Cassandra Peterson casts a strange spell on people. When she's in full-out costume as her iconic character, "Elvira, Mistress of the Night," the reaction might be all-out worship.
But when she's appearing as Cassandra Peterson, an attractive, ginger-haired woman in street clothes, that's when fans really cannot believe their eyes.
"It used to really shock people," she said. "Although I'm finding that because I'm doing different shows as myself here and there, over the years people are starting to recognize me as myself, which, actually, I'm not that thrilled about."
If she's going to be recognized, at least it should help her get good tables in restaurants around Los Angeles, she joked. Alas, no.
"I tell them 'I play Elvira,' and they just look at me ..."
Ms. Peterson -- as herself -- will be among the celebrity guests at the annual Steel City Con, which kicks off Friday at 2 p.m. and runs through Sunday at the Monroeville Convention Center.
Others include Peter Mayhew, Chewbacca in four "Star Wars" films; Robert Remus, better known as former WWE personality and wrestler Sgt. Slaughter; Oscar-winning actor Louis Gossett Jr; Dirk Bendict, the original "Battlestar Galactica's" Starbuck; Richard Hatch, the original BSG Apollo and also the dissident Tom Zarek in the Syfy version; Dwight Shultz of "A-Team" and "Star Trek: The Next Generation" fame; and Paris Themmen, "Mike Teevee" in Gene Wilder's version of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."
Also scheduled to appear is Alan Ruck, "Ferris Bueller's" sidekick, Cameron. Most recently, Mr. Ruck plays the late Hubbell Flowers on ABC Family's "Bunheads."
Ms. Peterson -- who recently returned from a tour of Australia -- said travel can be exhausting, yet there's something special about conventions.
"Doing a convention, when there is a good crowd on hand, it's fantastic. It's a real upper. The fans are happy to see you and I'm happy to see them and it's kind of a big mutual admiration club."
One man showed up to tell her that his father had been a big fan but never got the chance to meet her in person.
"He brought his dad's ashes, as his dad had recently passed away. And I signed the box of ashes, 'Better late than never.' "
People just want to share: photos of their tattoos of her, photos of themselves dressed as Elvira. The Mistress of the Night has a big following in the drag world -- her website sells a men's version of her trademark black costume -- and she recently served as guest judge on Logo's "RuPaul's Drag Race All-Stars."
She was also on the show for the first episode of 2012's Season 4, the blood-and-guts "RuPocalypse" challenge won by Pittsburgh's Sharon Needles, herself a fan of Elvira.
"[Ms. Needles] really looked like she was going to die," Ms. Peterson said. "She is one talented drag queen, I tell you. Really unusual. There are a lot of great drag queens out there, but she has a different take on it."
Becoming Elvira is a lot like getting into drag in that it involves a great deal of prep work and pain. At 61, Ms. Peterson still has the body of someone decades younger. But then, Elvira is immortal. She works out every day and is into mostly vegetarian food.
That skintight costume is "100 percent pure polyester," she said, which makes it great for throwing into a suitcase or the washer, but it doesn't breathe well.
The dress, structured to show off Ms. Peterson's more prominent assets, is extremely tight, and the 5-foot-7 actress wears 6-inch heels.
"I wish I had one that was more like a muumuu, actually, to wear with flip-flops. But the fans wouldn't be too thrilled with that," she added. "You've got to suffer for beauty, what can I say?"
Then there's the wig, or rather, a combination of two hairpieces.
"It started out really flat and it's gotten higher and higher, and I can almost tell the year by the height of my hair [on film]," she said. "It had gotten to the point where my hair was so damn high, I looked like Marge Simpson."
If Elvira is the dark side of Ms. Peterson, then Cassandra is the sunny. "I'm a mom, I like to cook and I kind of enjoy my privacy. I think that surprises people, because I'm pretty kooky as a character."
Maria Sciullo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG.