You might not know Maila Nurmi by name, but if you’re a fan of ’50s horror you are probably familiar with her work. Born in 1922 to conservative Finnish immigrants, Nurmi would go on to create one of the most iconic horror characters of all time: Vampira. A woman ahead of her time, Nurmi first appeared as the host of KABC-TV’s short-lived The Vampira Show in 1954, brazenly pushing the boundaries of TV norms by conflating sex, death and horror while luxuriating in her own brand of camp-infused bewitchery. By mid-1955 it was all over, yet her story remains a testament to dogged perseverance and sexual liberation.
Nearly a century after Maila’s birth, her niece Sandra Niemi has published Glamour Ghoul (Feral House), a touching and thoroughly intoxicating biography of a complicated woman. We recently spoke with Sandra about her aunt’s complex life and enduring legacy.
HUSTLERMagazine.com: What prompted you to write Glamour Ghoul?
Sandra Niemi: When Maila passed in 2008 all I really wanted was her writings. I didn’t really know who she was. Going through her apartment, I found all these letters and writings on bits of paper and backs of envelopes, and through these I really got to know my aunt.
Growing up, Maila as Vampira was just my aunt in a black dress. It wasn’t who she was. Maila had passed without telling the world who she was. I knew I was the only one who could do it. Otherwise, she would be a lonely footnote in Goth history. I had to bring her story to the world.
Did anybody ever know the real Maila?