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Elvira, Mistress of the Dark is actually the actress Cassandra Peterson. She gained fame on Los Angeles television station KHJ wearing a black, gothic, cleavage-enhancing gown as host of Movie Macabre, a weekly horror movie presentation. Her wickedly vampish appearance was offset by her comical character, quick-witted personality and Valley girl-type speech. In the late spring of 1981, five years after Larry Vincent (who starred as host Sinister Seymour of a local Los Angeles weekend horror show called Fright Night) died, show producers began the task of bringing the show back. Deciding to use a female host, producers asked 1950s horror host Maila Nurmi to revive The Vampira Show. Nurmi worked on the project for a short time, but eventually quit when the producers would not hire Lola Falana to play Vampira. The station continued with the project and sent out a casting call. Cassandra auditioned against 200 other horror hostess hopefuls, and won the role. Producers left it up to Cassandra to create Elvira's image. She and best friend Robert Redding came up with the sexy punk/vampire look after producers jeered her original idea to look like Sharon Tate in The Fearless Vampire Killers. Shortly before the first taping, producers received a cease and desist letter from Nurmi. Unable to continue with the Vampira character, the name Elvira was chosen. What followed was Elvira's Movie Macabre featuring a quick witted valley-girl type character named Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. With heavily applied drag queen style horror make-up and a towering black beehive wig concealing her flame-red hair, the transformation from Cassandra Peterson to the sexy Elvira was so drastic that no one ever recognized her out of costume. The Elvira character rapidly gained notoriety with her tight fitting, low cut black gown which showed more cleavage than had ever appeared on local Los Angeles television before. The movies featured on Elvira's Movie Macabre were always B grade (or lower). Elvira reclined on a red Victorian couch, introducing and often interrupting the movie to lampoon the actors, the script, and the bad editing. Adopting the flippant tone of a California valley-girl, she brought a satirical, sarcastic edge to her commentary without ever being crass or mean-spirited. And like a macabre Mae West, she revelled in dropping risque double entendres as well as making frequent jokes about her eye-popping display of cleavage. In an AOL Entertainment News interview, Peterson revealed, "I figured out that Elvira is me when I was a teenager. She's a spastic girl. I just say what I feel and people seem to enjoy it." Her campy humor, obvious sex appeal, and good-natured self-mockery endeared her to late-night movie viewers as her popularity soared. At the same time Elvira was embraced as an icon of the waning 1980s punk movement as well as the emerging Goth subculture. The demand for Elvira increased throughout the Eighties. A frequent guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and many other talk shows, she also produced a long series of Halloween-themed TV ads for Coors Light Beer and Mug Root Beer. She did guest roles on television dramas such as CHiPS, The Fall Guy, and Fantasy Island, and appeared on numerous awards shows as a presenter. However, despite the fact that her success is forever linked to her image as Elvira, Peterson has never been reluctant to appear in television interviews and specials as herself. The Elvira character rapidly evolved from obscure cult figure to lucrative brand-name and "Mistress of all Media", spawning countless products throughout the 1980s and 1990s, including Halloween costumes, model kits, calendars, perfume, and dolls. She's appeared on the cover of Femme Fatales magazine five times. Her popularity reached its zenith with the release of the feature film, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (cowritten by Peterson) in 1988. She also did many non-Elvira character-roles in other films, most notably "Pee-wee's Big Adventure" (1985) with friend and fellow Groundling, Pee-wee Herman, aka Paul Reubens.


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