The art of Horror Hosting is something that has been going on for many decades and has showcased so many talents over the years from 1960’s The Great Zucchini of Supernatural Theatre to 2015’s Arachna of Beware Theater and so many amazing hosts in between. And like every form of entertainment there is a queen of the bunch, and in the case of horror hosting, every host pays respect to the glamour ghoul Vampira who is the first horror host in history and paved the way for them all! Imagine being a youth in 1954 and staying up past your bedtime as the glow of the TV screen filled the night air and you watched as a sexy dark haired woman glided down a hallway through the fog. As she got close to the screen, she let out a loud blood curtailing scream that sent shivers down your spine and what followed was her hosting a classic Universal Monster movie like Frankenstein or The Mummy. At that moment you became a fully fledged Monster Kid! That must have been something to witness as history was made and the Queen of Horror Hosting took the world by storm with her macabre appearance and pun filled one-liners. So with this update it is truly an honor to write about her as I bring you Horror Host Icon: Vampira.
Vampira is a vampire ghoul who had straight jet-black hair, wore a long skintight black dress, had peaked eyebrows, long fingernails and had a tiny waist to boot and had a sexy voice and a scream that could shatter glass. Some people think she is a vampire but most know her as a ghoul who enjoys smoking cigarettes from her long holder as well as drinking a bubbling steamy drink all the while relaxing on her couch and seductively and playfully in a gothic manner introduced a cheesy horror film and entertain her viewers all the while also drawing them into not just the movie but also her exotic beauty. The thing about Vampira is her background is a mystery, and this aspect of her makes her even more interesting and draws those who want to know more about her in like a moth to a flame. Maila Nurmi, the actress who played Vampira, in a interview said that Vampira was a woman who pretends to act evil but really walks with Jesus…very strange that the character so much embraced by the goth and punk world is a fake evil doer. So is she a ghoul or is she a vampire? In the end it doesn’t really matter as Vampira is so amazing and groundbreaking she lives on until this day for horror host fans and beyond.
Maila Elizabeth Syrjäniemi was born in Petsamo, Finland on December 11th 1922, and when she was two, her family moved to Ashtabula, Ohio where she stayed until 1939 before they moved to Oregon where she finished school and would set her sites on living in Los Angeles. While in L.A. she started modeling for Bernard Of Hollywood, Man Ray and Alberto Vargas and her beauty and charm helped land her a role in the 1947 film If Winter Comes. By 1944 she was cast in Catherine Was Great on Broadway, but was fired after star Mae West felt as if she was being upstaged by Maila who was gaining lots of attention from the viewers. But after being fired, she did not have a hard time finding work as she was cast in the creepy midnight show called Spook Scandals where she honed her skills of screaming and being seductive in a horror themed setting and later became a showgirl for the Earl Carroll Theatre as a chorus line dancer. In 1949, she married silent actor Dean Riesner who went on to write such films as Dirty Harry and Play Misty For Me. By the 1950’s she went back to being a model as she became a pin-up for such magazines as Glamorous Models and Gala, plus she worked as a hat-check girl on the Sunset Strip. Her life would change when in 1953 she went dressed as Morticia Addams to Lester Horton’s Masquerade and caught the eye of Hunt Stromberg Jr. a producer for KABC-TV who loved her gothic look and wanted to hire her to host horror films on the station as they had just bought a package of Universal Monster films called the Shock package. Maila and her husband Dean talked about the idea. He came up with the name Vampira, and she agreed to become the worlds first Horror Host! What’s really cool about this was Maila was really trying to get the station to do a live action version of the comic strip The Addams family, but they didn’t want to pay for the license to do so and with that Vampira the horror hostess was born. During her time on the air as Vampira, she became friends with actor James Dean and the tabloids had a field day of reporting on the rebel and his dark mistress friend. During this time she was so popular that she was even nominated for Emmy Award that sadly she did not win. Maila would get married two more times as each marriage would fail. Her second husband was John Brinkley who she married in 1958, and her third and final husband was Fabrizio Mioni who she married in 1961. After The Vampira Show went off the air, Maila would take roles in many lower budget films like The Magic Sword, Plan 9 From Outer Space, I Passed For White and Sex Kittens Go To College showing that she was still in demand even after the show’s run. In 1962, she made her living working installing linoleum floors and refinishing furniture and would go on to open her own boutique called Vampira’s Attic that sold antiques as well as Maila’s homemade jewelry and clothing. While she was loved by many, she did also have her haters such as gossip columnist Hedda Hopper who claimed that Maila really didn’t know James Dean as well as she claimed and that she was a scam artist claiming that she could speak to Dean after his death. Whether Maila could do this or not is up to debate as is how well she knew Dean…but those close to her all claim she and Dean were friends. But even with the haters, almost everyone who meet her loved Maila and her alter ego Vampira. One other crazy aspect of her life was on June 20th 1955, a man broke into her house and kept her captive for four hours terrorizing her with the main goal to kill her! By luck she was able to escape and call the police for help, really scary stuff and glad she was able to escape this loony tune.
