It’s Halloween, and Elvira is back and supporting LGBTs

For decades, Elvira has been synonymous with Halloween and all things spooky. But the woman behind the dark wig and macabre make-up is Cassandra Peterson, a gifted actress with a special place in her heart for the LGBT community. She did, after all, get her start as a drag queen in a Colorado gay nightclub and as the frontwoman to an all-gay male band.

Since then, Peterson has amassed legions of gay fans playing the campy vamp Elvira: Mistress of the Dark. Her wickedly vampish appearance offset by her comical character, quirky and quick-witted personality, and Valley girl-type speech quickly gained her notoriety. At 61, Peterson is showing no signs of retiring.

Last year, Elvira’s highly-anticipated return to TV included a stint as guest judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race and a revival of her 1980’s hit series Elvira’s Movie Macabre. From 1995 to 1997, Elvira even made appearances at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando for “Elvira’s Friday the 13th” events held whenever the 13th of a month fell on a Friday. Shedding her black beehive and slit dress for oven mitts and pearls, Peterson has begun shooting the dark comedy, First Period – one of her few roles sans Elvira.

Everyone’s favorite mistress let down her wig and took time from her clearly chaotic bewitching season of conventions, movie premieres and a number of film and television projects – including her return to the panel of impressive guest judges on RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars – to chat with me about a new TV series coming this fall, being a gay icon, and how she felt the first time she ever saw an ”Elvira” drag queen.

ERIK RAYMOND: What projects currently have your attention?
Elvira: I’m working on a TV show that I can’t talk about. [Laughs] I hate that I’m not allowed to talk about it; those darn confidentiality contracts. I’ll just say, by this Halloween, I will have a new show on television.

Besides that, I’m doing a couple of guest appearances on reality shows this fall.

I just finished Elvira’s Horror Hunt with Peaches Christ. For, she and I did this independent film fest contest then screened the winning movies live. It was very Siskel and Ebert.

Tell our readers about your beginnings performing in a Colorado gay club.
[Laughs] How sick is that? I was a girl, playing a guy, playing a girl. Weird, right? I was a go-go dancer for several clubs and I used to go to this one club called Purple Cow. I didn’t even know what gay clubs were back then. So, when I saw these men dressing up as women, I thought, ”Oh, how cool!” Eventually, they gave me a job dancing there one night a week. I guess so they could get straight guys in there, too. One night, a ”girl” didn’t show up for the drag show and they asked me if I would play her part as part of The Supremes.

Strangely enough, I could fit in her costumes because she was so skinny. Not only was I in drag but I was in black-face and we were singing under a black light so all you could see was the whites of our eyes and the white gloves as we lip-sang.

Best known for being the mistress of the dark, I have to ask; what scares you?
Obviously, doing this interview considering how long it took me to call you back. [Laughs] I swear it was nothing personal; interviews just scare me because I have to sit and talk about myself. That’s scary. I’m not scared of much else. I think about the things I have to deal with, like when my cat brings in dead animals or when I have to take spiders I find inside and put them back outside. I like snakes; I’ve had them since I was a little girl. Most of those things that generally scare people don’t bother me.

How similar are you to your character “Elvira?”
Elvira has a lot more confidence than I do. A lot more “balls,” I guess. I wish I could be more like Elvira. She’ll say anything, do anything. I’m a little more shy, believe it or not. I tend to like to be by myself a lot. If I’m out, doing events, I’m “on”but I prefer to be more introverted. Elvira’s my extroverted self. Yes, I know that sounds kind of schizophrenic. I’m like Sybil. [Laughs]

When did you realize you had become a gay icon?
I’ve been around so many gay men that I thought I was an icon even before I was “Elvira.” [Laughs] I had a band called Mama’s Boys. It was myself and seven gay men. Clearly, I was “Mama.” It was a dancing and singing revue during the whole disco era of the 70s. We traveled around and played clubs for about a year and a half. I felt like a gay icon then. Playing all those gigs, gay men just kind of flocked to me. I don’t know what it is. They love me. [Laughs]

When I became Elvira, of course the gays loved me. And I love them. It’s a love fest. I’m one of those one-name divas like Cher or Madonna. I think gay men love sexy, strong women – not sexy, mamby-pamby kind of women – but a strong female figure who’s even a little bit androgynous. Not super feminine and not masculine but sexy and powerful.

