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+TALK: MISTRESS OF THE DARK, CASSANDRA PETERSON

The following is a transcript of the conversation between Karl Schmid and Cassandra Peterson, aka Elvira.

KARL
She might be the mistress of darkness, but this woman is all sunshine, up next.

Welcome to Plus Talk on Plus Life where we’re all about turning positive into a plus. My guest today has been the spooky, sexy siren of late-night horror TV for over four decades, but life hasn’t always been simple for Cassandra Peterson or as you know her, Elvira. Congratulations on the book, “Yours Cruelly, Memoirs, Of The Mistress Of The Dark.” Elvira is 40 years old, you are yourself 70 years old. Why now?

CASSANDRA
Well, I’ve been thinking about doing it 15 or 20 years and I never really got the time. And so finally I did go out, I got an agent, I got a book deal, I got a deadline and then I sat my down and I did it.

KARL
How cathartic was it?

CASSANDRA
Fantastically cathartic. It was amazing. I wasn’t ready for how cathartic it was. Seeing all these people that played into it and examining my relationship with my mother, my parents and everything, it was kind of heavy. Yeah, but it felt good. It felt good to get it all out.

KARL
Was there anything that you sort of look at and go, “Wow, that actually turned out better than I thought it was doing at the time that I was living it.”

CASSANDRA
I didn’t end up as Elvira just by happenstance. I saw all these little clues, like well being burned when I was a child, which I was made fun of and bullied in school and teased. And when I saw a horror movie, I identified with the monster and I thought, “Wow, this feels like me.” Then my mother and my aunt owned a costume shop and I dressed in costumes all the time, but I was a total weirdo. But all these little clues, I was big horror fan and they all kind of led me to this character eventually.

KARL
Tell us about what it was like going down to that local TV station that day. Didn’t someone say, “You’re going in dress like that?”

CASSANDRA
It was a last minute thing. Unfortunately, nobody told me I was supposed to look like a horror host for the audition. I’m surrounded by a dozen women in black leotards and tights and black wigs and I walk in there and they look at me like I was some kind of a freak. So I walked in thinking, “Well, I just blew it.” And luckily, I think it was the comedy improv part of my shtick that they picked up on and I ended up getting the part. It was $350 a week, one day a week and it was a local TV station, super low budget with really crappy movies.

KARL
Does it surprise you that our Elvira had this longevity?

CASSANDRA
It’s shocking to me because really when I got the job, I thought I’d be lucky to work 40 days, now it’s 40 years. I think maybe the key to it is that I aligned myself with a holiday, a big national holiday, Halloween. And even though you may not see me for nine months of the year, come fall I’m back again.

KARL
Does that make it easier for you to continue to enjoy doing Elvira?

CASSANDRA
I really enjoy it because unlike almost every single character out there in the world, I own my character. And when you see an Elvira pinball machine or Elvira slot machine or whatever I have out there–

KARL
A Funko Pop.

CASSANDRA
Yeah, exactly. I’m the one reaping the benefits not the studio. So for me, it’s a whole different trip and year round work on licensing and merchandising, but I do decide what products we put out, how they look, whether it’s comic books or my book book or the new Elvira Vespa.

KARL
If we go back to 1981, did you own Elvira from the get-go or was that something you had to negotiate and make happen?

CASSANDRA
I did not own the character it belonged to the studio but as time went on, we asked for more money and they raised a little bit from $350 to 500, that was before tax, those amounts. I had to do temporary secretary work in the meantime and finally we asked them one day, “could I do a fan club?” And they said yes. And then we asked, “could we do T-shirts and merchandise?” They said yes. It kept going on like that until one day we discovered we owned all the rights.

KARL
At what point did you realize, “Oh wow, we’ve hit something.”

CASSANDRA
First, people are calling me and asking me to come to their hair salon, for a Halloween party, open their liquor store and sign autographs I was like, “This is crazy.” And the second thing was I was still doing temp secretary work and then went in one day and told the boss that I couldn’t work on Thursdays ’cause I was working on a TV show. And I said, “I play this character Elvira,” and this guy okay… He started screaming like a little girl. I thought he was gonna faint. And third thing was I got invited on the Johnny Carson Tonight Show and that was the, the, the talk show. You kind of knew that if you got invited to that something was going on.

KARL
You have this ongoing presence and you have been able to channel a lot of what you do for good.

CASSANDRA
The HIV/AIDs thing was really a big deal for me because literally all of my closest friends were wiped out in the AIDS epidemic. And one of the people who helped me create the character Robert Redding, who helped me design the hair, the makeup, the dress was one of the people who died of AIDS very early on and I made it one of my life’s goals to do anything I could to bring awareness to AIDS and to help in any way that I could people with HIV and AIDS.

KARL
You’ve also made headlines recently about talking about your relationship with a woman of 19 years. Has it sort of made you take a step back and go, “Wow, I don’t know why I kept that to myself for as long as I did.”

CASSANDRA
That was to protect the character. The character’s my livelihood and I was really worried that I’m portraying this big, straight horn dog woman and when people and my fans find out that she’s no longer living the “straight life” maybe they’ll feel lied to. And there were some, it was strange. On one social media platform I lost 11,000 people when I came out, but the good news I gained 60,000 the same day.

KARL
Now that that’s out of the way, are you glad that you’ve done this and have do you feel?

CASSANDRA
Oh, I’m thrilled. Always kept my private life very, very private even when I was married to a guy for 25 years and had a child. I tried to keep them out of the limelight as much as humanly possible, not mention it in interviews because the people who like Elvira don’t wanna know that she’s a home washing dishes or changing diapers. Elvira is this person and I’m that person and I wanna keep them separate.

KARL
After 40 years the book is out. “Yours, cruelly, Elvira Memoirs Of The Mistress Of The Dark.” Cassandra, thank you so much for your time and congratulations on the book and congratulations on being able to kind of live your truth out loud and proud and embrace whatever comes next.

CASSANDRA
Thank you. That is so sweet of you. I really appreciate it. Thanks. This was fun.

KARL
Check out the book now. That is going to do it for this episode of Plus Talk. Thanks for watching. If you want more information about Cassandra and her story or info on how to pick up the book, just go to pluslifemedia.com. And remember you can follow us across all social media platforms @pluslifemedia. Until next time, stay safe, take care of each other, be nice. See you soon.

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