On April 30th 1954 at 11:00pm KABC-TV viewers got their first look at Vampira during a preview show they called Dig Me Later, Vampira in which they showcased their horror hostess and let the viewers get a peek at her stunning character. The next night May 1st 1954 The Vampira Show premiered at midnight, and the world was changed forever as the first horror host was born and Vampira screamed her way onto TV Screens all across the Los Angeles area. The show was very laid back and mostly had Vampira on her couch cutting cheesy twisted puns and enjoying cocktails and smoking, but while nothing too in your face, this was a new genre and captivated viewers who were not only drawn to watching the horror films but to just see her host them. Her theme song is very classic and eerie and sounds like it could be taken straight from a late night horror film that she could have easily shown on her show. Her set was nothing more than a couch with some tables that housed candles with the background being dimmed and black. Her late night ratings were high, and she became a superstar overnight. For publicity, the station had Vampira ride around Hollywood, had her run for late night mayor, Life Magazine did a feature on her as well as booked her on many other sketch television shows, but none of this helped as in 1955 KABC-TV canceled the show. Its rival station KHJ-TV picked up the show for a short time in 1956, but sadly it didn’t last. The reason Vampira was canceled from KABC-TV was that ABC wanted to own the rights to the character and Vampira was not having it so they did what any big company does, they pulled the plug on something that fans loved to watch all over the greed of money. The Vampira Show lasted for one season and had slightly over 50 episodes in its run. While talks in 1981 were in place to bring her back to TV, this was not in the cards as she would be replaced and the show would be changed to another…but that subject will be a little later in our update. Sadly, no known episodes of The Vampira Show are around as it was aired live and the station did not backup any episodes. The only known footage of her is taken from a promo reel she did for the station to try and get sponsors. While her show did not last long, her impact on horror hosting and horror culture is still felt to this day. I should also note that the sidekick for the show, was her pet spider she named Rolo.
Edward D. Wood Jr. was a low budget filmmaker with a vision, and in 1956 with his small crew and the last shoot footage of horror legend Bela Lugosi, he decided to make a film that was called “Grave Robbers From Outer Space” that would later be changed to “Plan 9 From Outer Space”. Ed Wood wanted to hire Vampira for a role as one of the ghouls, and she at first refused to take part in the production and was insulted that Wood would even have the nerve to suggest she be in his production. But over time and with The Vampira Show being off the air, she took the role of a female ghoul. She claims the lines she was given were so bad she asked if she could play the part mute! The look of Female Ghoul is that of Vampira, and she looks just like her horror host self, and by doing this she marked herself even more so of becoming an icon of horror. But Plan 9 was not her only film role as she also played a hag in the 1962 sword and sandal film “The Magic Sword”, oddly enough they had her covered up with so much makeup it’s hard to tell it was her! Other titles she starred in include “The Big Operator” in 1959, “Sex Kittens Go To College” in 1960 and the short 1996 film “Dry” to name a few. She also has been in a number of documentaries talking about her horror host career or working with Ed Wood and these titles include “The Haunted World Of Edward D. Wood Jr.” in 1995, “American Scary” and “Vampira: The Movie” in 2006. While she might not have been a box office bombshell, she still made her mark on cinema for sure.
