Monday, September 19, 2011

Vampira (1956)


KHJ-TV, 1956
Executive Producer/Script: Maila Nurmi
Cast: Maila Nurmi (Vampira)

That vampire vixen of television entertainment, Vampira, returned to terrify and delight home viewers with her second live show, simply entitled, Vampira. Vampira debuted on KHJ-TV in 1956, only a year after the highly successful The Vampira Show at KABC-TV came to an abrupt end. In this new program, Vampira had a new set to slink and play dead-around in as she continued to engage all with her spooky skits and sharp cynicism. Also featured, were a new batch of fright flick goodies for the glamour ghoul to host. This time, the show aired on Friday nights (instead of the previous Saturday evening schedule she had over at KABC-TV) and lasted 14 episodes.

1. Tokyo File 212 (1951) The Los Angeles Times posted a brief mention on May 11, 1956 about the return of television's first horror hostess: "...favorite ghoul friend, Vampira, is coming back to TV, KHJ (9), Friday, May 18, at 11:05 p.m. 'I'm so happy, I could scream,' Vampira telegraphed [the Times]. 'I'm really looking forward to the smog again. The air in other parts of the country has no body to it.' " 5/18/1956

2. Lured (1947) "Vampira of the stringy-hair, overgrown fingernail set is on hand every week at this hour to introduce her latest chiller diller. Tonight Lucille Ball and George Sanders star in a tale about a homicidal maniac whose chief pastime is choking women. Vampira's upset because almost everyone lives happily ever after in this one." -- Los Angeles Times. 5/25/1956

3. The Big Night (1951) "Vampira's on hand to introduce this tale of a young man who attempts to hunt down a sports writer whose hobby is murder. Preston Foster, John Barrymore Jr., and Joan Lorring are in the cast." -- Los Angeles Times. 6/1/1956

4. The Vampire Bat (1933) In the village of Klineschloss, people begin to die from what appear to be vampire attacks. Police Inspector Karl Brettschneider (Melvyn Douglas) investigates and seeks the truth behind these mysterious deaths. Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, and Dwight Frye also star. 6/8/1956

5. House of Darkness (1948) Francis Merryman's (Laurence Harvey) life is turned into a nightmare when the vengeful ghost of his murdered stepbrother returns to terrorize him. Also featuring Lesley Brook, John Stuart, and famous arranger-conductor George Melachrino. 6/15/1956

6. Without Warning! (1952) Carl Martin (Adam Williams) is a deranged psychopath who murders women with garden shears. The police desperately try to track down the serial killer before he strikes again. With Meg Randall, Edward Binns, and Harlan Warde. 6/22/1956

7. The Dark Mirror (1946) "Vampira is on hand to introduce this suspense movie tonight. In it, Olivia de Havilland portrays twins with the help of a trick camera. One of the sisters is good, the other displays homicidal tendencies, and no one is sure who is who. Lew Ayres, as a young psychiatrist, does a case study on the pair, finds out all about their respective psyches and then the action starts." -- Los Angeles Times. 6/29/1956

8. The Scar (a.k.a. Hollow Triumph) (1948) "Vampira describes The Scar thusly: 'The poor boy let a lush life get the best of him and meets an untimely demise because of an overweight condition -- caused by an excess of 38-caliber bullets.' Paul Henreid and Joan Bennett star." -- Los Angeles Times. 7/6/1956

9. Secret Beyond the Door... (1947) "The Vamp has a spine-chilling mystery, The Secret Beyond the Door as an attraction. She says the story concerns a crime-loving architect, Michael Redgrave, who whisks an adventuress, Joan Bennett, off her feet." -- Los Angeles Times. 7/13/1956

10. A Double Life (1947) Anthony John (Ronald Colman) is a stage actor who takes his roles a little too seriously. His wife Brita (Signe Hasso) leaves him, but finds herself in grave danger when the part of Othello begins to influence and ignite Anthony's jealous and homicidal tendencies. Edmond O'Brien and Shelley Winters also star. 7/20/1956

11. The Man on the Eiffel Tower (1949) Bill Kirby (Robert Hutton) is a wealthy American who hires med student Johann Radek (Franchot Tone) to kill his aunt. Radek frames another man (Burgess Meredith), taunts the police, and leads the Inspector Maigret (Charles Laughton) on a wild chase through the streets of Paris. 7/27/1956

12. Captive City (1952) Newspaper editor Jim Austin (John Forsythe) investigates a murder, organize crime, and police corruption in a small town. Featuring Joan Camden, Victor Sutherland, and Ray Teal. 8/3/1956

13. Whispering City (1947) "Vampira, the ghostly one, has another thriller on tap for this evening. It's all about a young newspaper girl who stumbles on a corpse. Involved in the action are Helmut Dantine, Mary Anderson and Paul Lukas." -- Los Angeles Times. 8/10/1956

14. Force of Evil (1948) "Hostess Vampira reports that this 'unique boy-meets-bullets drama' is one of her favorites. Caught in the morass of the underworld are John Garfield and Thomas Gomez." -- Los Angeles Times. 8/17/1956

After a successful run with her original program The Vampira Show (1954-1955) at KABC-TV studios, actress Maila Nurmi returned to television the following year to reprise her popular role as Vampira and host a new spookfest selection of thriller movies for KHJ-TV in Los Angeles, California. This time the new show was simply called Vampira. Although VP followed the basic format of The Vampira Show (a.k.a. Lady of Horrors), it utilized an all too different set, production crew, and original skits written specifically for the new series. On May 11, 1956, the Los Angeles Times promoted the upcoming show in an article that also gave anticipating Vampira fans a little teaser of what they should expect: "[Vampira's] motion-picture fare schedule will spotlight adventures and boy-meets-ghoul dramas -- with the usual unhappy endings."

