Friday, September 17, 2010

Happy Birthday Cassandra (Peterson)!



Sharon Tate

Happy birthday wishes go out today for one of my favorite actresses, comedians, and my favorite Mistress of the Dark, Cassandra Peterson!
Those of you who are regular readers of this blog, and the Salvation Diary series, know that I've been a fan of Cassandra's and her alter ego, Elvira ("The Hostess with the Mostess") for a good long while. Indeed, she has helped me get through many difficult times in my sorrow filled and contemptuous past.
Ms. Peterson was born in "The Little Apple," Manhattan... Kansas, as an infant. Manhattan has the unique distinction of having the largest recorded earthquake originating in Kansas, a 5.1 that occurred on April 24, 1867. In an odd natural disaster coincidence, Cassandra's family moved to Colorado Springs because of a flood that inundated Manhattan.
She knew at an early age she wanted to be an entertainer. Before graduating from high school she worked as a go-go dancer in a gay bar. Just days after graduating, at 17 years old, she moved to Las Vegas (Nevada) to work as a showgirl, according to The Guinness Book of World Records she was the youngest to ever do so. She got a small part in the James Bond film, "Diamonds are Forever," as a showgirl, and dated Elvis Presley (who hadn't?), and posed topless for a Tom Wait's album cover in 1976.
Also during the 70s she went to Italy and became the lead singer in a rock band, and acted in Fellini's "Roma," before returning to the states.
She toured nightclubs in a musical/comedy act, before joining the Los Angeles based improv troupe, The Groundlings (notable alumni being Jennifer Coolidge, Will Ferrell, Jimmy Fallon, Jon Lovitz, Lisa Kudrow, Kathy Griffin, Cheryl Hines, Pat Morita, Paul Reubens, Conan O'Brien, etc., etc., etc.) where she created many of the "Valley Girl" character traits that would soon emerge as Elvira.
While in high school I used to save my lunch money in order to purchase doses of the hallucinogenic drug lysergic acid diethylamide, commonly known as LSD, or LSD 25 (which I found to be immensely ironic as later while in the navy I would serve for 3 years aboard a LSD 36, the U.S.S. Mt Vernon), which I would consume on Friday nights while watching scary movies on television.
Late Friday nights, Channel 9, the local station KHJ-TV, would broadcast "Fright Night" and "Seymour's Monster Rally," showing all of those scary movies (old B-grade horror films). The movie was "hosted," by Seymour, a creepy character played by the actor/comedian Larry Vincent, who would comment, make fun of, or ridicule the very movie he was hosting. I loved him and was a big fan (I think I even saw him in person once when he appeared at my high school in Chatsworth). Seymour ended his run in 1974, and I was sad, so I joined the navy.
In 1981, while I was still in the service, KHJ-TV thought about bringing a Freight Night type of program to Los Angeles (unfortunately, Mr. Vincent succumbed to stomach cancer in 1975), and Cassandra beat out 200 other auditioners, and was given wide latitude toward creating the character to host the films.
After giving her a wide latitude, the producers rejected her idea to look like the Sharon Tate character in "The Fearless Vampire Killers," who had red hair as did Cassandra. She and her friend came up with the idea sexy/punk vampire look, utilizing the wise cracking, quick witted, valley girl persona she had developed with The Groundlings... and Elvira, Mistress of the Dark was born. "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." -Wikipedia
"Elvira's Movie Macabre," quickly gained notoriety, no doubt partly due to Cassandra's tight fitting, ultra low cut black gown she wore each week (my lovely case manager, Erin, confided in me as we watched the feature film, "Elvira, Mistress of the Dark," "I wonder how she keeps those things in?" "I think she must use some kind of glue," I replied. "I think you're right."
"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. Like a macabre Mae West, she reveled in dropping risqué double entendres as well as making frequent jokes about her eye-popping display of cleavage... 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."
Well she certainly popped my eye, both of them, and after I got out of the service in 1982 I became a huge fan.
"Movie Macabre," ran through to 1986, but I do not recall watching it at night. That may be due to the massive amount of marijuana I was smoking at the time with my girlfriend Jan. I do remember watching it in the afternoons... while smoking marijuana, so KHJ may have been utilizing reruns. They do that sometimes.
But Elvira's popularity soared nationally. She was a frequent guest on Johnny Carson's "The Tonight Show," she took over Seymour's old job as host of Knott's Berry Farms Halloween Haunt in October (where I had the privilege of seeing her live in 1999), Cassandra's character became a brand name helping to sell products from "Halloween costumes, comic books, action figures, trading cards, pinball machines, Halloween decor, model kits, calendars, perfume, and dolls."
She was the SpokesMistress for Coors Light and Mug Root Beer. She guest starred on TV shows like "Chips," "The Fall Guy," and "Fantasy Island," and appeared on the cover of Femme Fatales magazine five times.
In 1988 Brandon Tartikoff, then president of NBC's entertainment division, and a big fan of Cassandra's Elvira, cleared the way for her first feature film, the aforementioned, "Elvira, Mistress of the Dark," and since then has made a second film, "Elvira's Haunted Hills," launched a home video series, and generally has kept pretty busy.
On Halloween night, 1992, she appeared with the Irish rock band, U2 at Dodger Stadium here in L.A., where she declared her candidacy for President of the United States, noting that "we already have two boobs [George H.W. Bush & Dan Quayle] in the White House, might as well be mine." It's a shame she lost the election. Elvira wouldn't have been dumb enough to enact NAFTA.
Cassandra married Mark Pierson on July 4th 1981, with whom she has one child. She is a strong supporter of gay rights, a vegetarian, and has appeared in a humorous halloween-themed ad for PETA promoting a vegetarian diet.
I hear her on the Stephanie Miller Newscast occasionally (where the Mooks, Chris and Jim fawn over her vast boobbashishness), where I've heard she's making plans for a return to television, which I wholeheartedly support!
And all of us here at Joyce's Take wish her good fortune in all of her future endeavors, and a very happy birthday! Happy Birthday Elvira! Ooopps, Cassandra!

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