Classic Horror Hosts: VAMPIRA!!!
It’s hard to conceive that someone who hosted movies for a mere 15 months total, with only a few fleeting moments of her program surviving over the years, would have the cultural impact of Maila Nurmi, aka Vampira. But despite being cancelled on two Los Angeles stations in the early days of TV (she was on from 1954 to 1956), she has had a larger impact on popular culture than just about any horror host ever to haunt a fog-bound set.
She got the attention of TV producer Hunt Stromberg at a L.A. Halloween party, where she dressed as Charles Addams’ “Morticia” character (before the character even had a name!). He approached her to host horror films on KABC-TV, and she drew from the “Dragon Lady” character from the Terry and the Pirates comic strip and Snow White’s Evil Queen and combined that image with a dark, morbid humor to create a sexily sinister siren of the screen. As a result, she became one of the first Horror Hosts, and her quick rise to nationwide fame provided a template for other hosts to follow.
She became friends (or, depending on whom you believe, perhaps more) with James Dean, appeared on national TV and was featured in LIFEmagazine. But by the early 1960s, she was installing linoleum flooring. In the mid-60s, she opened a boutique called Vampira’s Attic on Melrose Place.
At the end of her TV run, she had appeared in a silent role in Ed Wood’s classic Plan 9 From Outer Space (filmed in 1956 as Grave Robbers From Outer Space), which seemed destined for obscurity. Despite its reputation as the “world’s worst movie” (which, trust me, it ain’t), its rise in popularity through the years helped to cement her iconic image with new generations, which has in turn inspired countless Goth/Death Rock (as the early L.A. movement was called) acolytes and provided a delightfully ghoulish inspiration to Horror Punks around the globe. There’s a reason that both the Misfits and the Damned have recorded odes to her.
She passed away of natural causes on January 10, 2008 at the age of 85. She continues to be remembered and celebrated, and as long as there are people out there who are attracted to dark beauty and ghoulish humor, she will continue to be.
Long live Vampira!