Maila Nurmi – VampiraDecember 11, 1922 – January 10, 2008″Screamingrelaxes me so.”
Maila Nurmi, known for 50 years as Vampira, was an Emmy-nominated TV program hostess for KABC (Channel 7) in LosAngeles. Nurmi was born Maila Elizabeth Syrjaniemi in Petsamo Finland, and immigrated to Ohio with her family in 1924. She studied acting in New York City and was reportedly cast as a vampire in Mike Todd’s NYC show Spook Scandals. She followed her actor chums to Hollywood and became a pinup model and high-kicking showgirl at Florentine Gardens and Earl Carroll’s Theatre (now Nickelodeon Studios – on Sunset Blvd).
In 1953, Nurmi attended a masquerade ball in a tight sexy dress inspired by Charles Addams’ New Yorker magazine drawings.
She won first prize and was soon tracked down by a KABC producer looking for a late-night hostess who would do skits and introduce old horror films that were newly syndicated for television. Nurmi played it up as a camp vamp – a busty beatnik/wise cracking pun-loving sexpot with a stunning 38-17-36 figure. Her first husband screenwriter Dean Riesner suggested the character name “Vampira”.
In 1954, Vampira made her TV debut on Friday, April 30, 1954. Nurmi was soon riding high – taping her camp hit The Vampira Show and making public appearances, as she did in USC’s homecoming parade.
“AVampira cocktail, you like it? It hates you.”
Nurmi told the press, she kept her “ghoulish figure” from a diet of of boiled eggs, orange juice and graham crackers.
In 1955, The Vampira Show was cancelled. Nurmi was almost killed, on June 20th, when a homicidal man reportedly forced his way into her apartment and terrorized her for four hours. Nurmi managed to escape and called the police.
In 1956, Ed Wood contacted Nurmi to appear in his low-budget film Grave Robbers from OuterSpace (later called Plan 9 from Outer Space) which incorporated the last footage of Bela Lugosi. Nurmi agreed to do the one-day part for $200 – but only if she didn’t have to say the horrible dialogue.”Nobody’sever gonna see this movie, it doesn’t matter,” she said. Nurmi would later say she took pity on Wood (“I always pity people who aren’t very bright.”).
Christmas 1956 found Nurmi recuperating from first degree burns on her arms and hands after her apartment caught fire in the night. She was saved by her meowing cat “Ratface” and posed in bandages with the heroic kitty for reporters.
By 1962, Nurmi told reporters that she was working as a “lady linoleum-layer” and cleaning celeb’s houses for 99 centsan hour. She opened “Vampira’s Attic” – an antique shop on Melrose Avenue in the 1970s and sold handmade jewelry and clothing.
Nurmi would later try to sue Cassandra “Elvira” Peterson in 1989 for infringement of intellectual property, but eventually dropped the $10 million dollar lawsuit due to lack of legal funds.In her defense, Cassandra said she was asked to host horror films on TV, andwear something black and sexy. Not a whole lot of choices. Nurmicalled Peterson “slimy” and “I’m just waiting for her plastic surgeryto backfire – for her bosoms to poison her.” The Court eventuallydismissed the case, stating:
“…neither case supportsthe proposition that a person’s use of a character that bears a mereresemblance to another is actionable under the common law right ofpublicity.”
In 1994, Tim Burton released the brilliant film Ed Wood with actress/model Lisa Marie in the role of Vampira.
By the early 2000s, Nurmi appeared as a commentator on several E! TV shows about Ed Wood and James Dean. She was also interviewed in the documentaries Schlock! The Secret History of American Movies (2001), American Scary (2006) and Vampira: The Movie (2006).
Maila Nurmi died at age 85 of cardiac arrest in her Hollywood home on Thursday, January 10th,2008. Her mildly decomposed body was discovered by a friend. Maila waswearing a brown t-shirt, black underwear and socks – always incharacter. She was found lying on the sofa, her feet resting on a lawnchair. The apartment wasn’t tidy – covered with animal hair anddust. That’s not the worst. A dead cat was found in her apartment,and a live dog – which has since been adopted.
Maila had a sweet little sitting area in front of herapartment, and on the front of her doorway were these two stickers.
She was taken downtown to the coroner’s officeand autopsied. Because next of kin could not be established – and a relative appearedfrom the Pacific northwest – her body was kept on ice, and her apartment sealed with thissticker,until a representative could establish whether Maila had made any arrangements. Maila was eventually released to Hollywood Forever Cemetery on January 31st.
On the official coroner documentation, Maila’s name islisted as Nurmimioni
She was cremated and a memorial service was heldfor her in the chapel at Hollywood Forever on Sunday,February 17, 2008. Donations were accepted to provide Maila with an appropriategrave marker. I sent a bit of dosh in, and I guess this qualified me for agolden ticket to the memorial. I understood thatthe service would be very private and the code name would be “MarySmith.” I arrived and no one asking for anything. I walked right inwithout a problem, so could anyone else. The memorialpamphlet was there for the taking, and the small service took place. Many people shared recollections of Maila, some were damn funny too. Afterwards,she was taken to her grave.
Her urn was taken by classichearse, to herburial location, in the Griffith Lawn section.
A small graveside servicewas said, and her urn was packed in a cooler, well, vault that looks exactlylike a cooler and a sewing machine case, and lowered into theground.
I believe this is the last footage that exists ofVampira above ground.
Her grave was marked first by a temporarymarker, then marked by proper stone in July 2009 due in part from donations from fans.
Maila Nurmi was remembered in the list of deceased actors on the 81st Academy Awards telecast.
Okay, here’s something that pissed me off. I’m an invited guest to her memorial, and after watching several people withcameras, I decided to snap a few pictures myself. When the urn was beingtaken from the chapel to the burial spot, this twatty security guard with a suitand glasses – you know the type – comes over and asks me what I’m doingthere. He’s very officious. I told him I’m a guest, and he mumbledsomething and walked away. I was pissed, and I approached him and askedhim why he chose to speak to me, and not anyone else. He said it wasbecause of the way I was dressed. Now, I was in my touruniform, but comparatively, did I really stand out?
No disrespectintended for the other guests. I hate twatty security guards. Plus I own property there. Psh
Trivia: Maila claims she was the first everto wear ankle strap shoes, Cruella DeVille was based on her, and she inventedice.
Trivia: Maila claimed that James Dean wasthe closest person to her in life, and that she had an affair with Marlon Brando- he became obsessed with her. Both men are dead and could not respond tothis claim.
Trivia: Wanna see her mailbox?
Trivia: While in Las Vegas, I visited theLiberace Museum, like I always do, and found this picture on a wall of Leeand Maila. Lee died of complications from AIDS in 1987. In midOctober, myself and a few Death Hags are doing the AIDS Walk in LosAngeles. If you would like to support or join our team to fight forLiberace, c’mon down!
Speaking of Elvira… what if you had freereign to run around Elvira’s house and buy stuff?
Click her and see!
Special thanks to Mark Langlois and C.