... Begins Second Life Term
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.