Like many who grew up in Southern California, I religiously watched Elvira’s Movie Macabre, which played on KHJ Channel 9 out here for years.
The movies she showed were really dreadful, even by B movie standards, but she always made them funnier, and was a stone fox as well.
As for Elvira, or Cassandra Peterson, going without her costume, well, she’s actually done this quite a bit, and I have to say as a kid I was crushingly disappointed when I saw her in her every day clothes.
She’s still a beautiful woman, but naïve as I was at that age, I thought that’s what she looked like every day, much like the episode of the Munsters, when Eddie was crushed to find out his favorite TV character, Zombo, wasn’t a real monster at all. (I should mention I was about 9 or 10 when Elvira became a hot sensation, so try to excuse my ignorance in this regard, this was also long before we had a goth scene, where chicks dress like that all the time).
In a profile in L.A. Weekly, Peterson recalled she was thirty, a still struggling actress, and was told about the Elvira gig by a friend. She was only working one day a week for $300 an episode, and it left her free to look for more acting work during the week. Not only did the show become a hit, but Peterson proved herself to be a very shrewd businesswoman, marketing her image in licensing deals that made her a ton a dough, reportedly millions.
KHJ gave Peterson the rights to the character instead of a raise, a decision they had to rue later, because she turned it into a big business, telling Weekly, “Every time I make a licensing deal or do a show, I get 100 percent of the proceeds.” Personal appearances, video games, comic books, her own perfume, every time she or her image appeared somewhere, Elvira got paid, big time.
Elvira was also part of a long standing tradition of horror movie hosts, who had ghoulish alter-personas, and made fun of the movies before the commercial breaks. Back in the fifties, TV stations had a lot of schlock in their libraries they didn’t know what to do with, so they’d hire a funny actor to dress up and make fun of the flicks they had to show. Elvira was obviously a take off on Vampira (aka Maila Nurmi), who hosted her own show on ABC in the fifties. (Nurmi sued Elvira claiming Movie Macabre was too close a take off on her show, but the suit went nowhere).
A funny bit of trivia many of you may not know is the father of filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood), Ernie Anderson, was a horror show host in Ohio named Ghoulardi.
Drew Carey was a huge fan of his growing up, and Ghoulardi also inspired the firecracker scene in Boogie Nights, because he used to do skits on the show with fireworks, or “boom booms” as he called them.
Most people also don’t know how Ernie made a handsome living in the ’70’s, as the voice of ABC, and he was often asked to recite his most famous voice over: “The LOOOOOOOVVVVVEEE Boat! Only on ABC!”