Vampira, One And Only
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Tight black dress, long black hair, pale skin, narrow waist are the main characteristics of Morticia Adams. But in Hollywood, in the fifties there was an actress who used all of this to create her own character Vampira. Vampira was the first TV horror host. In the late evening hours, shows of this specific person could be seen on the small TV screens of U.S. families. Before every horror film that was shown on KBC-TV, Vampira would tell her scary stories and announce the movies. She did it in a very specific way. During her performance she was screaming, laughing, talking to her pet Rollo (who was a spider), sitting in a coffin... Her performance started with her walking down the dark hallway full of mist and when she comes closer to the camera she begins her characteristic screaming.
Vampira's real name is Maila Nurmi. Maila is an American actress with Finnish origin. Born as Maila Elizabeth Syrjäniemion December 11th, 1922, in the Finnish city Petsamo. In 1923 she moved with her family to a village in Ohio USA. After Ohio family moved to Astoria, Oregon, where she graduated. Shortly after graduation Maila Elizabeth Syrjaniemi moved to Los Angeles where her career soon began. In the fifties when she appeared as a Vampira character she definitely caused all sorts of opinions. People have admired her, wondered and even feared because her appearance certainly wasn't common. A woman with pale skin completely dressed in black with strong and aggressive makeup, long nails and skulls around her certainly isn't something that can be seen every day.
On arrival to Los Angeles, Maila shortens her name to Maila Nurmi and finds a job as a model. At the beginning of her career she was a model, pin-up girl, chorus girl and a monologist (forerunner to stand up comedy). Maila created her Vampira character by watching evil queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Morticia from "Adams Family", Theda Bara (a famous actress from the silent era), Norma Desmond (the character from the movie "Sunset Boulevard" which was played by Gloria Swanson) and the Dragon Lady from the comic "Terry and Pirates". Maila Nurmi in her later interviews said that as young she was very thin (almost anorexic), ugly, shy, insecure, poor, and that she was getting dressed from second-hand shops and therefore felt the needs to create an imaginary character who will be in total contravention of Maila herself. Vampira was sexy, nice, noble, safe and a bit evil. Maila spoke "Vampira played vicious person, especially in front of the press because they worshiped it".
Vampira's career began when Maila decided to appear dressed as Morticia on one important event in Los Angeles. When she appeared dressed all in black, with elegant moves and looks of Gloria Swanson, she was immediately caught in the eyes of many people. She was especially noticed by Hunt Stromberg Jr. a producer, who thought to employ her to announce horror films in the late evening hours. And so in 1954. the figure of Vampira was officially made.
On May the 1st, 1954 the "The Vampira Show" premiere was broadcasted. In the first few weeks show was broadcasted at midnight and then the broadcast was moved an hour behind, at 23h. Her show very quickly became viewed as its emission was certainly something new, specific and unique. Soon everybody knew Vampira.
Maila was soon engaged as a Vampira in other projects such as a comedy skit with elements of horror film "The Red Skeleton Show" with a horror film legends such as Bela Lugosi, Peter Lorre and Lon Chaney Jr. Soon after that many magazines were interested in her. Among them was the magazine "Life" which published Vampira's pictures and stories about her. Her career at KBC-TV ends when leaders of this television demanded from her to sell them rights to the character Vampira. Maila refuses and goes to another television KHJ-TV where she continues her show. Vampira has participated in many other projects out her show. In 1954 she was nominated for an Emmy Award as "Most Outstanding Female Personality".
Maila Nurmi appeared as Vampira in several films. The most famous films in which Vampira character appeared were "Plan 9 from Outer Space" and "The Beat Generation". "Plan 9 from Outer Space" is a movie by Ed Wood in which she appears next to the legendary Vampire Dracula Bela Lugosi. That was his last film. Bela died in the middle of filming and was replaced by doubler. In this movie Maila played a zombie who looks like Vampira.
Maila later acted in various movies. These are: "I Passed for White", "Sex Kittens Go to College", "The Magic Sword" ... After that, she appeared on the screen just for a bit. The last movie that she filmed was from 1998, "I Woke Up Early the Day I Died."
Many documentary films about Vampira were recorded and documentaries referring to Vampira or where Maila Nurmi was interviewed. The most famous documentaries that are recorded about her and with her in it are: "About Death, Sex and Taxes" (1995) is a Finnish documentary film, "The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood, Jr.." (1995) which was about "The Vampira Show ", "Vampira: The Movie" (2004) documentary about Vampira, "American Scary" (2006) documentary about horror films in which we can see an interview with Maila Nurmi and many others. What is interesting about this is that Vampira was a very close friend of the famous rebel James Dean during the fifties. James Dean was pleased with her appearance and wanted to meet her. After that, people often saw them together in the cafes, until his death. Also a well known American singer Bobby Bare sang a song called "Vampira".
Maila Nurmi died on January the 10th, 2008. in Los Angeles in her old-age.
Forever to be remembered.