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Cassandra Peterson can be described as a powerful witch. And not just because she’s played the character of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark for 40 years. Peterson has an innate ability to manifest in a magically cinematic way, like the time she grew the exact same beauty mark next to her eye as her childhood icon, fellow redhead Ginger Grant from Gilligan’s Island. Peterson explained that her whole life has been influenced by the law of attraction. She describes it as “thinking and obsessing over things and then feeling like they’ll happen, which they do.” “The number of things that have happened just out of the blue to me, that shouldn’t be happening for a farm girl from Kansas, from a low income family… it just happened.”

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Peterson’s autobiography “Yours Cruelly Elvira” recounts the serendipitous events that made her a style and beauty icon. However, it is more in the Morticia Addams category than Marilyn Monroe. It wasn’t an easy road to become a legend like Elvira. At 18 months, she was scalded by boiling water. She felt insecure for many years after the burns turned into purple and red raised scars. “I covered them with long sleeves, sometimes wearing turtlenecks, but it made me feel unfit”. Peterson says that people made fun of her, called me a monster and made her feel like an outcast. She began to see the benefits of her scars as she grew older. She was able to become more confident in her appearance and started to take an interest in clothes and makeup. Peterson was physically, verbally and emotionally abused by her mother. “Instead of giving in, something happened. I don’t remember what triggered it, but it made me think, Oh, yeah, you want see what I will do now?’ The next thing I know I’m going to go-go dancing, and I’m a showgirl.”

She was thirteen when she first saw Viva Las Vegas. It featured Ann-Margret as well as Elvis Presley. This introduced her to the idea of showgirls. When her art teacher asked her what she wanted out of life, her senior year, she replied that she wanted to become a Las Vegas showgirl. Peterson, then 17, became a Vive Les Girls showgirl after a chance encounter. She also met Ann-Margret and Elvis Presley who were both interested in astrology. Peterson was a showgirl, so stage makeup was her first experience. “You wouldn’t believe the amount of makeup I wore back then. We would put three layers of eyelashes on top and two on the bottom, and glue one just above my eyes.” Peterson explains that this is how she learned to make her Elvira eyelashes. She learned contouring to improve the appearance of her cheekbones (“I was 17 years old at that time and my face looked like a little butterball”), and how to properly trim her bikini lines. (“I tried Nair, but I won’t do that again.”)

Peterson decided to follow the advice Elvis gave her about leaving Vegas. She would continue performing, singing lead in an Italian funk band and touring nightclubs as a musical-comedy performer. She was a skilled stage makeup artist by the time she was offered the role of host for Elvira’s Movie Macabre, exactly 40 years ago. She still needed assistance in creating the Elvira look and she enlisted Robert Redding, her best friend from Mama’s Boys. “We didn’t want the traditional Vampira Morticia Addams look with black and dark hair.” Peterson says that we wanted it to look unique and different. “We brought in Sharon Tate, a Sharon Tate-type look from Fearless Vampire Killers. It was a sheer, pink, tattered, and more like a dead child look.” It would have been easier to do since Peterson would be wearing her red hair. However, Peterson is happy that her producers rejected the idea and made her wear all black. She says, “Thank you Lord, that didn’t happen because that’s something I have that almost every celebrity in the world has, and that’s total anonymity. Although I’m becoming more well-known lately, for the first 30+ years of Elvira’s existence, I lived a double life which was great for raising my child. It was remarkable because it was a fairly normal home life.”

Peterson and Redding initially were frustrated that Elvira needed to look like a gothic beauty. But Redding was inspired by his role in Macbeth’s drag show Hecate. He had found his makeup in a Kabuki book and so he did it on me. “I loved it. It was amazing. It was something I never thought I would be able do on my own. She says it took lots of practice. He just had so many ideas. He cut the wig. He did my makeup. He made the dress. We both agreed that it should be as tight and as sexy possible.” Peterson claims that the look was a big hit because of the ratings. It made a look that has lasted for 40 years.

