Birthday: December 11, 1922
Died At Age: 85
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Also Known As: Maila Elizabeth Niemi
Born Country: United States
Born in: Gloucester, Massachusetts, United States
Famous as: Actress
Height: 5'6" (168 cm), 5'6" Females
Spouse/Ex-: Fabrizio Mioni (m. 1961), Dean Riesner (m. 1949), John Brinkley (m. 1958)
father: Onni Syrjäniemi
mother: Aina Sofia Nurmi
Died on: January 10, 2008
place of death: Los Angeles, California, United States
Ancestry: Finnish Americans
Cause of Death: Natural Causes
U.S. State: Massachusetts
Who was Maila Nurmi?
Maila Nurmi was a Finnish-American actress who became famous for the campy character Vampira, which was television’s first horror host. Nurmi hosted her own series dubbed ‘The Vampira Show’ for a year. She appeared as a tall, seductive ghost always dressed in black and letting out a blood curdling scream to complete her spooky entrance on the show. After she achieved fame as a horror show host, she became a cult icon of the 1950s and established herself as the “Gothmother”. With three inch long nails, a stick thin waist and raven colored hair she successfully fulfilled her duty of making scores of people stay awake at midnight waiting for the macabre vampire to appear on-screen.
Childhood & Early Life
Maila Nurmi was born on December 11, 1922, to Finnish American parents. Maila claims that she was born in Finland, however her biographer, W. Scott Poole in the book ‘Vampira: Dark Goddess of Horror’, says that she was born in Massachusetts. Her place of birth remains disputed. After moving around for a while her family settled down in Astoria, Oregon.
Aspiring to be an actress she moved to Los Angeles in 1940. She did several gigs to support herself during the beginning of her career. She was a pin-up model for soft core men’s magazines like ‘Famous Models’ and ‘Gala and Glamorous Models’. She also worked as a burlesque dancer. She also did stints as a chorus girl, a showgirl, a hat check girl on the Sunset Strip.
Reportedly, in 1944, she was fired by Mae West from her Broadway play ‘Catherine Was Great’. Apparently, West feared that she would be upstaged by Maila.
Maila did get into Broadway after being cast in the horror themed midnight show ‘Spook Scandals’. She was pictured rising from the coffin with a scream and lurking around in a fake cemetery.
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Maila’s luck turned when she was noticed by television producer, Hunt Stromberg Jr. Stromberg saw her at the masquerade ball hosted by Lester Horton in 1953, where she was wearing a dress imitating Morticia Adams from Charles Adams New Yorker cartoons. Her skin fit black dress and pale white skin caught his attention.
Stromberg invited Maila Nurmi to host the late night show of newly syndicated classic horror movies on the Los Angeles Television station KABC-TV. Her duty as a host was to attract viewers to stay awake at midnight to watch the station’s fearful shows.
Maila developed the character of Vampira from Morticia Adams by increasing the sex appeal of the character. She thought that sex and death were a great combination to attract viewers. She added to her sex appeal by wearing an impossibly tight corset, long stilettos and extra-long fingernails. Her character also had the influence of The Dragon lady from ‘Terry and the Pirates’ and also the evil queen from the Disney movie ‘Snow white and the Seven Dwarfs’.
The Vampira show premiered in 1954 and was an instant success. Her role as Vampira demanded her to introduce the evening’s feature film which was a low budget horror movie like ‘White Zombie’. Vampira began each show by sliding down a dark misty hallway stopping in front of the camera to emit a blood curdling scream and say “Screaming relaxes me so” and then strike a seductive pose. She would then introduce and mock that evening’s film while sitting on a couch made of skulls. Her ghoulish comedy included making martinis with eyeballs instead of olives and offering viewers epitaphs instead of autographs. She wished the viewers goodnight by saying,” Bad dreams darlings”.
After her show took off she made appearances on the ‘Red Skelton Show’, the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ and many more. She rode around Los Angeles in a chauffeured 1932 Packard and roamed the streets in Vampira drag while she sat holding a black parasol. She also ran for Night mayor of Hollywood with a list of dead issues.
Tragedy struck when her close friend and Hollywood icon James Dean died in a car racing accident. Dean’s death erupted controversies centering Maila with a magazine exposé claiming Dean’s death was perpetrated by Maila using black magic.
Maila’s rumored link to the tragedy along with the warning issued by the FCC about her grotesque dialogues on her show led to the termination of the show in 1955 by KABC just after a year, despite the show grossing large number of viewers. She refused to sell the rights of the Vampira to the television.
Even though the show was cancelled she never stopped being Vampira. She did a brief stint on a rival channel and later went on to act in several movies including ‘Too Much Too Soon’ and ‘The Big Operator’.
She then appeared in Ed Wood’s horror movie ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space’. This was dubbed as the worst movie ever made. She went on to do movies like ‘I passed for White(1960), ‘Sex Kittens Go to College’ (1960) and ‘The Magic Sword’ (1962). In the 1960s she also opened her own clothing line and jewelry called Vampira’s Attic.
Family & Personal Life
Maila Nurmi married Dean Riesner, the child actor turned screenwriter, in 1949. The marriage ended after her show was cancelled by the KABC.
She married her second husband, actor John Brinkley, on March 10, 1958. This marriage too was short-lived.
She married actor Fabrizio Mioni on June 20, 1961. She had no children from any of her marriages.
Maila Nurmi’s stardom ended once her show was cancelled by the KABC. Even though she did several gigs she had to move in with her mother. She reportedly lay floor tiles and cleaned the homes of celebrities while collecting unemployment benefits.
She died on January 10, 2008, Hollywood, at the age of 85.