Vampira, The First Horror Host: Her Short, Frustrating Story

By | May 10, 2019

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Left: Vampira, nee Maila Nurmi, drinking from a smoking cocktail glass in front of a spider-web. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images) Right: Vampira on a lobby card for Plan 9 From Outer Space. Source: (

TV horror host Vampira's 1955 show Dig Me Later, Vampira was groundbreaking, though the actress (born Maila Nurmi) is more commonly known for Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959). In Ed Wood's schlocky sci-fi B-movie about aliens attacking the Earth with reanimated corpses (or something like that), the only real standout performance is that of Vampira, whose impossibly small waist, crooked fingernails, and jet black hair gave her an otherworldly appearance that goth girls are still replicating. 

And speaking of replication -- if you note a strong resemblance between Cassandra Peterson's Elvira character and Vampira, you're not alone. Nurmi would end up suing Peterson for stealing her act, without success.

During the golden age of Hollywood bright-eyed hopefuls came from all over the country to try their hand at the movie business. Instead of stardom many of them were left broke and destitute on the west coast. Malia Nurmi managed to forge her own way through Hollywood, and even though she never got the credit she deserved during her lifetime she’s since become a horror icon. 

Malia Nurmi Moved To Los Angeles Right After High School

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Not much is known about Nurmi’s early life aside from the fact that she was born in 1922. She claims to have been born in Finland, although her biographer notes that she was likely born in Gloucester, Massachusetts. She and her family moved frequently before settling in a Finnish community in the Pacific Northwest, however, the moment she graduated from high school in 1940 she high tailed it for Los Angeles.

Los Angeles did not greet Nurmi with open arms. She worked as a background actor in films like If Winter Comes and Romance on the High Seas, but those parts led nowhere. At the same time, she was modeling for modern photographers like Man Ray and doing odd jobs around town. After a brief period of performing in a horror-themed burlesque troupe as a proto-Vampira, Nurmi returned to Hollywood to once again try her hand at show business.