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Aug 13 2027 4:39P

This is a cool live preview.





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Early life

Born as Maila Elizabeth Syrjäniemi, she claimed to be the niece of the Finnish athlete Paavo Nurmi, who began setting long-distance running world records in 1921, the year before her birth. She moved to the United States with her family when she was two years old and grew up in Ashtabula, Ohio, home to the largest Finnish-American community in Ohio. Arriving in Los Angeles at age 17, she modeled for Alberto Vargas, Bernard of Hollywood, and Man Ray, gaining a foothold in the film industry with an uncredited role in Victor Saville's 1947 film, If Winter Comes. She posed for pin-up photos in men's magazines such as Famous Models, Gala and Glamorous Models. She reportedly was fired by Mae West from the cast of West's Broadway play Catherine Was Great in 1944 because West feared that she was being upstaged. [2] Origin of Vampira The idea for the Vampira character was born in 1953 when Nurmi attended choreographer Lester Horton's annual Bal Caribe Masquerade in a costume inspired by a character in The New Yorker cartoons of Charles Addams. Her appearance with pale white skin and tight black dress caught the attention of television producer Hunt Stromberg, Jr., who wanted to hire her to host horror movies on the Los Angeles television station KABC-TV, but Stromberg had no idea how to contact her. He finally got her phone number from Rudi Gernreich, later famed as the designer of the topless swimsuit. The name Vampira was the invention of Nurmi's husband, Dean Riesner. On April 30, 1954, KABC-TV aired a preview, Dig Me Later, Vampira, at 11:00 p.m. The Vampira Show premiered on the following night, May 1, 1954. For the first four weeks, the show aired at midnight, moving to 11:00 p.m. on May 29. Ten months later, the series aired at 10:30 p.m., beginning March 5, 1955. As Vampira, Nurmi introduced films while wandering through a hallway of mist and cobwebs. Her horror-related comedy antics included ghoulish puns such as encouraging viewers to write for epitaphs instead of autographs and talking to her pet spider Rollo. When the series was cancelled in 1955, she retained rights to the character of Vampira and took the show to a competing Los Angeles television station, KHJ-TV. Several episode scripts, and a single kinescope of Nurmi in character advertising the station's ability to draw customers for advertisers, are held by private collectors. Nurmi made television history as the first horror movie hostess. In 1957, Screen Gems released a syndicated package of 52 horror movies under the program title Shock Theater. Independent stations in major cities all over the U.S. began showing these films, adding their own ghoulish host or hostess (including Vampira II and other lookalikes) to attract more viewers. Nominated for an Emmy Award as "Most Outstanding Female Personality" in 1954, she returned to films with Too Much, Too Soon, followed by The Big Operator and The Beat Generation. Her most notable film appearance was in Ed Wood's camp classic, Plan 9 from Outer Space, as a Vampira-like zombie (filmed in 1956, but released in 1959). In 1960 she appeared in I Passed for White and Sex Kittens Go to College, followed by 1962's The Magic Sword. The classic clip from Plan 9 from Outer Space featuring Vampira walking out of the woods with her hands pointing straight out, was used to start the original opening sequence of WPIX Channel 11 New York's Chiller Theatre back in the 1960s. Nurmi was acquainted with Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley, and briefly dated Orson Welles. In the early 1950s, she was close friends with James Dean, and they hung out together at Googie's coffee shop on the corner of Crescent Heights and Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. She explained their friendship by saying, "We have the same neuroses". Dean commented, "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."[3] On June 20th, 1955, Nurmi was the victim of an attempted murder when a man forced his way into her apartment and proceeded to terrorize her for close to four hours. Nurmi eventually escaped and managed to call the police, with assistance from a local shop owner.[4] By 1962, Nurmi was making a living installing linoleum flooring.[6] “And if things are slow in linoleum, I can also do carpentry, make drapes or refinish furniture,” she told the Los Angeles Times. In the early 1960s, Nurmi opened Vampira's Attic, an antiques boutique on Melrose Avenue. She also sold handmade jewelry and clothing. She made items for several celebrities, including Grace Slick of the music group Jefferson Airplane and the Zappa family. In the 1980s, Nurmi was asked by KHJ-TV to revive her Vampira character for television. She worked closely with the producers of the new show and was to get an executive producer credit, but Nurmi eventually left the project over creative differences. According to Nurmi this was because the station cast Cassandra Peterson in the part without consulting her. "They eventually called me in to sign a contract and she was there," Nurmi told Bizarre magazine in 2005. "They had hired her without asking me."[7] KHJ-TV continued with the show and changed the name of their host to Elvira. Later, Nurmi sued Cassandra Peterson, the actress who played Elvira. The court eventually ruled in favor of Peterson, holding that "'likeness' means actual representation of another person's appearance, and not simply close resemblance." Peterson claimed that Elvira was nothing like Vampira aside from the basic design of the black dress and black hair; Nurmi claimed that the entire Elvira persona, which included comedic dialogue and intentionally bad graveyard puns, infringed on her creation's "distinctive dark dress, horror movie props, and...special personality."[8] Nurmi herself claimed that Vampira's image was in part based on the Charles Addams The New Yorker cartoon character "Morticia Addams", though she told Boxoffice magazine in 1994 that she had intentionally deviated from Addams' mute and flat-chested creation, making her own TV character "campier and sexier" to avoid plagiarizing Addams' idea.[9] In 1994, Maila Nurmi was portrayed by actress-model Lisa Marie in Tim Burton's Ed Wood, and she was the subject of a 1995 Finnish documentary, About Death, Sex and Taxes by Mika J. Ripatti. Her last film role was in 1998's I Woke Up Early the Day I Died. In 2000, Image Entertainment released Plan 9 from Outer Space on DVD. The disc contains a bonus two-hour documentary Flying Saucers Over Hollywood: The Plan 9 Companion with extensive interviews with Nurmi and other cast members. In 2001, Nurmi opened her official website, and began selling autographed memorabilia and original pieces of art on eBay. Until her death, Nurmi lived with her pet cat and two birds in a small North Hollywood apartment. Unlike Elvira, Nurmi authorized very few merchandising contracts for her Vampira character, though the name and likeness has been used unofficially by various companies since the 1950s. In 1994, Nurmi had authorized a Vampira model kit for Artomic Creations, and a pre-painted figurine from Bowen Designs in 2001, both sculpted by Thomas Kuntz. In 2004, she authorized merchandising of the Vampira character by Coffin Case. In 2001, Nurmi was featured alongside cult filmmakers Roger Corman, Doris Wishman, David F. Friedman, and others in Ray Greene's documentary Schlock! The Secret History of American Movies, about the American exploitation and sexploitation films of the 1950s and 1960s. In 2006, Nurmi was interviewed for American Scary, a documentary about local late-night horror movie hosts. The same year she was the subject of another documentary called Vampira: The Movie. The documentary, directed by Kevin Sean Michaels, featured interviews with Nurmi herself, with other horror film actors and with Cassandra Peterson about the Elvira lawsuit. Vampira: The Movie was shown with great praise at several horror related conventions and released on DVD by Alpha Video to great demand resulting in three pressings. A DVD containing both a colorized version of Plan 9 from Outer Space and a digitally restored black and white print was released by Legend Films in 2006.