Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Dr. Ruehl raises a glass-- of blood-- to Vampira

Tabloid Baby pal, contributor, columnist and Television & Film Personality of 2007, Dr. Franklin Ruehl, Ph.D is also a TV sci fi/horror movie cult figure. Today he pays tribute to Maila Nurmi, also known as Vampira, the glamorous ghoul hostess of late-night fright films in the 1950s who was fittingly found dead in her home last week:

Vampira, A Role Model For Some of Us!
by Dr. Franklin Ruehl, Ph.D.
Flowing locks of raven hair! A skin-tight black gown! Long, sharp, threatening fingernails! Piercing eyes capped by thin black brows! These were the tools that TV legend Vampira employed to both terrify and engage late night TV audiences of the 1950s!

Simultaneously minacious and alluring, Vampira drew viewers who might not otherwise tune into the low-budget horror flicks she was hostessing. Indeed, she was a captivating pioneer in this limited niche, being the very first to present such films on the little silver screen. And, she was an inspiration to other such hosts who would follow in her footsteps, including yours truly. Sadly, she passed away this past Thursday, January 10, in her sleep at age 86.

While, unfortunately, none of Vampira's TV hosting segments was preserved on film (as far as I know), she can be seen (although never heard) in her Vampira role as Bela Lugosi's dead wife throughout Ed Wood's much-maligned sci-fi entry, "Plan 9 From Outer Space."

Vampira was born Maila Syrjaniemi in Petsamo, Finland back on December 11, 1921. That surname was later truncated to Nurmi. Indeed, she was the niece of the renowned multiple Olympic medal runner Paavo Nurmi.

She arrived in the U.S. as an infant, and travelled around the country as her father lectured on temperance.

As an adult, she was performing in Mike Todd's "Spook Scandals" when celebrated director Howard Hawks caught sight of the beautiful blonde, and cast her in the cinematic version of the Russisan novel, "Dreadful Hollow." However, Nurmi walked out on her contract after being utterly disillusioned by repeated production delays. She then tried modelling and dancing, including a long stint with Earl Carroll's revues.

Her breakthrough came when, for a masquerade competition, she costumed herself in the mode of Charles Addams' Morticia cartoon character. Not only did she win 1st prize, but also landed a contract with the local L.A. ABC affiliate channel 7 for a late night hosting gig for the 1954-55 season. Impressively, she was nominated for an Emmy for "Most Outstanding Female Personality, and was profiled in such mags as "TV Guide," "Newsweek," and "Life." Fan clubs sprung up all over the globe as she became a most recognizable figure, making guest appearance at store openings and judging contests. She was dubbed the "Queen of Horror," with songs composed to honor her!

Bela Lugosi was also a fan, and was delighted when she joined him in "Plan 9." Tragically, he died two weeks into production.

Vampira's fame quickly expired after that, with only a few scant film roles, such as in 1959's "Beat Generation" and 1960's "Sex Kittens Go To college.' She did engage in painting, creating some "Vampira" portraits, and made a final screen appearance in 1998's "I Woke Up Early The Day I Died." And Nurmi made some news when she sued Cassandra Peterson, asserting that her "Elvira" characterization was a rip off of "Vampira."

Again, I thank you, Vampira, for your inspiring portrayal, and May the Power of the Cosmos be with You, wherever you may be now!

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