Long after her forced retirement from acting, dancer-model-actress Maila Nurmi painted portraits of herself in the role she invented: the original Vampira. In her late seventies and eighties she sold these paintings through an L.A. art dealer and on eBay, along with autographed memorabilia. She made very little money to speak of as Vampira and was not remotely well off in her later years. Because she didn’t drive, she stopped painting when she moved to an artsy neighborhood that had no art supply stores within walking distance.
Nurmi relished her iconic image as the pioneering TV horror movie hostess for KABC-TV Channel 7 in L.A. in 1954, a regrettably short-lived gig, and Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space. She championed the integrity of the Vampira character despite understandable resentment over her shabby treatment by the entertainment industry and countless campier and sluttier imitations.
Mark Berry of SFX Magazine described Vampira’s glamorous allure:
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.
A tongue-in-cheek recipe for the Vampira creation is attributed to Nurmi:
2 oz. Theda Bara (vamp, vamp)
2 oz. Morticia (morbid Victorian)
3 oz. Norma Desmond (Sunset Boulevard)
4 oz. Tallulah Bankhead (the voice, dahling)
2 oz. Marilyn Monroe (demons are a ghoul’s best friend)
3 oz. Katherine Hepburn (Victorian English)
2 oz. Bettie Davis (mama, baby)
3 oz. Billie Burke (dilettante)
3 oz. Marlene Dietrich (singing voice)
8 oz. Bizarre pin-up
Add 3 lizard eggs, 2 mothballs and a glass eye from a pygmy. Shake vigorously till steaming.
Until her death in 2008 Nurmi was quite approachable, giving interviews regularly in her L.A. neighborhood and graciously interacting with her devoted horror and Goth fans (including the original Misfits lineup with Glenn Danzig). There is a lot of wonderful interview footage in Kevin Sean Michaels’ 2006 documentary Vampira: The Movie . Nurmi’s friend R.H. Greene’s documentary Vampira and Me was released last year.
Below, Maila Nurmi, a.k.a. Vampira, talking about her artwork: