Friday, January 11, 2008

The Night Mayor of Los Angeles...

... Begins Second Life Term


Maila Nurmi
1921 - 2008

Ms. Nurmi (born Syrjäniemi), the woman who was Vampira, has exited our planet, as of January 10, 2008 (who has been left in charge of her pet spider, Rollo, has not been made public). This rarest of creatures can't really disappear, because since 11PM, April 30, 1954, when she debuted on L.A.'s KABC-TV, she shifted the up-all-night movie paradigm. "Dig Me Later, Vampira": from that preview program's title on down, combining hipster patois, sick-dumb humor, and rude, slinky rock star sexuality, Vampira began articulating something long bubbling under the surface of popular culture. It took a true (black-and-)blue original, an eccentric even by Angeleno standards, to blow the lid off the coffin. Though a local TV celeb, Vampira was the perfect combination of too-bizarre-to-ignore and on the leading edge of the zeitgeist (some... kind of... geist-or-other, anyway), and national press coverage (Exploding Kinetoscope last checked in with Vampira to revisit her fascinating Life magazine feature story) brought her to the world's attention/puzzlement. Which may not be the same as "success"... not by mortal standards. The Vampira show ran for about a year, moving to KHJ, and dying too young, but not before it flash-imprinted on the national consciousness.

The character's look, copped partly from Chas. Addams, aided and abetted by Nurmi's completely implausible figure and bold-cut Finnish cheekbones, joined the ranks of the Classic Monster pantheon; the vampire woman par excellence, the most iconic female ghoul besides the Bride of Frankenstein. But the legacy is all about Vampira's attitude. Erotic, sarcastic, unwholesome, kind of mean, regal for no-good-reason, certainly weird, and stuck watching murky PRC and Monogram movies in the middle of the night (in short, our ideal lady), Vampira was an early camp avatar for straight culture; she's the missing self-aware, cooly ironic link between Maria Montez and Mystery Science Theater 3000. You know how you can love The Flying Serpent (or Plan 9 From Outer Space, or The Magic Sword, for that matter), heckle it, think it's junk and be bored and scared at the same time? Perhaps this is a conflicted relationship we've always had with low budget TV-fodder thrillers; Vampira said it out loud. And when she screamed, it was even louder. And then she'd act like her own shriek turned her on. And then she'd stare into the camera and roll her eyes like she was bored and irritated that you'd responded. It's a wonder this was ever allowed on TV.

Whether first generation, or third, if there is any Monster Kid in your veins, you owe a blood-debt Vampira, the first television horror host.

Maila Nurmi was 86. Vampira, however, remains ageless, deathless. Dig her later.

4 comments:

Karswell said...

I've already said this on another blog (including my own) but I'm still at a loss for words today. And even though I haven't seen Maila or talked to her in many years since I moved from LA I already miss her immensely. The world just got a whole lot less interesting.

DewayneinSD said...

Amazing to think so much of "pop" culture was influenced by Vampira.

Great tribute and "epitaph"

Maria said...

I am very impressed by the comic you are writing. You are also an articulate person and I came across your website quite by accident. Unfortunately I cannot understand all your references - I tried searching for some of the movies but could not find any. I am searching for 'fringe' inspiration it's strange how we are all connected I have been thinking about elvira (the copy of vampira?) for a while now. There is something going on. Anyway, I am autistic so cannot make an informed comment on many of your opinions. Not good with words. Keep up the good work - liking it very much!

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Which may not be the same as "success"... not by mortal standards. The Vampira show ran for about a year, moving to KHJ, and dying too young, but not before it flash-imprinted on the national consciousness.