What was it like the first time you saw an “Elvira” drag queen?
True terror. [Laughs] Just kidding. It was more like, “Damn, she looks better than I do!” Actually, the first time, it was my friend Christian Greenia, who works with me and whose stage name is “Cassandra Fever.” He’s one of the best “Elvira” drag queens out there.

I met him when he was about 14 years old in full “Elvira” drag. He looked so amazing! I was so flattered. I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t kidding about him looking better than me though. It pissed me off. [Laughs]

Now, [Elvira drag queens] are like a dime a dozen.

What are some of your favorite classic/bad horror movies?
My favorite good bad movie is Planet 9 From Outer Space. You don’t get any worse than that. There is a new one that’s pretty freaking awesome called Birdemic. My god – you have to look it up! It’s as if Ed Wood came back to life. It’s obviously by someone who thinks they’re making a seriously good movie but – they’re not.

Nowadays, they don’t really make good bad movies – except for maybe Showgirls. It’s one of those films where you’re watching it and saying, ”Oh my God, you don’t know what you’re doing” when the sad part is, they think they do.

Do you know of an old movie that had this big carpet monster thing that would roll over its victims, devouring them? I remember seeing it as a kid and it freaked me out and obviously made me dislike shag carpeting.
I know exactly what you’re talking about. That’s The Creeping Terror. A dangerous shag carpet goes on a rampage and kills people. [Laughs] I can’t even believe I remembered the name of that movie.

Tell me more about your recent partnership with Stan Lee and Comikaze.
It’s really exciting! I went to Comikaze last year for their first expo and couldn’t believe how insanely good they’ve got their convention together. I generally, as a rule, do not go to first time conventions. I couldn’t believe how professional and put together it was. It’s like Comic-Con. They asked me to be involved – and of course with Stan Lee involved – I couldn’t pass it up. I’m part-owner and I’ll also be appearing each September, along with a whole merchandise booth.

I read that you’re a big proponent for animal rights and the vegetarian lifestyle. What are some of your favorite organizations?
I’ve worked with PETA as well as a number of others but unfortunately, I haven’t been able to do a lot of that lately. I’ve been working more with local humane societies. I’ve learned the issue is animal overpopulation. I like to be hands-on; go out and find dogs and cut their balls off. [Laughs] I feel like I’m the Lorena Bobbit of the animal rights world. Someone’s gotta do it so it might as well be me.

What’s your take on the recent movements in LGBT rights?
I’ve been going to so many gay weddings lately. Every state I go to, it’s a completely different format; some can have weddings, some can only have commitment ceremonies. I think it’s amazing how things are slowly moving forward. [LGBT rights] are definitely moving forward even though it seems like two steps forward, two steps back sometimes.

I didn’t think I’d see half the things in my lifetime that have transpired. When I was a kid, I couldn’t imagine in a million years that anyone would be able to marry their same-sex partner. While all the rights aren’t there yet for same-sex partnerships, you still get some of them. I feel we are slowly creeping in that direction though.

It’s like civil rights; it’s still going on decades later. But think about it, we have a black president! Who would’ve thought that would happen? Young gays are going to look back at this point in time and say, “Holy crap, look at everything’s that happened. We can get married without a problem.” It’ll be “normal.”

Once those sensibilities and ideas have been put in people’s minds, they can’t be taken away.

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Who: Cassandra Peterson aka Elvira: Mistress of the Dark
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Originally published by Watermark Media, Inc.