Despite the fame that Vampira achieved from her previous show and having been nominated for an Vampira only lasted 14 episodes before it was canceled. Clues as to why it went off the air can possibly be found in Nurmi's vocal dissatisfaction with the KHJ-TV program. The set pieces were asymmetrical as if inspired by The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and the props were minimal. Her new 'playground' featured an off-set window, a dead tree branch, a coffin, and a large stool to sit on and present the thriller film of the night. Nurmi also complained that the films were not as good as the ones shown on her previous show. Unlike The Vampira Show, Nurmi and the station itself did very little to promote the new program. Vampira was aired live and not a single copy of any of its episodes exist. The Vampira Show, however, was fortunate enough to have had a short kinescope made in which skits from previous episodes were re-shot to help promote the program to future advertisers. Because this valuable relic has managed to survive and made exclusively available on The Official Vampira website, decades later a new generation of Vampira fans are able to catch a glimpse and see for themselves how truly special The Vampira Show really was. Vampira, however, is not so fortunate and, sadly, remains a lost piece of horror history.
Emmy as "Most Outstanding Television Personality,"

"Vampira promises [that] she'll have something new for viewers. No longer is she the prowling creature of shadowy streets. The new Vampira wants her fans to think of her as the average friendly neighbor they would expect to find living halfway up the next swamp." This excerpt from the Times' May 11, 1956 article gives us an idea in what direction Vampira was heading before it made its debut on May 18 of that year. Vampira's closing comment, "I've undergone a grave change. My motto now is 'home sweet homicide,'" also reflects Nurmi's keen interest in the Morticia Addams character from the illustrations of Charles Addams in the The New Yorker.

In fact, Vampira's roots has a direct link to Addams' cartoon creation when, in 1953, Nurmi attended a masquerade ball (thrown by renowned dance choreographer Lester Horton) dressed as Morticia Addams. Out of 2000 attendees, Nurmi ended up winning first place for best costume and attracted the attention of KABC-TV producer Hunt Stromberg, Jr. Stromberg eventually contacted Nurmi and offered her a job hosting horror films for the station. During her canned interview in the highly acclaimed documentary Vampira: The Movie (2006), Nurmi admitted that she wanted to host The Vampira Show as Charles Addams' female character, but was told that the studio couldn't afford to purchase the rights. (At the time, the Addams characters remained nameless until the 1964 television series The Addams Family assigned them permanent names).

Keeping with the Morticia look, Nurmi developed her own character's persona by drawing from various sources including dominatrix illustrations by John Willie, which appeared in the bondage and fetish magazine Bizarre. Nurmi was also inspired by the Evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and the villainess Dragon Lady, which she idolized as a child reading the old Terry and the Pirates Sunday comic strips. In later years, Maila Nurmi expressed her resentment toward KABC-TV studios for not offering her the part of Morticia Addams in The Addams Family TV series. It was a role Nurmi had longed to be associated with for many years.

Despite the cancellation of both The Vampira Show and Vampira Presents, Nurmi continued to make numerous personal appearances as Vampira and even had the opportunity to play the part on the big screen in Ed Wood, Jr.'s ultimate cult classic Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957). The legacy of television's first female horror hostess thrived when the horror hosting craze took over the country during the late 1950s and lasted well into the 1970s. During this period, it seemed as if every city had its own unique television horror host. Further still, in 1958, KUTV in Salt Lake City, Utah, borrowed the 'Vampira' name for their own show called Shock! The show was hosted by a ghoulish character named Roderick (played by John "Jack" Milton Whitaker) who had a mute vampire assistant in a white dress, in which he referred to her as Vampira (played by Phyllis Ranson). In 1981, Nurmi attempted to officially resurrect the character of Vampira once more when she was hired by her old studio, KHJ-TV, to help launch a new Vampira series. The role of Vampira was intended to be played by a new, young actress. However, Nurmi had conflicting opinions with the show's producers about who to cast for the role and, ultimately, walked off the project... taking with her the rights to the Vampira name. The show, of course, became Movie Macabre, and the character's name and personality was changed to the vivacious Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Movie Macabre became a phenomenal hit and helped to revive interest in TV horror hosting once more.

Maila Nurmi was an important pioneer in the annals of horror history and her Vampira persona will forever remain one of the most iconic figures in the horror hall of fame. Unique and always fascinating, there will never again be anyone quite like the original Queen of the Horror Hosts.


  1. Every time I see her, I get a kind of Bettie Page buzz. Hey, I nominated you to join the Minions of Misery on my site. Have a look see if you're interested.

  2. I don't think you're alone, Keith. I often hear Bettie Page's name mentioned when people talk about Vampira. They seem to be cult icons that will forever live on... and they're not bad to look at. AND thank you for selecting SP for Minions of Misery. It sounds like fun.


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