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‘Plan 9 from Bikini Beach’: Glamourous beatnik ghoul girl ‘Vampira’ goths it up back in the 1950s

Maila Nurmi (aka ‘Vampira’) looking gorgeously goth at the beach with her umbrella, mid-1950s.
Maila Nurmi the captivatingly gorgeous Finnish model and actress with a tiny nineteen-inch waist, created an instant sensation when she attended a masquerade ball in Hollywood in 1953. She was dressed as the cartoon character created by longtime New Yorker contributor Charles Addams that would later become the inspiration for “Morticia Addams” in The Addams Family television series. After winning the top prize in the ball’s costume contest, Nurmi became “Vampira,” introducing—and often poking sly fun at—horror movies on her own local LA television program The Vampira Show on WABC. By the time that 1954 rolled around Nurmi was already a star. After doing time as a coat check girl in her early years, Nurmi was now rubbing elbows with everyone from Marlon Brando (who romanced Nurmi), to Surrealist photographer Man Ray (who shot her), to Antonio Vargas (who drew her) to James Dean (who wondered if she was possessed by something demonic). The evil “Maleficent” character from Disney’s animated Snow White was even based on her look (as confirmed by Disney), but her fame sadly didn’t last as long as it should have. She was cast in Ed Wood Jr.‘s Plan 9 from Outer Space in 1959, for which she was paid $200 but insisted on not saying a word of Wood’s lousy dialogue. It is for this mute role that she will eternally remembered.

After disappearing from the Tinseltown spotlight Nurmi continued to be a sort of real Hollywood vampire, even ghoulishly cavorting with the Misfits and performing with a pubk band called Satan’s Cheerleaders during the 1980s when she was in her sixties. At one point Nurmi got into some legal disputes stemming from the rights to Vampira’s image including one lawsuit Nurmi launched against Cassandra “Elvira” Peterson for ripping off her Vampira image, which was dismissed. Despite this, Nurmi’s “Vampira” character continues to endure since she conceived of her over 60 years ago. She was played by Lisa Marie in Tim Burton’s film, Ed Wood.

Somewhat rather underappreciated during her time, Maila Nurmi was lovingly profiled in the 2012 documentary Vampira and Me which featured newly restored kinoscopes of her TV appaearances. Some of the photos that follow (though tame) might be slightly NSFW because, bikinis.


More after the jump…

Posted by Cherrybomb
01:05 pm
Tarantula Ghoul: the 1950s Vampira-esque rock n roll singing horror hostess

‘50s Portland horror hostess, Tarantula Ghoul
Everyone knows about Vampira, the 1950s TV horror movie hostess whose iconic character drew influence from the Morticia character of Charles Addams’ New Yorker cartoons, the Dragon Lady from the comic strip Terry and the Pirates and the evil Queen Grimhilde from Disney’s Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs. She is considered to be the first “television horror host.”

Vampira’s highly successful show was cancelled after only a year in 1955 when she refused to sell the rights to the character to ABC. The popularity of the Vampira character spawned imitators all over the country. It seems that at some point every major television market has had at least one ghoulish horror host or hostess. One of these was Portland, Oregon’s Tarantula Ghoul—known as “Taranch” to her fans.

From the March 29, 1958 issue of TV Guide.
Tarantula Ghoul was a vampy “monster of ceremonies” for KPTV’s House of Horror from 1957 to 1959. Played by Suzanne Waldron, the Vampira-like character bears a striking resemblance to Wynona Ryder’s Lydia Deetz character from Beetlejuice.

House of Horror followed the standard format of showing z-grade movies with comedy bumpers. The cast members included Milton, a grave-robber-turned-gardener, Baby the boa constrictor, and Sir Galahad the tarantula. Sadly, all episodes of House of Horror seem to be lost to the sands of time. No footage exists of the show or of Waldron in character. According to Patrick McGreery, general manager of Fox KPTV and KPDX, “The archives are gone. Nobody did a good enough job saving the clips.” 

TV Radio Mirror - July 1958
The show was cancelled in 1959 when Waldron became pregnant out of wedlock. This was unfortunately very frowned upon at the time, and Portland lost a classic campy horror hostess as a result.

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Christopher Bickel
08:53 am
Not so happy McDonald’s Happy Meals
12:58 pm

McDonald’s should take note from artist Newt Clements on how to improve upon their Happy Meals presentation. Seriously, I’d go to McDonald’s every day (not really) if these were a real thing. I especially like Clements’ toy designs that accompany the “meal.”

They’re just mock-up prototypes, but with fast food sales dropping like a stone, perhaps McDonald’s will listen? A Twins Peaks Happy Meal? That’s marketing innovation!




More after the jump…

Posted by Tara McGinley
12:58 pm
Vampira’s Selfies
09:32 am

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.

vampira selfie 1
vampira moon goddess prayers
vampira moon goddess
vampira plan 9
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:

Posted by Kimberly J. Bright
09:32 am
On the wings of beatnik angels, Phillipa Fallon and Vampira: B-movie beatitudes

Beatnik chicks rule. Phillipa Fallon and Vampira move imaginary furniture in the coffeehouses of our minds.

Two groovy clips from High School Confidential and The Beat Generation.

The words to ‘High School Drag’ (the poem in the HSC clip) were written by B-movie screenwriter Mel Welles who seemed to have the right credentials for writing bop prose, “I was an expert on grass in my day…”  Welles also wrote hep talk for hipster royalty Lord Buckley.

Swing with a gassy chick.
Turn on to a thousand joys.
Smile on what happened, or check what’s going to happen,
You’ll miss what’s happening.
Turn your eyes inside and dig the vacuum.

Vampira went on to have a full-blown TV and film career, but what happened to the exquisite of Phillipa Fallon? She only made two films after High School Confidential, which is hard to believe considering the indelible impression she makes in that brief moment when the planets aligned and beatific angels kissed the foreheads of teenyboppers everywhere as Phillipa laid the beatnik gospel upon us. Ms. Fallon should have been a mega-star.

Check out the rat Vampira is cuddling while she versifies.

After the jump, Dennis Hopper as a beatnik in a 1964 episode of Petticoat Junction and the full text of the poem ‘High School Drag’ in all its glory.

Posted by Marc Campbell
04:54 pm