Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, that Halloween icon and quirky symbol of all things spooky, isn’t exactly a typical RVer.
One could picture her comfortably riding in a hearse maybe, but not a Winnebago Chieftain.
That’s not far from the truth. In reality, Elvira’s alter ego, Cassandra Peterson, has made only one trip in a motor home.
“It was kind of a disaster,” recalls the actress from her Queen “B” Productions office near Hollywood.
Back in the early ‘80s, soon after Peterson’s parents had retired and purchased a brand-new motor home, there was a family reunion of sorts in Kansas. An aunt and uncle were celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary.
Peterson, herself recently married, felt she just couldn’t take off and leave her new husband in Los Angeles.
So, as the story goes, the newlyweds piled into her parents’ Winnebago and all four of them headed toward the old farmhouse where Cassandra grew up.
“My husband read a book the entire time,” she recalls. “It wasn’t the greatest adventure spending 24/7 crammed in a small space with the in-laws.”
And then there was the dog.
“My parents had a little evil ‘Yorkie from Hell,’ ” she says. “I love animals, but he only loved my dad and would bite everyone else. He was a nightmare.”
Surviving the family gathering, Peterson and her husband returned to Los Angeles where she was just starting her job as the unpredictable, sexy and sassy Elvira, hostess of a local late night Movie Macabre television show.
Even though Peterson’s folks lived in Colorado, they now had a home on wheels.
“It was a curious thing about having parents with an RV,” recalls Peterson. “It meant that at anytime your in-laws could pull up in the driveway, hook up and never go away.”
This happened on more than one occasion. “They would just show up and say, ‘Hi, we’re here,’ ” she says.
“It’s funny because we never had anyone come and stay at our house,” says Peterson.
She had acquired a pet python when it was “about the size of a ruler” for use in her television show. Being a python, it kept outgrowing its aquariums until, at 13 feet, it took over the spare room.
“We pretty much had the guest room thing down,” she says. “But my folks went out and got an RV.”
‘Queen of Halloween’
Elvira and her pet python struck a cord with the late-night audience and blasted off.
“The first time I did the show I thought it would really just be a one-off deal,” says Peterson. “Obviously it changed my entire life. Almost 26 years later I’m still doing it.”
Her bizarre, off-the-wall horror show was syndicated in 1986; her image was immortalized at Movieland Wax Museum; she hawked Pepsi and Coors Beer in national ad campaigns; and her plunging-neckline basic-black dress became the best selling female Halloween costume of all time.
Along the way, she starred in two Elvira feature films. The cult classic, “Elvira, Mistress of the Dark” opened in 1988. The second, “Elvira’s Haunted Hills,” came out in 2002.
“On my first movie I had a really fancy RV as my dressing room,” she recalls. “That was back in the days when I was blasting Guns ‘n’ Roses on the stereo while I put my makeup on at six in the morning.”
Although she doesn’t remember its make or model, she does recall spending many happy hours in her RV.
“I really felt like I lived in there for over a month,” she says.
It was a different story during her more recent film, shot in Romania on a much smaller budget.
“They told me it was going to be an RV,” she says. But, it turned out to be a “dinky little trailer” with no electricity and no bathroom.
“We set up some battery-operated lights and it was freezing cold,” she says. “It was horrible. I think they bought it off the gypsies.”
“To track Elvira’s appearances, purchase DVDs of her movies or check out other merchandise, visit Elvira’s Web site at www.elvira.com.
“Watch for the Elvira reality show set for October, the three weeks preceding Halloween, on the Fox Reality channel.
“Peterson, who has been rescuing Rottweilers and Pit Bulls for almost 25 years, has published five books including “Bad Dog, Andy: A Parody,” an illustrated book of a more-than-mischievous Dalmatian.
Wheel Life moving
This is the final week Wheel Life will appear on Saturday. Beginning June 24, it is moving to the Sunday Travel section (behind Outdoors). Look for it in its new location next week.