Friday, September 17, 2010

Cassandra Peterson: Mistress of Elvira

Two paragraphs into Cassandra Peterson's bio I was blown away by the abundance of information contained therein; there's too much of it, in fact, to include here. For a dozen years before her Elvira persona was born and made her famous she'd already lived an awesome life. Although she is best known as a witchy, bitchy horror host the fame it afforded her was more a reward for an interesting and varied career than a premeditated act.

PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1951, by 1969, at the age of 17, she'd become the youngest showgirl in Las Vegas - as confirmed by the Guinness Book of World Records - when she worked at The Dunes. She briefly dated Elvis Presley, appeared in the 1971 film Diamonds Are Forever playing - what else? - a showgirl, and even moved to Italy to front a rock band called I Latins Ochanats. That's where she met director Federico Fellini who cast her in his 1972 film Roma; she also appeared in the 1974 film The Working Girls, and posed for the cover of Tom Waits' 1976 album Small Change.

Returning Stateside she toured gay clubs with a novelty act called Mamma's Boys before joining famed LA-based comedy troupe The Groundlings in 1979; it was there the personality of Elvira was more or less born. At the same time she was an on-air personality at LA radio station KROQ.

PhotobucketThe story of the creation of the Elvira character resides at the eye of a veritable pop culture hurricane; while Elvira was ostensibly based on Maila Nurmi's Vampira (brilliantly lampooned paid tribute to by Lisa Marie in Tim Burton's 1994 film Ed Wood) Vampira was herself based on Charles Addams' Morticia Addams, although the television version of Morticia (played by Carolyn Jones from 1964-6) and the movie version (popularized by Anjelica Huston) both imbued her with Nurmi's sexiness which was not present in the original Addams Family cartoons as they appeared in The New Yorker*.

Elvira was clearly an idea whose time had come; not only had punk given way to goth as the principal costume of disaffected teenagers, but the exploitation movies of the previous three decades were then being embraced ironically by jaded Baby Boomers and the up-and-coming cynics of Generation X alike. Elvira presided over all of it with a campy quip and a killer cleavage, having shot to almost instant fame simply by being at the right place at the right time. Her persona, though, had at least one unintended benefit; owing to the heavy makeup and wig she wore, at the height of the ensuing craziness Peterson was able to go out in public as herself without being bothered in the least!

*No one's quite sure what Daryl Hannah was getting at when she played Morticia in the 1998 film Addams Family Reunion, although Ellie Harvie did better with the character on TV in The New Addams Family. But I digress...

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

[i]cool posts, will be checking you again[/i]