Vampira was a late night horror show hostess seen on ABC’s affiliate KABC Channel 7 in Hollywood in the 1950s on THE VAMPIRA SHOW.
Former model Maila Nurmi played the glamour “ghoul” Vampira who wandered through a hallway of mist and cobwebs to greet her weekly viewers with a scream and an invitation to watch one of her of “B” horror movies broadcast at 11:00 PM.
Vampira sported a full bust, slim waist (17-inches), tight black dress, long black hair and plenty of bug-eyed viewers.
Some of her on-air antics included talking to Rollo her pet spider and encouraging her fans to write for “epitaphs” instead of autographs.
The idea for the Vampira character was born in 1953 at Lester Horton’s annual “Bal Caribe” Masquerade in Hollywood at which Nurmi wore a costume based on the ghoul woman in Charles Addams’ New Yorker cartoon strip (later to be called Morticia on TV). Her costume beat out 2000 in attendance. Nurmi’s tight black dress and deathly pale white skin caught the eye of television producer Hunt Stromberg Jr. who offered Maila the “Vampira” gig on his local ABC TV station.
At the same time Vampira was hosting her weekly fright fest of monster & horror movies in the 1950s, “Zacherly,” an East coast counterpart was running amok on late night television in New York City.
In 1954, Nurmi was nominated for an Emmy as “Most Outstanding Female Personality.” Two years later, Vampira appeared in the 1956 low-budget horror film “Plan 9 From Outer Space” directed by Ed Wood; and in the late 1950s and early 1960s she appeared in three movies produced by Albert Zugsmith including “Sex Kittens Go To College.” She was billed as “Vampira” in the 1959 movie “The Beat Generation” where she plays a beatnik poet.
In the 1960s, Nurmi opened a clothing boutique called “Vampira’s Attic” that catered to such rock stars as Iron Butterfly and Grace Slick. She was also known to be a close friend to actor James Dean before his tragic car crash and crossed paths with Marilyn Monroe when she was just known as Norma Jean.
In the 1980’s, the song “Vampira” by The Misfits on the “Walk Among Us” album renewed interest in the former TV horror host and actress. At the age of 64, Nurmi fronted the punk-rock band called Satan’s Cheerleaders.
During this period, Maila Nurmi, TV’s first horror show host, sued (unsuccessfully) the folks who created the “Elvira, Mistress of the Dark,” because, in essence, “Elvira” was an updated (but obvious rip-off) of the character Vampira.
As of 1994, Nurmi at the age of 72 lived in a small apartment in Hollywood with a cat, two pigeons, no car and no phone. Mika J. Ripatti made a Finnish documentary film about Nurmi called “About Death, Sex and Taxes” in 1995.
Maila Nurmi’s character Vampira resurfaced in Tim Burton’s biopic “Ed Wood” (1994). She also turned up in “I Woke Up Early the Day I Died” (1998) starring Billy Zane.
Born Maila Elizabeth Syrjäniemion December 11, 1922 in Petsamo, Finland, Maila Nurmi died in Los Angeles, California on January 10, 2008. She was 86.
NOTE: Over the years, the Vampira character has been profiled in a number of magazines including:
- Life magazine article on June 14, 1954 p. 107-110 (“Good Evening, I Am Vampira”)
- Newsweek May 24, 1954, p. 84. (“Vampire)”
- TV Guide, 5-11 February 1955, p. 13. (“V is for Voluptua – and for Vampira Too)”
- Fangoria, #30, October 1983, pp. 26-29 (“The One – The Only Vampira”)
- Chiller Theater #1, Winter 1994-95, pp. 21-26 (“The First lady of the Silver Screem: a conversation with the un-dead Vampira a.k.a. Maila Nurmi”)
- Scary Monsters #26, March 1998, pp. 28-31 (“Scary Monsters Honors Vampira”).
The Vampira Show (IMDB)
The Vampira Show – Intro (Video)
The Vampira Show – Excerpt (Video)
The Vampira Show (Video)
Vampira Song by Bobby Bare (Video)
Vampira Song by The Misfits (Video)
Vampira and Me – Trailer (Video)
Vampira’s Attic (Official Site)