Maila Nurmi as Vampira: A Gothic Scream Queen
Maila Nurmi was well known for her close platonic relationship she had with James Dean. Apparently he was drawn to her dark nature and wondered if she had knowledge of satanic forces. She said they had a special bond because they shared the same neurosis. She was also acquainted with Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Orson Welles whom she dated briefly. She was married twice, first to child actor and screenwriter Dean Reisner in 1949 who would go on to write Dirty Harry and then to actor Fabrizio Mioni in 1961. Many musical tributes have been made to her by bands that have written and recorded songs about Vampira such as The Misfits, The Damned, Sid Terror's Undead Band, The Devil Townsend Band and Bobby Bare.
Her most remembered role in a feature film is her brief part playing a zombie version of Vampira in Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space. When she read the script she thought it was awful. She agreed to do the part under the condition that she was given a non-speaking role. Little did she know it was going to become a cult classic that would continue to be a part of pop culture today. Her other film roles include If Winter Comes, Too Much Too Soon, The Big Operator, The Beat Generation, I Passed For White, Sex Kittens Go To College and The Magic Sword. In 2006, a documentary about Malia's life was released called Vampira: The Movie which includes interviews with Malia. The documentary won a Craggy award for best independent artist despite its extremely disappointing reviews. Unfortunately the movie was made without her consent as she was quoted saying that she was "totally against it." The movie continues to be a sore issue with her family and friends today as I was informed that she was under the wrong impression when she gave the interview.
In the early 1960s Maila Nurmi opened her own boutique on Melrose called Vampira's Attic where she sold antiques, handmade jewelry and clothing. In 2001 she started her own website of the same name selling memorabilia. Vampira merchandise is still available today. New products will be available soon such as handmade, beaded bags useful for carrying vials of blood or spare eyeballs created by a friend of the family, designer FaaQue. Throughout Maila's life she was given many opportunities to produce merchandise for Vampira but very few have been given the honor as it seems she never wanted to exploit the beloved character she had created but keep her as the enigmatic and classic image that has been celebrated and adored for generations. Jonny of Coffin Case, a close personal friend of Maila's, has the official license to sell Vampira products. He used to sit with Maila for hours on end concocting ideas for new merchandise. He finally unleashed his collection at Monster Palooza and has also launched the Vampira Club.
Maila Nurmi passed away on January 10th 2008. She was interred in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. I feel an immense regret that I did not have the opportunity to interview her. The 81st annual Academy Awards paid tribute to her greatness as the first among many prodigious, gothic heroines to come. I hope that this article has been a tribute to her memory and if you would like to pay homage to her as well then here is a special invitation by Sandra Niemi, Maila's Niece.
"In 1954, Vampira gave Goth a voice, a face... and it was beautiful. She did it with such grace and intelligence that the entire world took notice and begged for more. Maila Nurmi, the vessel through which Vampira flowed, has been laid to rest at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles. Please join those of us who loved her for the annual Day of the Dead celebration in October. I will be giving a public reading from a biography I am composing in her memory. Maila has caught the dream, however Vampira, Mother of Goth, is eternal."
Maila Nurmi's Vampira was a pioneer, the original gothic pin-up girl. She was a gothic icon who gave us the ideal, beatific, dark siren that we all strive to be. I leave you with the immortal words of Vampira who said it first, "Unpleasant dreams, darlings." officialvampira.com
This article was originally published in Issue 29 (Oct. 2009). Digital editions of Issue 29 are available here.