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Remembering TV’s Horror Host: Vampira

It was April 30, 1954, and viewers were tuning in to KABC-TV to get their daily dose of terror and gore. As viewers find the channel, they are met with a ghostly figure moving through a fog-casted hallway. As the camera closes in, viewers see a beautiful woman with sharply arched eyebrows, deep-black hair, and pale skin, Vampira. Vampira stares into the camera lens and lets out a blood-curdling scream, shocking viewers, but also making them want more. 

This is the story of how the most beloved horror host mesmerized cult horror fans for years to come.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Mysterious Childhood Of Maila Nurmi 

With celebrity childhoods being put on full display, it’s surprising that there is not much known about the life of Maila Nurmi. What most people know is that she was born in 1922, but where she was born is still somehow a mystery. Before she became the iconic Vampira, Maila Nurmi claimed to have been born in Finland. It would later be revealed through her biographer that she was likely born in Gloucester, Massachusetts. 

What is certain, however, is that Nurmi and her family moved around frequently throughout her childhood. They finally settled down in a Finnish community in the Pacific Northwest, but by then Nurmi was ready to spread her wings. In 1940, Maila Nurmi graduated from high school and found herself booking a trip to Los Angeles.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

One Special Halloween

Maila Nurmi attended a Halloween party in 1953 hosted by the famous fashion designer, Lester Horton. His parties were known to house the most iconic members of Hollywood. Things were about to get interesting.

Nurmi dressed as a character in one of Charles Addams’ famous New Yorker cartoons, Morticia Addams. Her sensual take on Morticia kept many eyes on her that night, eventually catching the attention of Hunt Stromberg Jr., who was a well-known producer for Los Angeles’ KABC-TV. Stromberg was looking to increase viewership regarding his camp horror movies. Knowing that his movies would not be watched without some sort of gimmick, he reached out to Nurmi, to become the next horror film muse. 

Dig Me Later, Vampira

On April 30, 1954, the Dig Me Later, Vampira premier stunned viewers. Prior to this show, it was not common to comment on bad movies. Well, Dig Me Later, Vampira changed that. The directors would go as far as to stop film production to make jokes at the expense of the bad writing. 

Because of its obscurity, there is very little footage that survived. Luckily, a few iconic moments were preserved. Vampira broke the mold when it came to horror presenters, setting the standard for everyone who came after. 

Photo: IMDb

It Ended Before It Even Started

It was not long until the show was brought to a halt. In 1955, the series ended. WABC then requested that Nurmi turned over her rights to Vampira. When Nurmi showed apprehension, the station buried the hit show without an ounce of sympathy.

The show lasted a mere eight months after its premiere. The show was not the only thing that suffered. As the show ended, Maila Nurmi was left completely broke. Because of the show’s quick end, there was not much of a profit she could make from the series. 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Elvira, A Vampira Copycat?

The infamous rivalry began in 1981 when KHJ-TV approached Nurmi about bringing The Vampira Show back on the air. Ecstatic, Nurmi agreed, but with one clause, that the actress Lola Falana would reprise the role which the station disagreed with, causing Nurmi to back out.

It was in that same year when the name Vampira was replaced with Elvira and the actress Cassandra Peterson was hired instead of Lola Falana. You can say this did not sit well with Nurmi, as the Elvira: Mistress of the Dark production was hit with a cease and desist and a $10 million lawsuit.

Speaking To The Press

The feud did not end there. Maila Nurmi told the press, “There is no Elvira. There’s only a pirated Vampira. Cassandra Peterson slavishly copied my product and made a fortune. America has been duped.”

In response, Peterson claims that there was no attempt to copy the likeness of Vampira, even after all he and the show’s producers did was change the character’s name after Maila had sent lawyers requesting compensation for usage.

The lawsuit was eventually thrown out as Nurmi could not prove that Elvira was made in Vampira’s likeness. Nurmi was never compensated for helping to birth the now-known, Elvira. A tragic end to such an iconic character.