Here are new gigantic scans of the entire 1954 LIFE magazine photo feature on L.A.'s KABC-TV superstar, Emmy-nominated horror host and All-Time #1 Monster Kid pin-up: Vampira! Click them AT YOUR OWN DOOM-RISK!
On page 107, we get a behind-the-spleens peek at how television is made, and a glimpse of a real-live KABC-TV camera. The article text seems to capture how strange and amazing the Vampira show must have been. She provided the basic 101 Skeleton Puns template for other local television horror host characters. But I don't know of any others who traded in brazen eroticism or genuine otherworldly creepiness. In the White Zombie (1932) episode the reporter witnesses, she materializes out of a billowing mist, floats to the camera looking like a sex-demon, screams into the lens... then starts telling vaudeville Halloween jokes. This is how all people should behave.
LIFE attempts to break the spell by calling out Maila Syrjäniemi's birth name and natural blond hair color, but has to concede she is genuinely weird enough to have come up with the routine.
Irrelevant note: Vampira was 31 when the article was published, which means I am running out of time to do something with my life as cool as Vampira before turning 31.
The Sun Dial is the secret!: say what you will about mounting Cold War terror and racial tension... The 1950s was the period of most adorable typography in American advertising history! I leave in this movie-culture relevant Bell & Howell camera ad, because that woman in the upper left? Look how ecstatic she is about making her own movies. Cinemania has rendered her completely helpless!
Rollo, Don't Make Cobwebs on the Furniture!: Vampira rests her bones on a fainting couch that an enterprising furniture manufacturer should repro. Is there any reason to think it might be in a warehouse on the property of former KABC-TV lot, Prospect Studios? Is there any reason not to break into said warehouse?
Fetching as her Mona Lisa Leer is, keen as it may be to see the detail on the headstone-inspired lounger... I can't help but wonder if LIFE and cropped the top photo from a full-moon view of Vampira's corpus delicti.
There's an extraneous Zippo ad on page 109. It illustrates the kind of man who uses Zippos: dads, private eyes, and golfers in pleated slacks. In 1954, it cost $8.50 to get a Zippo with a picture of a leaping trout or an Irish setter on it!
These are the pictures designed to drive Horror-wood residents nuts! Some of my favorite passages in Rudolph Grey's required-reading Edward Wood, Jr. bio Nightmare of Ecstasy are Maila Nurmi spinning yarns about hanging out after work in late-late night Los Angeles with Criswell, eating Swedish meatballs cooked by Mae West. The neighborhood around the studio is empty, quiet and lonely at night, and must have been even more-so in the '50s, and Nurmi must have been in her, er, unnatural environment.
By the by, it's possible to take a brief and very cool Plan 9-alumni walking tour, from the old KABC-TV studios, down the road a pace past the original Monogram soundstage at Sunset and Fountain, where Bela Lugosi made nine beloved and/or lamented films, depending on who you're drinking with. At the Hollywood/Sunset intersection, Mr. Wood had his first office. The diehard will want to continue down to the Santa Monica and Wilton area, for between Gold Diggers (located at 5632 Santa Monica Blvd.), the grossest strip joint in the charted universe, and the Harvey Hotel, should one peer into the gated alley, stands the remains of Quality Picture Studios. In that hallway-sized soundstage, for $200, Vampira made her sort-of-in-character film debut; and if oral history is to be believed, the director would pop into Gold Diggers for drinks. If anyone harasses you while standing in the dark alley next to a strip club, just tell them you're a film historian.
The middle photograph A) hilariously illustrates how much old duffers at the bus stop hate Vampira, and B) is remarkably captioned. Would any contemporary celebrity be happy with a caption declaring them "HAUGHTY"?! It wasn't just the fetish fashion or the camp and cleave: Vampira's resolute confidence is inspirational.
The sharp-eyed will note that Vampira is being chauffeured past the Security Trust and Savings building, at 6381-85 Hollywood Blvd at Cahuenga (built in 1921). Here's a giant photo of the building from the L.A. Dept. of Planning.
The top photo, of Vampira tooling around the neighborhood in a rented Packard, looking either regal or irritated, is priceless. On her show, late at night, shrouded in the mist of the shabby studio set, Vampira was in her own world, a dark star in a city of blinding sunlight. This photo encapsulates the dizzy contradiction of the Night Mayor of Los Angeles.
Things We Learned!
-This article reminds us all of a pressing issue in our world, which is the lack of an acceptable DVD of Fog Island (1945). We will be petitioning Criterion's Eclipse label for a "Late PRC Thrillers" box set.
-LIFE Magazine is hard to scan!
-It is rumored that the KABC archive contains scraps of Vampira footage, probably the three-minute promo clip we will see in Vampira: The Movie. In the meantime, this clip (likely from the same source) is all that is to be had online: