December 11, 1922 – January 10, 2008
“Screaming relaxes me so.”
Maila Nurmi, known for 50 years as Vampira, was an Emmy-nominated TV program hostess for KABC (Channel 7) in Los Angeles. Nurmi was born Maila Elizabeth Syrjaniemi in Petsamo Finland, and immigrated to Ohio with her family in 1924. She studied acting in New York City and was reportedly cast as a vampire in Mike Todd’s NYC show Spook Scandals. She followed her actor chums to Hollywood and became a pinup model and high-kicking showgirl at Florentine Gardens and Earl Carroll’s Theatre (now Nickelodeon Studios – on Sunset Blvd).
In 1953, Nurmi attended a masquerade ball in a tight sexy dress inspired by Charles Addams’ New Yorker magazine drawings.
She won first prize and was soon tracked down by a KABC producer looking for a late-night hostess who would do skits and introduce old horror films that were newly syndicated for television. Nurmi played it up as a camp vamp – a busty beatnik/wise cracking pun-loving sexpot with a stunning 38-17-36 figure. Her first husband screenwriter Dean Riesner suggested the character name “Vampira”.
In 1954, Vampira made her TV debut on Friday, April 30, 1954. Nurmi was soon riding high – taping her camp hit The Vampira Show and making public appearances, as she did in USC’s homecoming parade.
“A Vampira cocktail, you like it? It hates you.”
Nurmi told the press, she kept her “ghoulish figure” from a diet of of boiled eggs, orange juice and graham crackers.
In 1955, The Vampira Show was cancelled. Nurmi was almost killed, on June 20th, when a homicidal man reportedly forced his way into her apartment and terrorized her for four hours. Nurmi managed to escape and called the police.
In 1956, Ed Wood contacted Nurmi to appear in his low-budget film Grave Robbers from Outer Space (later called Plan 9 from Outer Space) which incorporated the last footage of Bela Lugosi. Nurmi agreed to do the one-day part for $200 – but only if she didn’t have to say the horrible dialogue. “Nobody’s ever gonna see this movie, it doesn’t matter,” she said. Nurmi would later say she took pity on Wood (“I always pity people who aren’t very bright.”).
Christmas 1956 found Nurmi recuperating from first degree burns on her arms and hands after her apartment caught fire in the night. She was saved by her meowing cat “Ratface” and posed in bandages with the heroic kitty for reporters.
By 1962, Nurmi told reporters that she was working as a “lady linoleum-layer” and cleaning celeb’s houses for 99 cents an hour. She opened “Vampira’s Attic” – an antique shop on Melrose Avenue in the 1970s and sold handmade jewelry and clothing.
Nurmi would later try to sue Cassandra “Elvira” Peterson in 1989 for infringement of intellectual property, but eventually dropped the $10 million dollar lawsuit due to lack of legal funds. In her defense, Cassandra said she was asked to host horror films on TV, and wear something black and sexy. Not a whole lot of choices. Nurmi called Peterson “slimy” and “I’m just waiting for her plastic surgery to backfire – for her bosoms to poison her.” The Court eventually dismissed the case, stating:
“…neither case supports the proposition that a person’s use of a character that bears a mere resemblance to another is actionable under the common law right of publicity.”
In 1994, Tim Burton released the brilliant film Ed Wood with actress/model Lisa Marie in the role of Vampira.
By the early 2000s, Nurmi appeared as a commentator on several E! TV shows about Ed Wood and James Dean. She was also interviewed in the documentaries Schlock! The Secret History of American Movies (2001), American Scary (2006) and Vampira: The Movie (2006).
Maila Nurmi died at age 85 of cardiac arrest in her Hollywood home on Thursday, January 10th, 2008. Her mildly decomposed body was discovered by a friend. Maila was wearing a brown t-shirt, black underwear and socks – always in character. She was found lying on the sofa, her feet resting on a lawn chair. The apartment wasn’t tidy – covered with animal hair and dust. That’s not the worst. A dead cat was found in her apartment, and a live dog – which has since been adopted.
Maila had a sweet little sitting area in front of her apartment, and on the front of her doorway were these two stickers.
She was taken downtown to the coroner’s office and autopsied. Because next of kin could not be established – and a relative appeared from the Pacific northwest – her body was kept on ice, and her apartment sealed with this sticker, until a representative could establish whether Maila had made any arrangements. Maila was eventually released to Hollywood Forever Cemetery on January 31st.
On the official coroner documentation, Maila’s name is listed as Nurmimioni
She was cremated and a memorial service was held for her in the chapel at Hollywood Forever on Sunday, February 17, 2008. Donations were accepted to provide Maila with an appropriate grave marker. I sent a bit of dosh in, and I guess this qualified me for a golden ticket to the memorial. I understood that the service would be very private and the code name would be “Mary Smith.” I arrived and no one asking for anything. I walked right in without a problem, so could anyone else. The memorial pamphlet was there for the taking, and the small service took place. Many people shared recollections of Maila, some were damn funny too. Afterwards, she was taken to her grave.
Her urn was taken by classic hearse, to her burial location, in the Griffith Lawn section.
A small graveside service was said, and her urn was packed in a cooler, well, vault that looks exactly like a cooler and a sewing machine case, and lowered into the ground.
I believe this is the last footage that exists of Vampira above ground.
Her grave was marked first by a temporary marker, then marked by proper stone in July 2009 due in part from donations from fans.
Maila Nurmi was remembered in the list of directory actors on the 81st Academy Awards telecast.
Okay, here’s something that pissed me off. I’m an invited guest to her memorial, and after watching several people with cameras, I decided to snap a few pictures myself. When the urn was being taken from the chapel to the burial spot, this twatty security guard with a suit and glasses – you know the type – comes over and asks me what I’m doing there. He’s very officious. I told him I’m a guest, and he mumbled something and walked away. I was pissed, and I approached him and asked him why he chose to speak to me, and not anyone else. He said it was because of the way I was dressed. Now, I was in my tour uniform, but comparatively, did I really stand out?
No disrespect intended for the other guests. I hate twatty security guards. Plus I own property there. Psh
Trivia: Maila claims she was the first ever to wear ankle strap shoes, Cruella DeVille was based on her, and she invented ice.
Trivia: Maila claimed that James Dean was the closest person to her in life, and that she had an affair with Marlon Brando – he became obsessed with her. Both men are dead and could not respond to this claim.
Trivia: Wanna see her mailbox?
Trivia: While in Las Vegas, I visited the Liberace Museum, like I always do, and found this picture on a wall of Lee and Maila. Lee died of complications from AIDS in 1987. In mid October, myself and a few Death Hags are doing the AIDS Walk in Los Angeles. If you would like to support or join our team to fight for Liberace, c’mon down!
Speaking of Elvira… what if you had free reign to run around Elvira’s house and buy stuff?
Click here and see!
Special thanks to Mark Langlois and C.