Today is the legendary ghoulish B-actress Vampira's birthday, and in January it is two years since she passed away. Since I found some cool pictures of her, I thought I might as well right a little something too.
Vampira was actually born in my neighbor country Finland (my maternal grandfather's home country) December 21st, 1922. Her uncle (or so she claims) was famous athlete Paavo Nurmi, one of "The Flying Finns", and probably made a more respectable mark in history than his supposed niece.
She was named Maila Elizabeth Syrjäniemi (later changed to easier-to-pronounce Nurmi), and at the age of two she moved to America with her family, namely Ashtabula, Oregon, the largest Finnish community in the state.
Blonde Maila Nurmi as a pin-up girl.
At the age of 17 Maila Nurmi arrived in Los Angeles, where she soon found work as a pin-up model for fames Peruvian Playboy painter Alberto Vargas. Incredibly enough, a director named Howard Hawkes noticed the lovely blonde Maila and planned to make a new Lauren Bacall out of her. He cast her in a planned film adaption of the Russian novel "Dreadful Hollow", but the project was out on hold for so many times that Maila finally lost patience and washed her hands of the whole business.
The Vampira we are more familiar with.
It was at a masquerade ball that Maila once again was discovered, this time introducing the Vampira persona. She had based her costume on a character in The New Yorker's cartoon by Charles "Chas" Addams, namely Morticia Addams of the macabre Addams Family. It was a television producer who noticed the dark beauty, now with raven dyed hair, long fingernails and a wasp waist. Soon Vampira had a contract hosting the Channel 7 midnight broadcast "The Vampira Show". With that trump card the television company easily succeeded in their quest to make more people stay up at night watching bad horror flicks.
The show was popular at least for one season (1954-55), but the audience soon tired of the badly written double entendres and the melodramatic show hostess. The next thing was an appearance in the camp classic Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959), about which she had to say:
"At the time, I thought it was horrible. I knew immediately I'd be committing professional suicide, but I thought `what choice do I have?' Somehow, I seemed to be dead already. I love glamour and physical beauty. I've always been fascinated by beautiful men on the screen: Tyrone Power, Robert Walker, with soft-focus filters and velvet voices. That's what Ed Wood was like. Beautiful dreamy eyes and long, sweeping lashes just beautiful. He didn't make a very pretty lady [in Glen or Glenda], but he made an awfully pretty man."
The rest is history. Through the years Vampira has however become notorious for modifying her true relationships with famous Hollywood people. For one thing, she claimed to be on very friendly terms with James Dean. While the fact that they met seems to be the truth, there is some doubt about her claims of a deep understanding between the two. The American actress and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper had this to say in her 1962 memoir in a chapter about Dean:
"We discussed the thin-cheeked actress who calls herself Vampira on television (and cashed in, after Jimmy died, on the publicity she got from knowing him and claimed she could talk to him 'through the veil'). He said: 'I had studied The Golden Bough and the Marquis de Sade, and I was interested in finding out if this girl was obsessed by a satanic force. She knew absolutely nothing. I found her void of any true interest except her Vampira make-up. She has no absolute.' "
She was however acquainted with both Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe, and did briefly date Orson Welles, whom she said was the only man she ever traveled to other cities to be with.
In later years Vampira made a living installing linoleum flooring. She seemed to take it well, considering she said the following to the Los Angeles Times in an interview:
"And if things are slow in linoleum, I can also do carpentry, make drapes or refinish furniture"
She later opened an antiques boutique on Melrose Avenue called Vampira's Attic, where she made items for several celebrities including Grace Slick, singer in Jefferson Airplane.
Vampira died in Los Angeles at the age of 85 from natural causes, Januray 10th, 2008.
Maybe body modification is something I should try out?
I can't believe this...
Quite the fan photo!
My favorite picture of the lot:
Vampira does her best to scare little children.