January 11: RIP Maila “Vampira” Nurmi
Fango is saddened to report that actress, horror host and Goth icon Maila “Vampira” Nurmi has died. According to Nurmi friend and Arkham Studios FX artist Bryan Moore, the actress passed peacefully in her sleep Thursday, January 10 at her home in Hollywood, CA. She was 86.
“It was only a month ago that Heather [Saenz] and I picked her up in our 1951 hearse [featured in Tim Burton’s ED WOOD] for her birthday,” Moore tells Fango. “Our hearse club celebrated with a short tour of Hollywood Forever Cemetery and then on to The Stinking Rose [a local Hollywood restaurant]. She was an amazing lady, and her likes will not be seen again.”
Born Maila Elizabeth Syrjäniemi on December 21, 1921 in Finland, Nurmi made her way to Hollywood (after her family relocated to Ohio) at age 17 to pursue a career as an actress. She’s best known for her 1950s persona of Vampira, a character she created and which she used to great effect as the horror hostess of THE VAMPIRA SHOW (a weekly series which aired on a pair of Los Angeles TV stations from 1954-1955, and was nationally syndicated) and in director Ed Wood’s cult classic PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE (1959). Nurmi’s influence on horror, fashion (Elvira, anyone?), film and music (punk-Goth acts The Misfits and The Damned both recorded songs about her) can be felt to this day.
Such was her universal appeal that she received an Emmy Award in 1954 for “Most Outstanding Female Personality” of that year, and while she’s a cult figure now, the actress counted among her acquaintances icons Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and director Orson Welles (whom she dated), as well as James Dean and sci-fi mogul/Famous Monsters of Filmland editor Forrest J “Forry” Ackerman. Nurmi’s additional screen credits include the 1998 feature I WOKE UP EARLY THE DAY I DIED (the last Ed Wood script to be produced, in which she appeared opposite Billy Zane) and the documentaries SCHLOCK! THE SECRET HISTORY OF AMERICAN MOVIES (released in 2003 and directed by Ray Greene), AMERICAN SCARY (2006, directed by Robert E. Hudgens) and most recently director Kevin Sean Michael’s docu VAMPIRA: THE MOVIE (2006).
Moore relates that in 2005, “Maila also served as the Grand Marshal for the World's Longest Hearse Procession at the Petersen Automotive Museum [in Los Angeles]. We set the record with 76 hearses. She was sharp as a tack until the very end, and her warmth and humor endeared her to all.” As for funeral arrangements, “They are pending legal steps, as Maila had no relatives,” says Moore. “We are going to do our best to see if we can get her a spot at Hollywood Forever, and will likely plan some sort of hearse procession for her.” Fitting, as Ed Wood's wife and Nurmi's friend Kathy is interred there as well. You will be missed, Maila. —Sean Decker
Moody does love the genre. Very Happy for him.