Vampira - 1950s Glamour Ghoul!
Vampira: Queen Of 1950s Horror!
Vampira was a TV horror show hostess in the 1950s whose iconic "sex, death and humor" style heavily influenced the later (better known but very similar) character, Elvira, Mistress Of The Dark.
The character of Vampira was created by actress Maila Nurmi as a "glamour ghoul", hired to boost ratings for a late night horror movie show on a local TV station based in Hollywood. Vampira was a beautiful woman with long black hair, ultra long red fingernails, deathly pale skin and a tiny waist, wearing a tight, body hugging and cleavage revealing black dress which was slit to reveal her elegant legs clad in black hosiery...she became an instant hit with the predominantly male audience!
The Vampira Show aired during 1954-1955 and avid viewers would eagerly tune in to watch sexy Vampira glide spookily down a mist filled and cobweb strewn corridor to greet her audience with a blood curdling scream before seductively purring the words, "Screaming relaxes me so"!
Vampira went on to appear in several low-budget films including the 1959 cult classic horror/sci-fi movie Plan 9 From Outer Space directed by Ed Wood.
Sadly, Vampira's fame was short lived and after her 50s heyday she was largely forgotten until the 1990s internet boom - now Vampira's talents have been discovered by a whole new generation and she's become a cult icon of retro horror!
Read on to find out more about the original Gothic Queen Of Horror - Vampira!
Screaming relaxes me so...
Vampira - The Gothic Glamour Ghoul! - A video montage of photographs of Vampira which show just how beautiful she was!
Music: "Vampira" by The Misfits
"...Two inch nails,
With a pale white feline face..."
The Origins Of Vampira - Maila Nurmi aka Vampira!
Vampira was a character created by aspiring actress Maila Nurmi (1921-2008) who attended a masquerade ball in 1953 wearing a costume based on a then unnamed "ghoul-woman" character from the "New Yorker" cartoons by Charles Addams (the character on which she based her costume later became better known as "Morticia" from "The Addams Family"!). Her outfit won the award for the best costume and caught the eye of a Los Angeles TV producer who hired her as a "horror host" to encourage viewers to stay up and watch the late night "B" horror movies shown on Channel 7 in Hollywood.
Maila Nurmi thought that the best way to boost the ratings for a male dominated prospective audience was to combine the themes of "sex and death" and so she developed the character into a sexier and more glamorous version of her original costume.
Vampira's make-up was both glamorous and seductive - red lipstick, arched black eyebrows, deathly pale foundation and face powder and very, VERY long red fingernails. She slit the skirt of her close fitting, tattered black dress to show off her fishnet hosiery and wore a waist cincher to achieve a tiny, nipped in waist, and an uplift bra to enhance her cleavage . She added a tight belt to accentuate her hourglass figure and a long black cigarette holder - the ultimate 50s glamour accessory!
Maila's husband, TV and film writer Dean Riesner suggested that the new character be named "Vampira" and a legend was born!
Maila Nurmi explains how she created Vampira in the documentary "American Scary"
The Vampira Show
The Vampira Show ran from 1954 to 1955
The Vampira Show aired on the Los Angeles ABC television affiliate KABC-TV Channel 7 from April 30th 1954 to April 2nd 1955. It was broadcast in black and white.
The Wikipedia article: The Vampira Show states that:
"...Vampira's personality was based on elements of several silent film actresses including Theda Bara and Gloria Swanson as well as the Evil Queen from Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs..."
The idea of a themed host introducing films was completely innovative and proved a big success. Vampira's style of presentation was camp, comic and laden with double-entendres. She reclined barefoot on her skull festooned couch, drank "Vampira Cocktails" from her "Poison Bar", bantered with off-screen "ghosts", played with her pet spider "Rollo" and encouraged her viewers to write in and ask for "epitaphs" rather than autographs!
So popular was the character, that soon Vampira was in demand for TV talk shows, newspaper articles and magazine features. Other TV stations jumped on the bandwagon by hiring "Vampira style hosts" for their own shows. Vampira made regular public appearances "in character" and fan clubs dedicated to her sprung up all over the world.
Vampira was at the height of her fame when she was nominated for an Emmy in 1954 for "Most Outstanding Female Personality."
But her fame was not to last...despite its popularity, The Vampira Show was cancelled in 1955 when Maila Nurmi refused to sell her rights to the Vampira character to ABC.
The opening sequence of The Vampira Show from 1954, featuring Vampira's trademark scream!
Vampira Returns 1956
in 1956 an attempt was made to get the Vampira "momentum" rolling again. Rival station KHJ-TV Channel 9 picked up the show under the title Vampira Returns with Vampira appearing as the "Ghost Host" before disappearing off TV screens for good.