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Peterson used theatrical makeup back then to achieve Elvira’s look. This included a ghostly white foundation and purple and blue eyeshadows, overdrawn jet black eyeliner, lashes that were high and blood-red lips. She has switched to regular products since then, including a lot MAC. Her current product lineup is Make Up For Ever Ultra HD Foundation in Pink Porcelain, Inglot AMC Gel Eyeliner 77, Jeffree Star Velour Liquid Lipstick in Wifey, and a drop of Chantecaille Brilliant Gloss in Enchant in the middle of her bottom lip. KVD Beauty Tattoo eyeliner is also a favorite of hers: “Oh my God, that is such an amazing lifesaver. You’ll look like Alice Cooper or Giuliani if you’re sweaty and hot wearing theatrical makeup. The KVD eyeliner is amazing. My eye makeup was all over my face when I worked in 102 degree heat without air conditioning. The pen didn’t move when I switched to it. It was on all day.”

Peterson laments a beauty dilemma that can happen to even the most seasoned of women: when products are discontinued, she must search for a replacement. “I made the error of purchasing 20 lipsticks and then realizing that they were no longer in stock.” She says it’s not worth buying a lot of it. As for Elvira’s bouffant hair, it was based on Ronnie Spector’s “knowledge bump,” which Peterson specifies is not the same as a beehive. “My hair started off low, but it kept growing higher and higher.” She explains that it reached a level where it looked almost like Marge Simpson’s. “It was so high it was absurd, so we had it cut. The height of my hair is always a good indicator of the year.”

Elvira is as much the queen of cleavage as she is of Halloween. She’s also the queen of boob styling tips. Hint: It’s not tape. People always wonder how you keep them in there. Peterson says “It’s my Elvira bra, which is the same one that I have since I started. It was a bra from a Los Angeles lingerie shop that belonged to Lili St. Cyr, a burlesque stripper.” Peterson purchased every one of the deep-plunge bras from the store, as it was closing down. Peterson also uses “tons of pads” there. “People sometimes wonder why I seem to have so much cleavage. It’s all about how much stuff I kept in there. It was something I did as a child. It was like I had Kleenex all over my body. It’s still something I do. Everything, except the kitchen sink. This is how you get cleavage. This is a really old trick that dates back to the 1950s.”

As for skin care, Peterson swears by a daily dose of SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic serum. “My skin has kinda hung in there, and that is a miracle.” She says that she wears more makeup than anyone on the planet, except RuPaul. Peterson also uses SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore moisturizer and COOLA Classic Organic body and face sunscreen – which she uses “by the gallon for that deadly pale skin.” Her everyday makeup is a stark contrast to Elvira’s, consisting of Bare Minerals Complexion Rescue Tinted Hydrating Gel Cream, Lancome Maquicomplet Wand for under-eyes, Blinc Mascara. It doesn’t need makeup remover, and can be washed off easily. Peterson doesn’t like Botox as she is unable to express emotions with her eyes. However, she does use some filler. (In case you were wondering, there was no mention of vampire facials.)

Peterson turned 70 this September while Elvira turned 40. You have to wonder if Elvira’s eternal look has helped ease the pressure society places on women as they age. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem so. I mean, I think that every time I see Elvira in me, I realize I cannot keep doing this.” She admits that it’s going to be “pathetic any minute now.” Peterson admits that it is easier to look younger with makeup, the dress and good lighting. However, she says she is struggling to keep Elvira alive as long as possible. She says that she thinks this will be the last Halloween season in which she’ll be playing the role. “But I stated that I was going to quit when I turned 40. When I was 40 I said 50. So now, I’m 70 and I don’t know. My manager already has plans to make me sign autographs at conventions with an automatic arm. He already has all the details in place so that you can see Elvira on Ice.”

She is happy that Elvira’s signature look has inspired others and helped normalize this type of look. “It was considered strange and outlandish when I started Elvira. The red lips and heavy use of black eyeliner were all considered a freaky look.” She says that people weren’t doing this at the time. “Nobody had even seen black nails. Now everybody has this makeup. Look at the Grammys, and you will see that every woman has the same type of neckline. When I first went to a public place, I felt like a freak. It stopped traffic. It’s now a normal everyday look. It’s a look that I think inspired many women to embrace this kind of gothic look. It’s both sexy and mysterious at the same.”