(born September 17, 1951) is an American actress best known for her portrayal of the horror hostess character Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. She gained fame on Los Angeles television station KHJ-TV wearing a revealing, black, gothic, cleavage-enhancing gown as host of Elvira's Movie Macabre, a weekly horror movie presentation. Her wickedly vampish appearance is offset by her comical character, quirky and quick-witted personality, and Valley girl-type speech. From Wikipedia.
Inspired by Ann-Margret in Viva Las Vegas, while on a trip to Las Vegas, Nevada during high school, she convinced her parents to let her see a live show whereupon she was noticed by the production staff; despite being only 17, she convinced her parents to let her sign a contract. Immediately after graduating, she drove back to Las Vegas, where she became a showgirl in Viva Les Girls at The Dunes; here, she met Elvis Presley, whom she briefly dated. She had a small role as a showgirl in the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever and played a topless dancer in The Working Girls (1974). She also purportedly posed for the cover of Tom Waits' 1976 album Small Change. Peterson has since described it as "a giant mystery" claiming that while she has no memory of the event, the picture looks enough like her that she feels "pretty sure" that it is her.
In the early 1970s, Peterson moved to Italy and became the lead singer of the Italian rock band I Latins Ochanats and The Snails. Introduced to director Federico Fellini by the producer of a documentary on Las Vegas showgirls in which she had appeared she landed a small part in Roma (1972). Back in the United States she toured nightclubs and discos around the country with a musical/comedy act, Mammas Boys. In 1979, she joined the Los Angeles-based improvisational troupe The Groundlings, where she created a Valley girl-type character upon whom the Elvira persona is largely based.
During the 1970s, Peterson also modeled for several men's magazines, such as High Society, Man's Delight, and Modern Man.
Peterson auditioned for the role of Ginger Grant for the third Gilligan's Island television movie in 1981, shortly before KHJ-TV offered her the horror-host position. Peterson also was a personality on Los Angeles radio station KROQ-FM 106.7 from 1982 to 1983.
In the late spring of 1981, six years after the death of Larry Vincent, who starred as host Sinister Seymour of a Los Angeles weekend horror show called Fright Night, show producers began to bring the show back.
The producers decided to use a female host. They asked 1950s horror hostess Maila Nurmi to revive The Vampira Show. Nurmi worked on the project for a short time, but quit when the producers would not hire Lola Falana to play Vampira. The station sent out a casting call, and Peterson auditioned and won the role. Producers left it up to her to create the role's image. She and her best friend, Robert Redding, came up with the sexy punk/vampire look after producers rejected her original idea to look like Sharon Tate's character in The Fearless Vampire Killers, Or--Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are In My Neck.
Peterson's Elvira character rapidly gained notice with her tight-fitting, low-cut, cleavage-displaying black gown. Adopting the flippant tone of a California "Valley girl," she brought a satirical, sarcastic edge to her commentary. She reveled in dropping risqué double entendres and making frequent jokes about her cleavage. In an AOL Entertainment News interview, Peterson said, "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, sex appeal, and good-natured self-mockery made her popular with late-night movie viewers and her popularity soared.
The Elvira character soon evolved from an obscure cult figure to a lucrative brand. She was associated with many products through the 1980s and 1990s, including Halloween costumes, comic books, action figures, trading cards, pinball machines, Halloween decor, model kits, calendars, perfume and dolls. She has 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, on whose script, written directly for the screen, Peterson collaborated with John Paragon and Sam Egan, and which was released in 1988.
After several years of attempts to make a sequel to Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, Cassandra and her manager and then-husband Mark Pierson decided to finance a second movie. In November 2000, Peterson wrote, again in collaboration with Paragon, and co-produced Elvira's Haunted Hills. The film was shot in Romania for just under one million dollars. With little budget left for promotion, Cassandra and Mark screened the film at AIDS charity fund raisers across America. For many people in attendance, this was their first opportunity to see the woman behind the Elvira character. On July 5, 2002, Elvira's Haunted Hills had its official premiere in Hollywood. Elvira arrived at the premiere in her Macabre Mobile. The film would later be screened at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival.
In September 2010, Elvira's Movie Macabre returned to television syndication in the U.S., this time with public domain films. In October 2014, it was revealed that a new series of thirteen episodes had been produced, 13 Nights of Elvira for Hulu. The show began on October 19, 2014, running through to Halloween.