needed to be in all black. Robert went back to the drawing board and came up with the present day look. He got the make-up idea from a book on Kabuki theatre, the hairstyle from his favorite singer, Ronnie Spector of The Ronnettes, and the dress was just as tight and sexy as we could get it!
Caps: What are your feelings on horror films today as opposed to those of your youth and/or the ones you've aired on "Movie Macabre"?
Cassandra: A lot less is left to the imagination and all spelled out for you with expensive special effects. I think many of the old movies were so much more terrifying because what's in your imagination has the potential to scare you so much more than what someone can "feed" you.
Caps: If you could go back to your youth with the knowledge that you have now, would you do anything differently?
Cassandra: Not really. However, it would be nice to have the confidence in myself that I have now and do all the same things one more time!
Once more, I would like to extend a tremendous thank you to Ms. Peterson for working with me, and to her P.R agent Paul Gendreau for assisting me as well.
For more on Cassandra Peterson's Elvira and "Movie Macabre", visit http://modlife.com/elvira
To end the piece, here's a vintage music video for Elvira's song "Trick Or Treat":
Talk to you soon!