With Halloween just 10 days away, we wanted to catch up with one of our most recent additions to the Out and Proud bunch, Cassandra Peterson.
Before Mad Movies on Nickelodeon, before there was Mystery Science Theater 3000, before there were “reaction” videos on YouTube, it all began here. Imagine Siouxsie Sioux meets Mr. Rogers, meets Dolly Parton, and Vanessa Redgrave for good measure. All of that, and possessing perfect timing, Cassandra Peterson gave us the sexy campy horror film icon “Elvira”.
Having been in the industry for so long, Cassandra finally released her biopic (epic) full of bad humor, crazy stories, and coming to terms with being in love with another woman. This is kind of a tell-all, “Yours Cruelly”. This was a “bad” dream come true. Her book is worth the read, if not for just the insanity of someone’s life that you could never imagine living. I got just a few minutes with her and chose not to talk about our favorite bad horror movies. Such restraint.
Jeremy Hinks: Hey, Cassandra thank you for taking the time, I am going to have to tell you, I got the book and I loved it. I had heard the announcement on CNN, and I was thrilled, for you. I am going to try to not come across as a crazy-ass “Fanboy”, cause you know there are MANY of us out there.
Cassandra Peterson: I am happy about that. (laughing).
JH: When I was young, and coming of age, I had all those guilty pleasures. Bad campy movies, I LOVE bad horror movies, and bad jokes, and a sexy woman, all rolled into one, I loved ALL of that, so your show was a part of my miss-spent youth.
CP: HA, well, no wonder you liked me then.
JH: Well, I am going to tell you this out the gate. Coming of age, I realized I had a neck fetish, and YOU have the most gorgeous neck, you are up there with Vanessa Redgrave, that is the feature I had my eyes on when everyone else was looking … elsewhere.
CP: That’s the first time I’ve ever been told that.
JH: GET OUT!!!! Really? I mean, you and Vanessa Redgrave, claim to beauty there.
CP: That’s funny because my neck is the one thing I really can’t stand, I have this visible burn scar, so I was always trying to cover it, my costume really didn’t work to do that.
JH: Well for me, that was some true beauty. I am glad I got to tell you that, I was thinking maybe you did that for the whole “Vampiress” business. I viewed you and your show as stand-up comedy.
CP: Yes it really was, thank you.
JH: So I viewed you as this Siouxsie Sioux, (from the band Siouxsie and the Banshees) and Mr. Rogers, and Dolly Parton like blue-collar comedy.
CP: Wow, Siouxsie Sioux, Fred Rogers and Dolly Parton, that’s a good combination, I love that.
JH: AND Vanessa Redgrave…
CP: Yeah, why the hell not…
JH: Well, Siouxsie was the goth image, and you talked right into the camera like Mr. Rogers, and it was blue-collar jokes. I LOVED all of it. At some time in my life, I wanted to be a stand-up comedian. And I am not going to lie, I lifted some of your jokes.
CP: That’s fine, flattering actually.
JH: You also know you steal from the best, but you also know, if there is a joke you can tell, that NO ONE else can manage to steal, you know you have made it.
CP: Yes, (Laughing, and wondering where this is going).
JH: There was one you told about a Christmas-themed horror film about “This Christmas Turkey is so bad, you wouldn’t even want it on the table” and something about the breasts. IT was so funny, I have never been able to deliver it.
CP: Oh my god I do not even remember that one. I do remember the one “I’m like this thanksgiving turkey, everyone whats a piece of me”. But I don’t remember the Christmas one.
JH: Well, not from the “Fanboy” but the armchair amateur stand-up comic, it was so great to have you there in my life in some fucked up times, thank you so much for the joy.
CP: Wow, thank you, that is really a compliment. I’m glad I had an effect on you and I hope that you are still a normal person after all of that.
JH: Oh, normal, NEVER, why do that. Your message to kids was “Fly Your Freak Flag High”. So, in the professional world, did you have difficulty being interviewed as yourself, or Elvira.
CP: NO, actually, I NEVER got to be me, I was always booked to go on as Elvira. I was booked to go on as myself ONCE, on the Johnny Carson show, and never was asked to after that. Even a couple of years ago, people wanted me to be on the show, and I said I wouldn’t go on as Elvira, and they weren’t interested. It was difficult because I couldn’t interview as Elvira, I mean I could go out and have some pre-written jokes. Once on a show, with this guy Mike Douglass, I wouldn’t answer anything straight. He would ask “How long does it take to put the makeup on?” and I would say “Makeup? This is my natural beauty”. And he said “Cut the crap, how long does it take to put it on?” so, I had to drop character and sit there with egg on my face. So I never did any appearances as Cassandra until now.
JH: You played in the industry for 40 years. No one has a shelf life like that, through all your scrapes and crashes, you are still in it. So I could see that you are one smart lady. When I was reading the book, I remembered a phase in my life where the only person that made me laugh more than you was Robin Williams. You had to be smart to play so dingy, and it worked well for you.
CP: Thank you, it is very nice to be in the same category as Robin Williams, and yes it did require a lot of smarts. I mean, I started this character at 30, and have kept it going. I licensed it, and held on, and ran it like a business. No one else has even come close to this kind of longevity with a character, let alone a career.
