THE WOMAN WHO WAS DESTINED to become the very first TV horror host was born Maila Elizabeth Syrjäniemi, in Finland, on December 21, 1921. Her family moved to the United States when she was two-years-old.
After graduating from high school in Astoria, Oregon (home of THE GOONIES) she headed for Hollywood. She payed her dues as a chorus-line girl, exotic dancer, and photographer's model (including a stint as an artist's model for Alberto Vargas), until she was "discovered" and hired for films.
Nurmi's unconventional manner led to her role as horror hostess, Vampira, after adopting a costume patterned after the Chas Addams cartoon character, Morticia, and catching the eye of a TV producer who was looking for someone to introduce the newly-acquired SHOCK THEATRE package of horror films on his station.
Nurmi's husband is credited with coming up with the name, Vampira. Besides being a bustier version of Addams' Morticia, her costume and character was also patterned after the Dragon Lady from Milton Caniff's newspaper comic strip, TERRY AND THE PIRATES and Disney's evil queen in SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS.
Like lots of other actors, during her days in Hollywood she made the acquaintance of many other stars. One of them was the rebel without a cause, James Dean. The stories about them vary, and Nurmi was sometimes accused of capitalizing on their relationship, marginal or not.
Pop Culure astrologer to the stars, Sydney Omarr published a magazine called BORDERLINE. Subtitled, "The Magazine Which Dares the Unknown" it was only one of the many astrology and spiritual magazines that popped up like mushrooms on the newsstands during the 1960's occult renaissance.
In the January 1964 issue (Vol. 1 No. 4) appeared an article by Maila Nurmi entitled, The Ghost of James Dean. In it she recounts the strange occurence surrounding his death and the picture she had of him hanging on her wall that eerily changed after his passing. Despite the claims of her supposed close friendship with Dean, the article has a tone of sincerity about it that could easily refute those claims.