Monday, October 20, 2014


(Click to Vampira-Size)

Maila Nurmi moved to New York and then Los Angeles to pursue a career in the entertainment industry after graduating from high school in Astoria, Oregon.

By 1944, she was fired by Mae West, allegedly because West feared being upstaged in her play “Catherine Was Great”.  On Broadway, she recieved great attention appearing in the horror-themed midnight show “Spook Scandals” in which she screamed, fainted, lay in a coffin and creeped around a mock cemetery.  She was a high-kicking showgirl at the Earl Carroll Theatre and a chorus line dancer at Florentine Gardens.

(Click to Vampira-Size)

By the ‘50s, she was supporting herself by posing for pin-up photographers for men’s magazines.  She modeled for Alberto Vargas, Bernard fo Hollywood, and Man Ray.  She had an uncredited role in Victor Saville’s film “If Winter Comes” (1947).

(Click to Nurmi-fy)

The idea for Vampira began when, in ’53, when Nurmi attended choreographer Lester Horton’s annual Bal Caribe Masquerade in a costume inspired by Morticia Addams of The New Yorker cartoons of Charles Addams.  Her alluring appearance in tight black dress against her pale skin caught the attention of television producer Hunt Stromberg, Jr. who wanted to hire her to work for KABC-TV.

The name Vampira was the invention of Nurmi’s husband, Dean Riesner.  The chracterization of the character was influenced by the comic strip “Terry and the Pirates” and it’s character the Dragon Lady and the evil queen from Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”.
(It is of special note, then, that she was the model for Maleficent, the evil witch from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, in 1956.)

(Click to Vampira-Size)

And so, Vampira was the first television host of horror movies.  “The Vampira Show” premiered on May 1, 1954 after a preview entitled “Dig Me Later, Vampira” aired the previous night.  Each episode began with, well, this…

The show was an instant hit, and a month later she appeared as Vampira in a skit on “The Red Skelton Show” with Bela Lugosi, Peter Lorre and Lon Chaney, Jr.  At the same time, LIFE magazine ran an article on her with a photo-spread showing her show-opening entrance.

She would then introduce the film and mock it while reclining on a skull-encrusted couch.  Her bits would be the same ones most horror hosts use to this day… puns with a macabre spin, guest-stars like her pet spider, Rollo.  She ran as a candidate for Night Mayor of Hollywood with a platform of “dead issues”.  KABC would have her cruise around in a chauffeur-driven ’32 Packard with the top down in the back seat while holding a black parasol.

(Click to Nurmi-fy)

In 1955, the show was cancelled (in the early days of TV these guys couldn’t keep a hit going for anything!), Nurmi retained the rights to the character and name and took them to rival station, KHJ-TV which gave her a show for a short period.  And that was the end of her Horror Hosting career.

Her decline in Hollywood was sharp and by 1956, when she was struggling with employment making $13 a week, she agreed to appear in Ed Wood’s movie, “Plan 9 From Outer Space” for $200.  She knew it was professional suicide.  By the ‘60s, her career was nearly nonexistent.

(Plan 9 with Bela--Click to Lugosi-splode)

She calls what happened to her a kind of “blacklist”, that for whatever reason, post war America wasn’t quite ready for what she and the Beat movement promised.  It is strange that someone could come so close to major stardom and then just drop off the map.  But then, loads of horror hosts were seemingly dropped for no good reason, so I don’t necessarily buy into that.

(Click to Goth-Punk-Out)

What did happen is that she proved the worth of local hosts with talent taking the leftovers of Hollywood and spinning it into ratings gold while making sitting home in the dark, watching movies a hell of a lot more interesting.

A very interesting article/opinion piece about Vampira here:

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