JH: When you went to Italy, and just took it on, to make it happen. I know what it took to do that, I did that in France, just got off the train, no place to live, nothing and decided I was going to make it happen. When you did that, in Italy, it opened my eyes as to how smart and resilient you were. I saw that as your great empowering experience because of what happened in the rest of the book.
CP: I think that the two most powerful things in my life to expand my mind were first dropping acid, and traveling around Europe. You leave your small town and go see things that you never would see otherwise. It opens your view to change your mind about everything. I have to say that having left home at 14, I was pretty street smart, driving around to places to “Go-Go” dance. So when I get to a place where I don’t speak the language, weird shit happens, when you can’t speak a language you are not a good judge of character. It was kind of a test to make it on your own to make it without asking your parents for help. Got through it by the skin of my teeth.
JH: That part was pretty transforming from what I read.
CP: But when you came back from Europe, didn’t you feel more sophisticated, more cosmopolitan? Like with your friends, not really trying to “One up” them… but.
JH: I wanted to say that I am so glad that you found love. I thought it was great when I read it. My friend Lindy Gabriel is the singer for the band “Gabriel and the Apocalypse.” It’s like, if Elvira sang for Nine Inch Nails, (only better). I once asked her if she was bisexual, and she said, “You know, I can’t say, I don’t believe in labels. I feel that if you meet someone, and you connect, and the sparks fly, then congratulations, you just found what the rest of us want.” It’s great to just see it as “Love” not as a gender, or sexual orientation issue, just .. “Love.”
CP: Yeah, that’s exactly what it is for me. People say “So you came out of the closet?” or “Are you bi?”, no, I mean, to say I am “bi” now, having “started” at 50, but no, I think I was one thing, I identified as straight my whole life. If I was gay I would be GAY. Then I met this person who was a friend, and hot, and sexy, and wonderful, and then suddenly “WOW.” There was a lot to wrap my head around, I just felt this for her.
JH: SCORE, you fell in love.
CP: It’s like they say there is a spectrum, there are a hundred shades of the rainbow. Obviously, in the book, you will see that most of my boyfriends were gay, and we were in a normal hetero relationship. People say, “Well, they must have been bi.” Well, no they were just guys, we met, we cared about each other, that’s what it is.
JH: Well the fact that you met her, and she made you feel like your guts would just burst, and was making you happy. I’m glad you got to experience that.
CP: It wasn’t easy, I was always second-guessing myself. Not that I have anything against being gay, but I just was having to see myself like that. I thought I was 50, after 25 years of my husband, I was turned off from having a relationship again. I was done. I wasn’t looking, it turned out to be a strange development, but a really good one. I always had men and women sending me mail telling me I was beautiful, and I love being sexy regardless of who sees me that way.
JH: I am so glad you are happy now, I’m not going to lie, after reading those chapters about the abuse, and the assaults, very hard to read.
CP: Hard to write.
JH: I can imagine, I have read so many stories of what amazing women have gone through. Like Cherie Currie, you know, women who you love and admire and hold in high regard, to hear them, or anyone goes through things like that. That, and the chapter “You’ll never work in this town again.” Man, my blood was boiling.
CP: Wow, Good reaction. I wish you had been there to kick some ass.
JH: Oh hey, I’m still young, and buff. Give me some addresses.
CP: Haha, thanks.
JH: Well, you have been a staple in the Gay Pride circuit for so long. I don’t think anyone gave you any flack, and the community was probably very welcoming.
CP: Yes, there was no surprise there, the gay community have always been good to me.
JH: So, when you did that song “Here I am” in your movie, that was the MOST Homo-erotic video I have ever seen. Was that just a gift to the community? You know, with all those buff gay men all around you?
CP: Yes, my idea of the big number was like, well, in Las Vegas, where all the male dancers were gay (99.9 % anyway). So my idea was that all these guys being hot, and me being sexy. So I just recreated what we would have done in “Mamma’s Boys” if we could have had the big number like that.
JH: Well, I know that I am the envy of so many gay men now, I think my life is one step closer to being complete, I think I just need to interview Elton John, then I have done it all. But, you did answer my question … “YES”. The final question here in Utah, we have the highest rate of LGBTQ teen suicides, I got involved in all of this to stop that, and that is how you and I are talking today. What would you say to the young kid, who is in the closet, afraid, and in a vulnerable state?
CP: First of all I would tell them they need to think about coming out, they are going to be feeling so much better about themselves if they do. However, as I say in my book over and over again, “Timing is Everything.” If they are in a situation where they will be kicked out of the house, bullied, they need to wait until they are in a safe space. They don’t have to rush, but when they do, coming out is the most freeing feeling. Danny Trujillo says in his book that I keep quoting, “You are only as sick as your secrets.” That is such a great line.
JH: Was it that freeing for you?
CP: Oh yes, it was very freeing, now I have photographers out front trying to get a photo of me with “T.” We were kind of lying by omission, I felt somewhat hypocritical, but I was protecting my livelihood, I can’t blame anyone about when it’s time to come out.
JH:Well, for everything you have to show for yourself, you have everything to be proud of.
Everyone, go score a copy of this book, it’s a great read. Yes, Bad Dreams do come true.