Home | Arts & Entertainment | Maila Nurmi as Vampira: A Gothic Scream Queen

Maila Nurmi as Vampira: A Gothic Scream Queen

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Photo courtesy The Estate of Maila Nurmi | Haxan Collection Photo courtesy The Estate of Maila Nurmi | Haxan Collection

The thrilling scream queen that initially seduced the throbbing hearts of television viewers was the spine-tingling, magnificent Vampira.

Her pale white skin, arched eyebrows, blood red lips, raven hair and hour glass figure in a slinky black dress were simply irresistible. Not only did she make television history by becoming the first horror movie hostess but she also created her own remarkable, illustrious persona that would become adored by the nation and imitated repeatedly over time.

Maila Nurmi was born in Petsamo, Finland on December 11, 1922 as Maila Elizabeth Syrjaniemi. The blonde bombshell's family moved to Ashtabula, Ohio when she was just 2 years old. At the impressionable age of 17 she made her way to the seductive bright lights and big city of Los Angeles with the same hopes and dreams that thousands of budding actresses have of becoming a star. She worked many different jobs from being a model, showgirl, chorus line dancer to hat check girl on the sunset strip. Her incredible figure of 38-17-36 gained her a lot of attention and she was able to support herself in the 1950s as a pin-up girl for magazines such as Gala, Glamorous Models and Famous Models.

The femme fatale Vampira was born when Maila Nurmi attended a masquerade ball held by the famous choreographer Lestor Horton in 1953. She was inspired by the character created by Charles Addams in his cartoons for The New Yorker. She decided to create her own version of Morticia Addams — a busty, sexy, single vampire wearing a skin tight, low cut dress with long black hair and 3 inch long red fingernails. That night she won the costume contest out of 2,000 other candidates and gained the attention of Hunt Stromberg who would later approach her to host a late night horror television show.

The Vampira Show aired in April 30, 1954 and she was nominated for an Emmy for Most Outstanding Female Personality. The show became notorious for its beginning. Vampira would glide through spine chilling fog down a candlelit corridor and stop suddenly with a blood curdling scream and announce to the frightened audience that, "Screaming relaxes me so." She would then recline on a Victorian couch adorned with skulls and entertain her guests throughout the evening of horror between commercials and movie reels. Some of her specialties were talking to unseen ghosts and her fictitious pet spider Rolo, or giving recipes for ghoulish drinks from her poison bar. She would tell people that "I hope you have been lucky enough to have a horrible week." She even discussed a hospital plan for would-be suicides called The Yellow Cross. At one point she also ran as Night Mayor of Hollywood with her platform of dead issues. Sometimes Vampira would promote the show by having a chauffeur drive her around LA sitting rigidly in the back of an old 1932 Packard with the top down and her black parasol up. She would be in her full makeup and wardrobe and whenever the car would stop at red lights she would scream. She would tell fans asking for her coveted signature, "I give epitaphs not autographs."

The last show aired on April 2, 1955. Although the program was cancelled, Maila still retained the rights to the Vampira character. The series had a brief resurrection in 1956 but it didn't last. In 1964 The Addams Family show aired with a Morticia Addams that had uncanny similarities to Maila's Vampira. In 1981 she was hired by a TV network to re-create The Vampira Show. It was rumored she quit in the development stage over creative differences after Cassandra Peterson was hired to play the role. Shortly afterward the same network released their new show entitled Elvira. Maila ended up taking Cassandra Peterson to court to sue her for taking her persona and citing that there were 150 similarities between Vampira and Elvira. Maila lost her case.

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Featured writer

Gail Brasie

Gail Brasie

Gail lives near Chicago and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Literature and a Master’s in Library and Information Science. Gail loves books, birds and Gothic Americana music.



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