Vampira: Maila Nurmi

(December 21, 1921 – January 10, 2008)

“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

Foxy females, carrying that rare recipe of intense beauty swirling with danger and a wickedly creative sense of humor, these are the girls we love the most.

Maila Nurmi was a foxy lady.

A Finnish-American pinup girl, who used her wickedly creative sense of humor and style in good measure when weaving together her inspiration for “Vampira.”

Charles Addams's "Morticia" is the obvious first place to look for the girl vampire model, although the evil girl archtype has always been around in one form or another. Addams published his old school one-shot panel humor cartoons in the incredibly pretentious New Yorker Magazine as early as the 1930s, when the New Yorker may have been slighlty less lame. However, in the 1960s the New Yorker refused to publish any new Addams Family illustrations because they were too dignified to be associated with television. The Addams Family characters did not have names until television producer David Levy asked Addams to develop the characters for television in 1964.

Maila's character, however, a "trashed up" vampire girl became fully realized by 1953, the attitude and persona of Vampira evolving throughout her childhood as a sort of stronger, fantasy version, of herself. She sited the Evil Queen from Snow White, the Dragon Lady from Terry & the Pirates, and Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard as inspirations, and debuted this vampiric version of herself at a 1953 masquerade party. Any Vampira fan knows the rest of the story. Maila caught the eye of an L.A. TV producer … Her husband, Dean Riesner, (that cool guy that wrote the screenplay for Dirty Harry) gave her the name “Vampira” and soon “The Vampira Show” aired in 1954 featuring the first (and best) of a long lineage of horror TV hosts.

Nurmi made a wopping 75 dollars a week on her TV show gig...

Later, Cassandra Peterson as “Elvira,” would “borrow” the image and persona for a new show that Maila had actually helped develop—but she took the persona without Maila’s approval or acceptance. Maila wanted to sue, but with that 75 dollar a week background she couldn’t afford a good lawyer.

Although, Maila (as Vampira) is perhaps best known for her short (and silent) creepy cool role in Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space, let’s not forget she also had a role in Sex Kittens Go to College—where she partied with Mamie Van Doren and Tuesday Weld.

She was also considered a Hollywood “A” list hottie. During her Hollywood girl fame she had spicy interludes with: Elvis Presley, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, and the skinny version of Orson Welles. Perhaps she gave them all a little vampire blood and that’s why we can’t forget them.

Well, we’ll never forget Maila Nurmi.

She was one in a million--with just about that many imitators.

A glamour ghoul that will live forever in the hearts and minds of those who walk the shores of Mystery Island and beyond.


"Vampira: Maila Nurmi tribute" by Bradley Mason Hamlin. Copyright © 2008 Mystery Island Publications.
Published by Mystery Island: 01.12.08. Updated: 07.19.09. All rights reserved.