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Elvira is the vampirelike persona of actress Cassandra Peterson. Elvira was created in 1981 after Peterson landed a job with KHJ-TV in Los Angeles as hostess for the station’s horror movie program, Movie Macabre. On May 23, 1982, she hosted a screening of The Mad Magician, a 3-D film. In connection with the show, more than 2.7 million pairs of 3-D glasses were distributed, and Elvira became the first person to appear on television in 3-D. Shortly thereafter, her new celebrity status was confirmed when she made an appearance on The Tonight Show, and Rhino Records released 3-D TV. Movie Macabre went into syndication. Peterson grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and began her career in show business as a showgirl in Las Vegas. She tried to break into films and television, and obtained a number of bit parts in various movies and TV shows. She tried out for the part of Ginger for Rescue from Gilligan’s Island (1978), a movie revival of the old television series, but lost out to Judith Baldwin. She had almost decided to quit show business when the offer came to host Movie Macabre. The character Elvira evolved over several months. It was created from a host of sources, but obviously drew on popular public images of female vampires such as Morticia Addams (of The Addams Family), Vampirella, and former television hostess and movie actress Vampira (Maila Nurmi). At one point Vampira accused Elvira of stealing her persona and filed suit, but the case was dismissed in court.
The sudden fame in 1982 allowed Elvira to make cameo appearances on several national television shows, and she put together a Halloween-oriented show at the Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park. Her television show was nominated for an Emmy award as the best local television show. Since that time Elvira has expanded the range of her appearances. In 1985 she began to appear on Thriller Theatre, a series of re-releases on video of old B-movies by LIVE Entertainment. Also in 1985, she received the annual Count Dracula Society Award from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films. In 1986, Marvel Comics began to publish Elvira’s House of Mystery, which ran for 11 issues. The Elvira Halloween costume became the best selling costume of the 1986 season. In 1987, she made her first appearances in commercials for Coors BeerÆ, becoming the first female celebrity hired to endorse a beer product. To keep up with this variety of activities, Peterson founded Queen B Productions. While no one noticed that Cassandra Peterson (without the Elvira persona) had appeared in a number of films, in 1988 Queen B Productions began work on Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, a full-length feature film starring Elvira. The production did not do well as a movie (the distributor, New World Pictures, went out of business soon after its release), but it was shown on prime-time television and did quite well as a video. A single comic book issue was developed from the movie by Marvel Comics.
The production of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, required a sharpening of the image and the development of a story for the character. The movie attempted to explain her appearance by describing Elvira as descending from a line of sorcerers. Her mother had tried to break out of that lineage by marrying a mortal, and Elvira was the product of that union. Eventually, her mother was killed by her brother Vincent, and Elvira was raised in an orphanage. Elvira’s following was organized into the Elvira Fan Club (which may be contacted through the Elvira webpage at http://www.elvira.com/fanclub.html). For a number of years, the fan club published a newsletter, The Elvira Examiner. Members receive a bumper sticker, poster, decal, and button. The club also offers members a variety of products and paraphernalia with Elvira’s image, from an annual calendar to T-shirts and pin-up posters. Elvira’s image is marketed through Queen B Productions. Through it, a line of Elvira cosmetics was developed. There have been four Elvira games: a pinball arcade game, a hand-held computer game, and two computer role-playing games—Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1990) and Elvira II: The Jaws of Cerberus (1991). In 1993, a new comic book series, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, was launched by Claypool Comics. It ran monthly for 166 issues through February 2007. In 1996 the first of a new set of novels by Elvira and John Paragone appeared.
Peterson has been an activist for animal rights. In 1990 she released a perfume line that was the first to carry the cruelty-free symbol of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA); for this she won PETA’s Humanitarian Award. She has also appeared in ads decrying the wearing of furs. Elvira was the Media Guest of Honor at Dracula ‘97: A Centennial Celebration. Elvira/Peterson was active through the first decade of the new century with a wide variety of public appearances.
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