Bright Lights Film Journal

Remembering Maila Nurmi (1921-2008)

Maila Nurmi, aka Vampira – actress, comedienne, artist, and horror hostess – was one of the most interesting and extraordinary persons I have ever met.

MAILA KNEW EVERYBODY

The first thing she asked me was, “Are you a genius?” adding, “I only associate with geniuses.” Taken aback, I realized that if I wanted to keep talking to her, I had no choice but to answer yes. She then asked me what I did, arts-wise. I told her I took photographs. “Who is your favorite photographer?” she inquired. “Man Ray,” I said. “Oh yes,” she responded, “I modeled for him.”

Her lovers included Marlon Brando, Orson Welles, and James Dean. (I’m not 100% sure she slept with Dean, but they were certainly very close.) She was brought to Hollywood in the late ’40s under contract to Howard Hawks. She did not sleep with Hawks, which is most likely why she does not appear in any of Hawks’s films.

BLACKLISTED

The original Vampira Show premiered on Los Angeles’s KABC in 1954, and it made her an instant celebrity. She got into a dispute with the network over who owned the rights to the Vampira character, which resulted (according to her) in her being blacklisted. Maila’s big media career was essentially over – hardly a year after it began. (She did go on to play small parts in films by Albert Zugsmith, Bert I. Gordon, and – most famously – in Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space.)

Knowing she was a friend of Orson Welles’s, I asked Maila whether she believed Welles’s post-Citizen Kane problems were due to the studios, or to his own purportedly “self-destructive” tendencies. She responded without hesitation that it was the studios. Welles, too, was essentially blacklisted – for daring to criticize William Randolph Hearst.

VAMPIRA MEETS CARL JUNG

I once loaned Maila a copy of Carl Jung’s Man and His Symbols. In particular, I wanted her to read the chapter on the “anima,” Jung’s term for female archetypes – witches, goddesses, vampires, saints, etc. – that are actually fantasy projections of the inner male psyche, i.e., of the male’s unacknowledged feminine aspects. (When a woman does it, the projection is known as an “animus.”) After returning the book Maila declared, “I am an anima.”

I have written about Maila previously here and here.