Maila “Vampira” Nurmi

February 1, 2010 by  
Filed under All Articles, Movies, Pinup Modeling

Maila “Vampira” Nurmi

Malia Elizabeth Syrjaniemia, aka Malia Nurmi, was born December 11th 1922 in Petsamo, Finland. Along with her family, she moved to Ashtabula, Ohio when she was two years old and grew up in the biggest Finnish-American community in the state. She completed high school in Astoria Oregon and went straight for her dream upon exiting.

Nurmi moved to Los Angeles at age seventeen and began modeling for Bernard of Hollywood, Alberto Vargas and Man Ray. This gave her a foot in the industry and brought her to her first acting role in 1947 for a film by Victor Saville; “If Winter Comes”. Although she had a few troubles making her way through the scene, for example getting fired from a Broadway play because she was being upstaged, she managed to pick up a few credits by doing some pin-up modeling and chorus line dancing.

Nurmi attended her choreographers annual masquerade in 1953 and her costume became a huge hit not only at the party but for years to come. She created her costume based off of The New Yorker’s cartoon character Charles Addams.

She came in a tight black dress that showed off her feminine curves and painted her skin pale white. She told Boxoffice magazine that she put a spin on the character and made “a campier and sexier version”. This caught the eye of another attendee of the party, Hollywood producer Hunt Stormberg, and sparked up a great idea.

Stormberg got a hold of her number days later and asked her to host a series of horror movies on KABC-TV. She accepted his offer and with help from her husband Dean Riesner, they created the iconic comedic character; Vampira. Innocent Nurmi had no personal connection with this villain-like character, but she played the part well enough to lead The Vampira Show into an entire year of very successful airings.

The Vampira Show was cancelled in 1955 and Nurmi slowly drifted out of the entertainment industry. Before she was completely gone, in 1959 she starred in a low budget science fiction/horror film called “Plan 9 from Outer Space ” (originally titled as Grave Robbers from Outer Space). This film which she may be best remembered for was directed by Edward D. Wood, Jr.

She claimed all rights to the Vampira character but she lived a simple life in a small North Hollywood home. She made a living installing linoleum flooring and opened up her own antique boutique on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood called Vampira’s Attic. The store gained quite a bit of success as she sold her own hand crafted clothing and jewelry to celebrities and fans alike.

Vampira was resembled in another TV series staring Cassandra Peterson who played a character named Elvira. Nurmi filed a lawsuit against her but the court appointed Peterson as not guilty due to likeness rather then replication.

Nurmi allowed a few people years later to pay tribute to Vampira in different artistic ways such as merchandise and figurines. From then on, she lived a low key life and passed away on January 10th, 2008. Maila Nurmi was buried in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery and will forever by remembered as TV’s first horror host; Vampira.

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