Maila Nurmi, RIP


“I have a fairly adequate knowledge of satanic forces, and I was interested to find out if this girl was obsessed with such a force.”
– James Dean, on befriending Maila Nurmi

Finnish-American actress Maila Nurmi, famous for having created the character Vampira, passed away yesterday in her sleep at age 86. Born in Finland and raised in Ohio, Maila moved to LA at age 17 to pursue modelling and acting. As a model she appeared in numerous pin-up magazines, and her photographers included Man Ray and Alberto Vargas. At age 35, Maila made her most notable appearance as The Ghoul’s Wife in Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space – the clip can be seen here. For $200, Ed Wood got Maila to stalk around a graveyard as a glamorous, wasp-waisted zombie. The mute portrayal was Maila’s idea, as she reportedly couldn’t abide the dialogue that Ed Wood had written for her. In subsequent years Maila was the first horror movie hostess in television history, and in later life she made jewelry and clothing, which she sold though a shop on Melrose that she called Vampira’s Attic.

As one fan writes over at her obituary at LA Metroblogging, “I hope her, Ed, Bela and Tor are havin’ a coctail somewhere.” Maila may be gone, but Vampira will live on.

Left: Maila, the golden pin-up star.
Right: Maila in recent years, by Gabrielle G.

6 Responses to “Maila Nurmi, RIP”

  1. Zoetica Says:

    The woman wrapped her notably 16″ waist in papaya powder at night. It “ate her flesh”, as the actress herself put it, and helped her get her waist down to such impressive proportions. Now that’s what I call commitment. Rest in peace, lovely.

  2. Mer Says:

    Oh, Maila. I loved the SFX interview she gave not long ago, talkin’ smack about Elvira and remembering how she met Bela…

    More than just an interview with a vampire, SFX meets Vampira…

    Words by Mark Berry

    “I was on Hollywood Boulevard, bending low to see a pair of shoes in a store. Someone whizzed around the corner on roller skates and crashed into me. It was Bela Lugosi on roller skates,” giggles our octogenarian interviewee.

    This seemingly random scene of pounding into a pavement was actually an auspicious early encounter for two of the most iconic bloodsuckers in entertainment history. Neither the first actor to play Dracula on film, or the nineteen-fifties TV horror host Vampira – with whom we speak today – could have guessed or feared that they would later appear as husband and corpse-bride in Ed Wood’s 1956 trash sci-fi epic Plan 9 From Outer Space. It was a film that changed the nature of bad filmmaking forever.

    Before encountering the infamous film director with a fetish for angora, Maila Nurmi, the Finnish-born artiste beneath the famous black wig and hemorrhage-red nails, created a phenomenon with her Vampira persona in 1954. Her iconic gothic style, sardonic wit and incredible hourglass-figure made her the ghoulish fantasy of guys and ghouls across the globe, despite appearing on a TV show that was only broadcast to the Los Angeles area. With a venomous stare that would wither a black rose, the voluptuous vamp would emerge every week from thick, dry-ice fog to the sound of creepy organ music. Vampira would silkily perch upon a skull-encrusted chaise-lounge, and in a sexy, Marlene Dietrich drawl, introduce old horror movies like White Zombie and Island Of Lost Souls. Between reels, she would recite weird poetry, drink poison cocktails and chase her pet spider Rollo around set.

    During daylight hours, the waspish-looking Vampira could be seen riding in a chauffeur-driven black hearse. She would even unleash screams of terror at stoplights to scare the locals – all in the name of good publicity of course. Such bravado and firm physical assets found Vampira quickly on the year’s list of Who’s Who Of America, describing her as the “most outstanding female entertainer.”

    “She was an unheard of object,” explains Maila as we sit in a fast-food joint off Sunset. “Back in the fifties no-one ever heard of anyone looking like that. It was outstanding, visually startling.”

    Though unique in 1954, horror hosts suddenly began to emerge on US television channels across the States, like children of the Hydra’s teeth. Indeed, the Vampira character may seem strangely familiar to some readers. After Maila’s failure to re-launch Vampira in the early eighties with KTTV, she was forced to sue the channel after their subsequent launch of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, a character baring an uncanny resemblance to her fifties counterpart, one that spawned two movies and a multi-million dollar merchandising frenzy. Maila was unsuccessful, running-out of the necessary cash to continue legal proceedings and is still bitter about the event.

    “That money was meant for animal welfare and she spent it on cocaine and red limousines,” she snarled, rolling her eyes as soon as I mentioned the name Elvira. “Initially they wanted me. I wouldn’t do it because I didn’t want Vampira to be anything but perfect. I certainly didn’t want it to be a streetwalker-slut like that.”

    Heee hee heee. Oh, Maila. We love you.

  3. Tequila Says:

    Another one of Hollywood’s many off beat characters slips away from us and into myth and legend. Though her Vampira character was already a well loved creation among the B-Movie crowd it did get that extra push with Burton’s Ed Wood…if anything more will be introduced to THAT version of her creation for generations to come than anything Elvira could do at this stage (I have a fondness for both as in Hollywood…stealing isn’t stealing…it’s an homage :P )

    The people of Hollywood in the 50’s will always hold a fascination because they feel far more human than their golden age rivals and way cooler than the media whores of today. You just don’t get people like her anymore…she’ll be missed but far from forgotten as she’s managed to make a more permanent mark than many of her contemporaries.

    Rest well my dear.

  4. D Says:

    Thank you, made my night.

    (For several years I had the Bauhaus glow-in-the-dark picture Bela Lugosi’s Dead maxi single on a wall.)

  5. Io Says:

    What an awesome legacy to leave behind…her family should be proud.

  6. Manuel Says:

    She alwais will be fascinating. What a waist, what a character, what a films, what a show. She have everything to be ethernal.