Sadly, all Vampira's TV shows were broadcast live and none were recorded onto film. However in the 1990s a kinescope of re-shot segments of some of Vampira's shows which had been used for advertising purposes by the TV station were discovered in private collections, along with the scripts of several of the original shows. In 2007 the kinescope clips were restored. The Wikipedia article: The Vampira Show states:
"...A reconstructed episode of The Vampira Show was released from the Vampira's Attic web site in October 2007. The release imitated a complete episode by using existing footage of the show combined with vintage commercials and a full-length feature film."
Clips featuring Vampira as seen in the kinescope are included in the documentary films Vampira: The Movie and American Scary.
Maila Nurmi talks about her career as Vampira
Vampira In Plan 9 From Outer Space
Maila Nurmi appeared in several films following the end of the Vampira TV shows, with her most notable film appearance as a Vampira-like zombie in Ed Wood's schlock-horror B movie classic, Plan 9 From Outer Space which was released in 1959. In 1980, Ed Wood was posthumously given the Golden Turkey Award for directing "Plan 9 From Outer Space" which was deemed to be the Worst Film Ever Made!
In the film, Vampira is credited as "Vampire Girl" and her character has no dialogue! According to the biography of Maila Nurmi which appeared on former Official Vampira website,
"Appalled by her dialogue, Nurmi begged Wood to let her perform wordlessly, and the result was a sleepwalking character dressed like Vampira, but who was actually what Nurmi calls Maila in an alpha state."
Maila Nurmi as the Vampira influenced character "Vampire Girl" in Ed Wood's "Plan 9 From Outer Space"
- Vampira's creator and alter-ego Maila Nurmi was born Maila Elizabeth SyrjÃ¤niemi on December 11th 1922 in Petsamo, Finland and died on January 10th 2008 in Los Angeles, California
- In the 1960s, Maila Nurmi opened a boutique called "Vampira's Attic". The store sold handmade jewelry and clothing and included rock stars such as members of the band Iron Butterfly and Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane amongst it's clientele
- The 1980s cartoon series, Drak Pack included a character named Vampira who bore more than a passing resemblence to the original Maila Nurmi character
- Maila Nurmi was inducted posthumously into the Monster Kid Hall of Fame at the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards
- Vampira's measurements were 36B-21-35 (Source: Celebrity Sleuth magazine)
Do YOU Love Vampira!
Do you love Vampira?
Vampira: Dark Goddess of Horror
This book by author W. Scott Poole published in 2014, explores the life of actress Maila Nurmi and her creation of the character of Vampira as a stark contrast to the gender stereotypical role of women in postwar America.
“Vampira is up there with Vincent Price for lovers of the macabre, an icon whose shadow and influence lingers long after death. She's not only important to modern children of the night for being the first TV horror host, but as the original ‘Glamour Ghoul,’ whose style has inspired generations of Goth Girls to adopt the sexy undead look as their own. But there is more to her story than her ability to look good screaming, and Scott Poole, whose writing on the dark side of popular culture has proven to be some of the smartest, sassiest commentary on American society around, is the man to tell it.” —Lisa Ladouceur, author of Encyclopedia Gothica
Vampira v Elvira, Mistress Of The Dark!
Vampira sued Elvira for stealing her image!
In 1981, KHJ-TV wanted Vampira back on TV screens. Maila Nurmi was contacted and started working with the producers of the new show. However, she soon left the project as she wanted actress Lola Falana to play the role of the new Vampira but the station hired comic actress Cassandra Peterson for the role without reference to Nurmi.
Maila Nurmi still owned the rights to the name Vampira, so the new horror host was re-named "Elvira, Mistress of the Dark" and the new show was transmitted under the title Elvira's Movie Macabre.
Cassandra Peterson played Elvira as a sassy, valley-girl type character with a razor sharp wit and looked very similar to Vampira apart from a beehive added to the classic "long black hair" Vampira hairstyle. Elvira wore a tight-fitting, low-cut, cleavage revealing black gown, presented her show reclining on a couch, engaged in double entendres and closed the show by walking down a mist ridden corridor and uttering the phrase "Unpleasant dreams" (Vampira's show closer had been "Bad dreams, darlings...")
Incensed by what she considered a blatant infringement on Vampira's "distinctive dark dress, certain horror movie props and a special personality." (source: Court document: "Maila Nurmi v. Cassandra Peterson"), Maila Nurmi promptly filed a lawsuit against Cassandra Peterson. However, her claim was unsuccessful with the court ruling that " "likeness' means actual representation of another person's appearance, and not simply close resemblance.". Elvira went on to achieve widespread success.
Who's Best - Vampira or Elvira? - Which one is the ultimate "Queen Of Horror"?
LEFT: Vampira in Plan 9 From Outer Space (photo credit: By Edward D. Wood, Jr. (screen capture) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
RIGHT: Elvira 24x36 Color Poster Print shown above available from Amazon.com
Vampira or Elvira?
Bad dreams, darlings...
© 2011 LouiseKirkpatrick