Actress Cassandra Peterson 'Elvira' poses during a photo call for the film 'Elvira's Haunted Hills' at the Rado Beach during 56th International Cannes Film Festival 2003 on May 17, 2003 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)
If you want to learn all about Christmas, you ask Santa Claus. If you want to learn all about Halloween, you ask Elvira: Mistress of the Dark.
Cassandra Peterson, 61, has been portraying Elvira, in her sexy, vampish, Halloween shtick, for more than 30 years. Elvira has made Peterson very wealthy. She puts it this way: She's made more than $1 million a year for about half the years that she's been Elvira.
Not bad for a former Las Vegas showgirl who - hungry for work - showed up at a local Los Angeles TV station to audition to be the replacement host for late-night, low-budget flicks. She made $300 a week. That was more than 30 years ago. The show was quickly syndicated and went national.
It isn't the usual Halloween stereotypes, such as costumed kids and sugary treats, that ultimately made Elvira the national image of the holiday. It was Coors.
Miller-Coors declined to discuss how or why the company latched onto Halloween three decades ago and made Elvira its marketing centerpiece around the holiday. But Peterson is only too happy to.
"I'm told it was one of their most successful campaigns, ever," says Peterson, rather immodestly. She did three Coors commercials over three Halloween seasons in the mid-1980s, including one in which Coors called itself "The Official Beer of Halloween."
"I used the money to help buy a new house," she says.
To attract eyeballs and sell beer, Coors plopped life-size, cardboard stand-ups of Elvira in her sexy get-up at supermarkets, convenience stores and liquor stores. They were routinely stolen. "I still meet people who tell me they stole those stand-ups out of 7-Eleven stores," she says.
Coors eventually moved on - but Elvira stuck with Halloween.
"I've made a career off of Halloween," she says.
For 21 years, she's appeared around this time of year at Knott's Berry Farm's Halloween-theme "Knott's Scary Farm" event.
She's licensed her name or image to more than 400 products through the years, from beer to perfume to slot machines. She turns down few product requests. "Almost nothing is too tacky for Elvira," she says.
She's appeared in the big Halloween parade in New York City's Greenwich Village. This Saturday, she's hosting a Halloween costume contest at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tulsa.
She has no regrets about helping to turn Halloween into more of an adult-focused holiday.
"If ever there was a holiday that deserves to be commercialized, it's Halloween," she says. "We haven't taken it away from kids. We've just expanded it so that the kid in adults can enjoy it, too."