In 1994, Tim Burton made a bio-pic on Ed Wood and casted actress Lisa Marie as Vampira, and I must say she was a perfect fit as her beauty did justice to Maila’s stunning good looks. I have heard that Lisa to prepare for the role spent some time with Maila and did as much research on her as possible in order to play her the right way. The film is my favorite Tim Burton movie next to Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, and if you have not seen it make sure to check it out to see not only Lisa Marie’s portrayal of Vampira but to see a fun film that captures the dream of so many no budget directors who believe in their art.
Vampira was super important to the world of female horror hosting, and she has inspired many that would follow in her footsteps. I am sure if you asked the likes of Ms. Monster, Stella Desire, Marlena Midnite, Susie D. Rott and many other horror hostesses, they would say she inspired them in some way. But now we come to the point where we have to talk about the elephant in this update, and that’s the Vampira and Elvira situation! In 1981 KHJ-TV hired Vampira to come back to TV and recreate The Vampira Show. Some say that she would have come back on air, while others claim they just wanted the name to use with a new actress. But what is known is talks stalled and Vampira quit after the station wanted to own the name, character and trademark! In 1982, a year later, Elvira Mistress of the Dark hosted a show called Movie Macabre, and the similarities between the two were astounding, and worse, the company that was slated to do the Vampira re-launch were the people behind Elvira! Vampira stated that there were 150 similarities between her and Elvira and a lawsuit was filed as Vampira took on Elvira in the courts. People took sides and some fans didn’t seem to pay it any attention as both hostess, while similar, added entertainment late nights, plus Vampira sadly had not been on TV for decades at that point. Vampira even took to the late night TV show Arsenio Hall to talk about the case as well as deliver her trademark scream. Vampira was very angry at Elvira and took pot shots at her whenever she could, while Elvira was more hushed about it and claimed she wished the two could just get along as the plan was to have Vampira cameo on Movie Macabre. The case was later dismissed and the two made some tiny amends as Vampira stopped trashing Elvira and took her words toward the company who made the show. I for one would love to have seen Vampira return to TV, but also I can’t down play the impact and popularity of Elvira who almost all boys of the 80’s had a crush on. I really couldn’t imagine TV without Elvira, but I am also sad Vampira didn’t get one last ride to chill the blood of late night viewers while hosting cheesy horror films. Was Elvira inspired by Vampira? Absolutely. Did she rip her off? …not sure…but what I do know is that the world of horror hosting is better off with both Vampira and Elvira.
Let’s move away from a dismissed lawsuit and onto some more pleasant things. One thing about Vampira is that many decades after her show ended and the mass amount of her footage were lost or taped over, this queen of gothic beauty has became an icon for many people who are into not only horror hosting but also punk rock, goth life and she had lots of great merchandise for her fans. Things like posters, t-shirts, models, soundtracks to films she’s in and even purses, jewelry and custom figures and dolls! Growing up, my brother Bryan had a poster of Vampira from Plan 9 From Outer Space in his room, and we both have had t-shirts with her image on it over the years. Working many horror conventions for Independent B Movie, Nightcrew Video, Andy Copp and Baron Von Porkchop over the years I have seen so many Vampira items like magnets, mirrors and costumes at vender tables and have seen many horror fans wearing her image. Still to this date 2016, if you are a Vampira fan, you can find something new to add to your collection. My favorite piece of merchandise I own of Vampira is a t-shirt that I will share it’s image below.
One strange thing that I must point out is that Vampira, while appearing in comics based on Plan 9 From Outer Space, has never had a comic book one shot or series based around her and that’s very odd to me as she is so recognizable and is a icon of horror that it seems like a no brainer that she should have her own comic, I mean Elvira Mistress of The Dark as well as several other horror hosts have had comics made about them. From Wolfman Mac to Sammy Terry, they have all made a leap from TV to comic pages! I would have loved to have read a comic based on Vampira when I was a teen and could even still imagine the twisted adventures she could have had along with her pet spider Rolo. The comic series could have taken the Tales From The Crypt route and had her host horror stories or even better could have followed her life in Hollywood and had her mix it up with monsters and ghouls and gave a true look at this vampire of sexy fright. In 2014, I noticed a Vampira comic book cover that was on Google and I looked high and low for information on it. Sadly, it turned out to be just an art print for the film “Vampira The Movie” and poof – my hope of covering a Vampira comic went up in smoke like the fog on her set. Do any of your readers out there know of a comic based on Vampira? I am sure if one was made it has to be a underground one, but here is hoping that some day soon Vampira will have her own comic book adventures. Below is some fan artwork that shows how cool she could look in a comic.
