Elvira: Blood Bath & Beyond
Cassandra Peterson didn't grow up thinking she'd be a star of the macabre—though to be fair, she should have seen it coming. She got her start in show business at the greatest blood bath of them all: performing drag at a gay club in Colorado Springs, CO. Oh, and did we mention she was fourteen at the time? Since then, the woman who was “raised by a pack of wild drag queens” has amassed legions of queer fans playing the campy vamp Elvira: Mistress of the Dark.
The Queen of Halloween lets down her wig to chat with Gay.net about being a queer icon, her funniest experience with a gay fan, and how she felt the first time she ever saw an Elvira drag queen.
When was the first time you ever saw a drag queen impersonate you?
It was my look-alike, Christian Greenia (Cassandra Fever). Oh my gosh! He came to see me with his mom when he was 14 at Knotts Berry Farm. I was doing Halloween Haunt, and the next time I saw him he was making a living doing Elvira drag. It was really funny and he’s fantastic at doing it. Let me tell you, there are a lot of Elvira drag queens out there. (Laughs)
How did you react when you saw Cassandra Fever for the first time?
I was shocked and flattered and it kind of freaked me out because here I was, around drag queens my whole life—I learned just about everything I know from drag queens; how to walk; how to talk; how to do my hair and make up, obviously—and here was a drag queen of me. I remember thinking, “Oh my God… it’s come full-circle.” It was weird, but I loved it.
Why do you think Elvira has been adopted as a gay icon?
I don’t really know. Is it because gays love divas with one name? I mean, Cher, Madonna, Elvira—what’s up with that? (Laughs) I’m kidding, but seriously, I think it’s because gay men—and women—love strong, sexy female characters. Especially the gay crowd, because it’s kind of androgynous in a way. It’s strange, because you wouldn’t think of Elvira, or Cher, or Madonna as androgynous, but they’re ballsy like a guy, but sexy like a woman. So they’re kind of in that middle ground that appeals to gay people more than straight. Gays appreciate strong, sexy role models. I mean, how many straight people are in Cher’s audience for God’s sake? Are there any? (Laughs)
I think there’s always two at any given show.
That many? They must be the same two she hires every time!
When did you realize you had become a gay icon?
I’d have to think about that. Maybe it was the first time I saw an Elvira drag queen. I think, over time, I just realized I started getting a gay audience. As far as I can remember, I’ve always said there are two types of people who love me—dirty old men and gay men. The dirty old men want to do me and the gay men want to be me.
Maybe because one leads to the other?
Exactly! That’s a good point. I hadn’t thought of that before. You know, it’s funny because when a guy comes up to me and says, “I used to have a poster of you up in my room when I was a kid.” I always say, “Was that when you knew you were gay?”
How do they react to that?
Well, if they’re straight they freak out, but generally they say, “YES!” (Laughs) I swear to God!
I’m sure you’ve seen your fair share of crazy fans over the years. What was one of the funniest/craziest encounters?
A gay fan came up to me once and had my picture tattooed on his ass! He just bent over, pulled down his pants and said, “Look!” The next thing I knew I was signing [his ass.] I remember thinking, “Oh God. Is this guy really sticking his ass in my face… and am I really signing his butt?” So that really left an impression in my brain. Well, that and he had a nice ass, too. So that was extra special good!
How do you feel the entertainment industry has changed since you made your first appearance?
In some ways it’s easier—believe it or not—because there are so many more venues opening up. For example, since I own Elvira's Movie Macabre I can sell it on DVD, VOD, to cable, domestic, foreign—there’s 101 ways. There are more opportunities to show your work, especially with the internet, and that’s opened [the industry] up from the days when big companies were controlling everything. Breaking into a big studio is very difficult, but now there are a lot more doors open for people to get their stuff seen and heard. That’s great because it gives little people like me more opportunities.
So I say to anyone out there, don’t wait. Do it yourself. Get it out there and if people like it, they’ll buy it.