When it comes to Halloween, no one is more familiar with the nocturnal October ritual than actress Cassandra Peterson, better known to millions as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.
Sporting an oversized black wig, a low and behold form-fitting black dress, and enough makeup to give the Avon lady a hernia, Cassandra has been playing the campy Elvira character since 1981. She first poured herself into the famous tightfitting attire when hired to host late-night horror movies for a Los Angeles television station.
Peterson has used her popularity and high public profile to support a number of causes, including animal welfare.
She starred in a pro-vegetarianism commercial proclaiming that “dead things should be buried, not eaten” and has narrated a radio public service announcement asking people to keep their cats indoors at Halloween.
Though her witty, wisecracking humor is a treat for adults, she finds nothing funny about tricks that some people play on cats, especially black cats which are traditionally associated with the darker side of Halloween.
“There’s always a few pranksters who may tease, injure, steal, or even kill pets during Halloween,” she warned.
“Many animal shelters are aware of increased thefts of black cats around Halloween and some won’t even adopt out black cats during October.”
Weird costumes and spooky rituals are commonplace for Peterson who recalls many interesting Halloween stunts of her own, such as being buried in a coffin for up to 30 minutes at a time, while preparing to emerge for photo shoots or filming. “I think I’ve spent more time in a coffin than any person alive!”
Over the four decades she has been performing as Elvira, Peterson has also interacted with some less than cuddly critters. “I’ve had to lie down with over a hundred snakes piled on top of me, and kiss tarantulas from time to time.”
Cuddly or not, she emphasizes that all animals used in Elvira promotions were handled in a safe and humane way, a philosophy consistent with her concern for animal welfare.
“It’s not a good idea to dress pets up for Halloween as it can be stressful for them,” she said. “And don’t feed them candy, especially chocolate as it’s toxic to dogs.”
She also advises to watch tinfoil candy wrappers which can lodge in a puppy’s throat or lead to bowel obstructions.
“With kids dressed in wacky costumes running all over the place and ringing doorbells, pets can get scared and run away, and dogs may even bite,” she said. “So it’s a good idea to place pets in a secure, quiet room during the trick-or-treat evening hours. I just hope people will do their best to watch out for all animals not only at Halloween, but throughout the year.”
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 450 magazines and newspapers.