For me, one of the biggest draws for this year’s Days of the Dead Chicago was the appearance of Cassandra Peterson a.k.a. Elvira: Mistress of the Dark! I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her a few times before (the first of which I discussed HERE) and later enjoyed her brief reboot of Elvira’s Movie Macabre on our local Chicago station WCIU; the same channel as Svengoolie before he’d go national via MeTV a few months later. That was an exciting time since they were the two hosts I’d grown up with. From age eight to fourteen, I idolized Rich Koz’s Son of Svengoolie (now simply “Svengoolie” with the blessing of his predecessor) before our local WFLD 32 station got swallowed up by the corporate FOX. It was also around that time when I discovered Elvira after renting some of her “Thriller Video” hosted films from my local mom & pop video store. I also remember making frequent road trips in my ’20s to all neighboring Illinois and Indiana Suncoast Video stores in an effort to collect all of her Midnight Madness VHS tapes. That’s one thing we collectors have lost in our modern Internet world; that good old fashioned thrill of the hunt!
Elvira and Svengoolie did eventually cross paths and share a stage together at the 2008 Flashback Weekend here in the Windy City. To my great shame, I was not in town when this historic event took place and have been obsessed with getting a another chance. Unfortunately, Svengoolie was not attending this event though it wouldn’t stop him from reaching out never the less. But where to find an obsessive Svengoolie fan (also slated to meet Elvira) who could help him carry this out?
Svengoolie summoned me to the Weigel Broadcasting station (home of the aforementioned WCIU and MeTV) the Wednesday before the event took place to pick up some items for Elvira. He also invited me to stay that evening to observe tapings as if being the currier between him and the Mistress of the Dark wasn’t reward enough! It was the third time I’ve had this privilege (the last time with the other Dave and covered in two posts beginning HERE) and I love it because it’s always laugh out loud funny plus gives me time to chat with him more than when I’m at one of his appearances.
Sven handed me an official studio bag filled with some Svengoolie swag as well as a message written on one of his promo cards. With his permission, I’m going to share it with you here. It reads…
“My Darling Elvira!…How am I doing? Just a note to thank you for your kind words – you are a constant inspiration and beloved by all (if they know what’s good for them!) Hope to see you again sometime – Much love and respect! Svengoolie (Rich Koz)”
Despite commercial TV horror hosts being solitary creatures, and we Daves hearing stories from a couple former ones claiming she was abrasive, so far as Svengoolie is concerned she’s been nothing but positive. I’ve brought him up to her just about every time I’ve seen her and she’s always been very enthusiastic while stating how much she enjoyed sharing the stage with him at Flashback. She also readily gave her well wishes after his heart attack and we’d reached out to her for our celebrity “Get Well Svengoolie” post. Later she’d also state that she “loved (her) some Svengoolie” when asked about him on the Stephanie Miller Radio Show.
Yet despite all of this, I was still nervous on how things were going to play out. What if she took the gift as some sort of empty celebrity gesture and not the token of genuine admiration that it was? How would I tell Svengoolie she had a lackluster reaction without hurting his feelings? Or, more likely, what if she didn’t believe I was acting on his behalf and thought I was just some name dropping fanboy trying to gain special attention?
One thing I had going for me was old fashioned Capitalism.
Prior to this weekend, I tracked down two rubber chickens (which ended up being a LOT harder than you’d expect living in Svengoolie’s backyard and even Horrorbles in Berwyn didn’t have any!) with the goal of having Elvira sign them. One was for Svengoolie (which he gave me the money for despite the whole thing being my crazy idea) and the other for myself (that I could have Sven add his signature to later on). I also purchased an autograph for the person who finagled my rubber chickens as that was part of the deal.
On this night, Cassandra Peterson would not be in her signature costume which was fine with me since I’d purchased a Saturday (in costume) photo op ticket for $50 a few months before. Autographs were $30 each and did NOT include a photo; though she’d take a shot with guests for her own Facebook page if they dressed up as her.
One advantage of waiting in line was that it gave me an opportunity to observe her interacting with the other fans that were ahead of me. She was very pleasant with everyone (I’ve never seen her not be) though there are two things I did see that you may want to avoid should you find herself in her presence…
#1 if you bring her any official Elvira merchandise and she asks you where you bought it from, please say the Official Elvira Website and not, “One of the vendors here.” She didn’t get mad when the fan in front of me said this to her but I could tell she wasn’t exactly thrilled about it either.
#2 if she signs a poster or piece of artwork, you get ONE signature only. This one guy made a really cool poster featuring her and a bunch of ‘50s aliens and monsters and, after she signed the top of the poster as instructed, he then asked if she’d sign her drawing’s leg. She politely refused and, though I missed the explanation she gave him, I’m guessing it boils down to violating the “$30 per signature” sign that was sitting on her table.
I do know people in the horror realm (and probably a few of you out there reading this) who find her marketing distasteful but, personally, I’ve never been bothered by it. For nearly four decades she’s worked for her brand and not without a fair share of professional disappointments and financial set-backs (some of which she’d delve into during her Days of Dead panel which I’ll be covering in my next post).
At last it was my turn…
I said hello and that I’d brought her a gift from Svengoolie. She immediately lit up and said, “Oh that’s great! I loved working with him! Gosh…how long ago was that?”
She took the bag and emptied its contents. This was good because I half expected (with respect for time) that she’d just say “Thanks!” and then toss it behind her in a pile of fan-made art work . “Oh this is great!” she said, while looking over the contents and then reading the message. “Aw, tell him I said hello and that I really appreciate this!” I then brought out the rubber chickens for her to sign and she laughed. “You know I think this is the first time in my career anyone has ever asked me to sign one of these things?”
“Well,” I replied. “Here in Chicago it’s sort of common practice.” She told me it was too bad she wasn’t in costume to get a photo with it for him. I mentioned I had a ticket for Saturdays photo op and she said, “Oh, good! Be sure to bring this rubber chicken with you!”
While she was signing I also brought up a TV show pilot she filmed for CBS in the ‘90s that I recently discovered on YouTube. “Yeah that was so sad. At first they loved it and it looked like everything was a go and then, last minute, it got pulled. A few months later they came up with Sabrina the Teenage Witch that was basically the same show with a talking cat and all.” (Note: she would provide even more details about this during her Q&A panel later that night).
I said goodbye and as I was leaving she yelled, “Don’t forget to bring the chicken tomorrow!”
My friend Bunny, who’d been standing in the distance, approached me and said, “Well that looked like it went well.”
The next day I showed up for the photo op but decided to ditch the rubber chicken in favor of my Svengoolie doll…a one of a kind collectible created by the late Terry Cruikshank. I felt it would make a better Sven visual rather than the rubber chicken which might have people scratching their heads and wondering if I had trouble telling my hosts apart.
The next day I was waiting in line for the photo op when I saw her walk off the elevator in costume. I have to say, her character remains ageless and I’d do just about anything to see her back on her signature couch and doing what she does best. When I approached her in the photo room I said to her, “I brought my Sven doll instead of the chicken” and she took it from me and said, “Oh let me hold the doll in the picture! It’s so cute!”
In my life I’ve had some pretty amazing experiences and surreal moments, but acting as an emissary between Elvira: Mistress of the Dark and national commercial TV horror host, Svengoolie, ranks pretty high up there!
Still, I look forward to the day when my ambassadorial services are no longer required and the two horror legends share a stage together once more.
Coming up…The Cassandra Peterson (Elvira) Q&A!