Vampira: Beatnik, Goth, Punk

Halloween seems like the perfect time to look back at the life of actress Maila Nurmi, better known as Vampira.

She actually trademarked her famous proto-goth look, and famously sued "Elvira" actress Cassandra Peterson in 1989 for stealing her image.

Nurmi lost the lawsuit. It probably didn't help that she'd admitted all along that she'd borrowed much of her style from Charles Addam's "Morticia."

But Maila Nurmi was certainly a true original in one way:

She was the first TV horror host, male or female, and the only one whose image is still recognized today around the globe.

This is especially astonishing because only two minutes of The Vampira Show are still known to exist on primitive Kinescopes.

Nurmi's colorful life included a close friendship with James Dean. Her other famous pals ranged from Liberace to Marlon Brando.

Nurmi was at turns a savvy businesswoman and a chronic self-saboteur, probably too outspoken and kooky to ever really get very far in 1950s and 60s Hollywood.

If you're sick of the usual Friday the 13th marathons, the recent documentary Vampira & Me makes for refreshing Halloween viewing:

It took a couple of generations for the full impact to be felt, but by the 1980s, Vampira's sartorial image was being widely appropriated by goths, and eventually her aura sampled by pretty much everyone else; her detached cool, and her blurring the line between life and performance, made her, Greene notes in the movie, "the birth mother of hipster irony." After punk bands The Damned and The Misfits recorded songs referencing her creation, Nurmi lent her own voice to a recording by a band called Satan's Cheerleaders — another archival gem that Vampira and Me resurrects. (...)

Greene's doc presents Nurmi as a witty, erudite, and bewitching woman who was swallowed by her own creation and then spat out almost immediately by the very industry that spawned her. Instead of dwelling on the Vampira character's brief scenes in Ed Wood's godawful Plan 9 from Outer Space, we're given clips from a far more accurate -- and non-Vampira -- depiction of Nurmi the actress/poetess in 1959's The Beat Generation.

Like Louise Brooks before her, Nurmi was ahead of her time, a harbinger of a new pop culture soon to be dominated by Dean, Marlon Brando, and Elvis Presley. It's a testament to the lasting impact her foreshortened career had on us that not a Halloween goes by that somewhere, sometimes everywhere, Vampira is all over the place.