R.I.P MAILA NURMI 1921-2008
It is with great sadness that I learned of the passing of a true cultural icon, Maila Nurmi, known to the world simply as VAMPIRA - the world's first Horror Movie Host. I spent much of my teen years (twenty years ago) trying to locate footage from her show, which ran on KABC - channel 7 in Los Angeles, until I found out (years later) that essentially no kinescopes of her show exist, just production stills, promotional stills, marketing ephemera, etc. I grew up with Cassandra Peterson's Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (just the absolute perfect age when she first debuted) but, in truth, I was much more saturated with images of Vampira through lurid ad-mats of movies (Plan 9 From Outer Space), magazines (Famous Monsters, Castle of Frankenstein) and culture in general.
It was wonderful to see Maila back in the limelight (beyond the adoration of cult fans) when Tim Burton helmed the quasi-bio-pic Ed Wood (1994). Ed Wood is one of my absolute all-time favorite films (despite its inaccuracies and despite my on and off relationship to Burtons' works). In fact, you will definitely be seeing it in the ever popular "Gone To Bed" series, I have seen this film many many many many times. Lisa Marie (at the time - dating Burton) starred as Vampira and did a fabulous job. Especially considering Lisa was not a formally trained actress. I don't know what happened to the lovely Lisa Marie - she is obviously no longer with Tim Burton and I don't think she pursued much 0f an acting career outside of Burton's Mars Attacks and Sleepy Hollow. Pity, I think she had natural talent. She was a successful model and is an accomplished musician - - - Hey Lisa, need a shoulder, or someone to commiserate with??? At any rate, she consulted with Maila on how to play the part and succeeded wildly in my opinion.
I truly loved Vampira and am so sorry to see her go. She did have a long roll of the die and I understand she died of natural causes - leaving a resonating and iconic legacy - not to mention - legions of fans. I commissioned artist BUZZ to do a piece for me a few years ago, which is exquisite. The cropped image below doesn't do this wonderful rendering justice. I frequently have BUZZ do pieces for me when he's in town for comic book conventions. Together, we've come up with some saucy and bizarre images. Below however, we wanted to give Maila a majestic, royal night to command. I think we succeeded.
One of my favorite authors, David J. Skal wrote a good deal on Vampira's resonating effect on society in the aftermath of World War II. He spoke of her ability to simultaneously evoke death and beauty - binaries to be sure, but somehow, despite her abject waistline and skull like visage -- Vampira was a vision of beauty. How can this paradox be? Read Skal's wonderful The Monster Show to hear his elaboration of post World War II trauma culture as viewed through they lens of the horror film.
Additionally and fortuitously, Kevin Sean Michaels was able to produce and direct Vampira: The Movie (2007) before Maila Nurmi passed away. This project looks very promising. It includes interviews with the aforementioned David J. Skal, Forrest Ackerman, Sid Haig - etc. I will be purchasing it soon and share my reactions with you. AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!!!!!! Began Vampira's show. She would slink forward in her Charles Addams outfit until she got right up to the studio camera and would then (she would later claim that she was trying to portray a post-orgasm affect) say seductively and in a spent voice: "Screaming relaxes me so..." Rest now in peace Vampira. Thanks for the memories...