On January 10th 2008 Maila “Vampira” Nurmi passed away in her Hollywood home from natural causes at the age of 85. This was a true sad day for horror hosts and fans around the world as the original queen of scream was no longer with us. The world on that day lost someone special: an actress, an artist, an shop owner, a painter, a horror hostess, a kind spirit, a person and so much more. She was laid to rest in Hollywood Forever Cemetery in the Griffith Lawn section. I can remember getting the news from my brother Bryan and friend Andy Copp about her passing, and all of us were really bummed out. I know many of the horror hosts were saddened to hear of her passing as she was a inspiration to so many. In closing I must say while I never knew her personally I want to say thank you, Vampira, for being the first horror hostess and bringing so many wonderful chills to your fans, and may your spirit rest knowing that you were loved by many. Rest in peace, Vampira…
On March 26-28th 2010 at HorrorHound Weekend in Indianapolis, Indiana, the world’s largest gathering of horror hosts took place all to pay respects to Vampira as they held a tribute in her honor. Many great hosts came to the event to pay respects to the Glamour Ghoul, The Queen, the First Ever Horror host Vampira. Names like Joe Bob Briggs, A. Ghastlee Ghoul, Count Gore De Vol and many more came up and talked about the legacy she has paved for horror hosts of the past and present. A truly special event that ranks up there with her being inducted into the first class in the Horror Host Hall Of Fame. Sadly I missed the event as I was stuck at work. This tribute also gave many something to worry about as Dr. Creep fell ill while at the event and was not able to participate in the tribute due to the fact he was in the hospital. But I wish Vampaira was with us and could have seen all these hosts coming together to pay respects to all she has done for this art.
For most of the horror hosts of the 50’s and 60’s, episodes were broadcast lived or the tapes used were wiped and reused for other shows to save money, and this of course is the same thing that happened to The Vampira Show. But unlike many others, a reel was found of Vampira doing a few of her bits on her set and this was cut together with the film The 13th Guest and added was old commercials directed by Ed Wood Jr and out came an official reproduction of her show! So I am proud to say that I have a copy of this show and would like to share it with you all. Here is hoping that some day in the future that more footage of Vampira will come to light as well as other classic horror hosts so fans can watch again or for the first time. So with no more wait, here is a look at Vampaira “hosting” 13th Guest.
The Vampira Show: The 13th Guest
Starring – Dick Purcell & Helen Parrish Not Rated 1943
Host: Vampira glides down her foggy hallway and lets out a shriek and opens the show by drinking a vampire cocktail and delivering a few puns and smocking a cigarette. And by the end she wishes us all unpleasant dreams!
Movie: The Morgan family’s patriarch is soon to die. He hosts a dinner party for the family to tell them all he’s setting aside his last will to be opened by his nearly 8-year-old granddaughter thirteen years in the future when she turns twenty-one. Thirteen years later, she returns to the abandoned family house to open the will, per his instructions. Murder follows shortly thereafter. Police Lt. Burke and Private Investigator Johnny Smith are soon on hand to investigate when guests of the old dinner party thirteen years earlier seem to be bumped off according to the past seating arrangement.
This was such a fun update to research and re-live Vampira’s influences on my own life. It’s a shame that she has passed away and that her 1981 comeback never happened as it would have been nice to have footage and episodes of the character for young horror host fans to watch, collect and be inspired by. Could you imagine if she was still with us when Horrorhound Weekend did the tribute to her? Just imagine her coming to the event and being honored and worshiped by her huge fan base as well as all the horror hosts who were influenced by her would have gotten a chance to chat with her. For our next update, I am handing Rotten Ink back over to Juliet and she is going to cover something that is near and dear to her heart and that’s Star Trek: The Next Generation and DC Comics first run based on that epic TV show! So until then make sure to have unpleasant dreams and support your local horror host! See you next update for a true fun space adventure with Juliet and Captain Picard.