Monday, December 21, 2009

Vampira (1922-2008)

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.


Louise said...

I saw The Addams Family last year and loved it! Lane and Neuwirth were fantastic as well as Krysta Rodriguez. The story line and music were very entertaining and tickets weren't cheap, i got them from ...hopefully they do make it on Broadway again.
It’s one of my favourite shows; I would see it again in a heartbeat!

Meredith said...

what fascinating photographs! i agree the last one is definitely best. it's interesting to see what hollywood personalities end up doing after their careers peter out, i really didn't see linoleum floors coming.

Mykal said...

Lolita: I have always loved this woman. Thanks for this wonderful tribute! She was so completely unique and absolutely unpretentious in her personal life. That picture of her talking to the little girls, from everything I've read, that was what she was like - always willing to talk to fans, never guarded or "on."

Thanks for this post. It made my day. -- Mykal

Lolita said...

Me neither! Haha. But one has to love her for accepting it, instead of going depressed and lean towards suicide.

Great! Thank you, what enthusiasm! I'm glad I made you happy :)

Lolita said...

How cool! I only remember watching the Angelica Huston/Raul Julia version when I was very young. I remember something about the children trying to kill their infant brother, what dark humor!

Matthew Coniam said...

Bless you, Lolita, for so many pictures of this goddess that I've never seen before!
I LOVE that picture of her with the kids...
I used to dream of this woman. From the age of 12-18 I dreamed of virtually nothing else.
I still think she's about the most gorgeous creature ever.
I watched a documentary about Ed Wood the other night, and she said that her total appearance in Plan 9 took about 15 minutes to shoot! But that image of her coming out of the tomb with those rigid outstretched arms, and the bit where she walks away from the camera and then looks back at us - at me - over her shoulder, will live as long as anything in cinema.
Viva Vampira!

Lolita said...

Matthew Coniam:
Great that you too was happy by this post! I was quite pleased with some of the pictures I managed to dig of on the web :)
Your depiction of the Vampira scene in Plan 9 is spot on, Matthew!

Amanda said...

Vampira was sure an original! Those are some fabulous pics. I can't believe the one with the shaved head! Why? A part of pop culture, definitely.

It was cool seeing those pinup pics. I had no idea she had every been anything else.

Darsh said...

Vampira in LIFE Magazine (complete with huge scans!):

Anonymous said...

Get it right!

She moved to:


Anonymous said...

Resident of Ashtabula, OHIO