Horror Host Retrospective: Vampira

Vampira

Real name: Maila Nurmi
Years active: 1954 to 1956, California

Going back beyond the mists of time and space, we find arguably the first horror host of them all, Vampira. Played by Finnish-born actress Maila Nurmi, Vampira set the stage for nearly every host, both male and female, to come. With her pale face and slinky black dress, Vampira would silently stalk through a misted corridor until she screamed directly at the camera.

Why? Because screaming relaxed her so, that’s why.

Vampira was unlike anything that had come before. As mentioned before, television stations back in the day were desperate for content. When Screen Gems and other groups began to sell movie packages to the individual stations, hosts were created to promote the films and keep the audience’s attention during breaks.

With Vampira, they had an undead vixen of the night that regularly mocked the films, gave epitaphs instead of autographs, and wore a tight black dress with a plunging neckline. She was original, and ABC capitalized on that with numerous publicity stunts, including appearing with famed comic actor Red Skelton.

She was also one of the few horror hosts to be nominated for an Emmy. Despite all this attention and ratings, ABC pulled the plug after one season. The exact reason has been argued and debated, but generally most historians contend that Ms. Nurmi was yanked off because she refused to sell the rights of Vampira to ABC.  A year later she brought her style to rival station KHJ-9, but by then it was over. Horror hosts had taken root in American popular culture, with almost every station worth its antenna having a vampire or ghoul cracking wise before each film.

Ms. Nurmi continued in Hollywood, appearing in various films, including the infamous Plan 9 from Outer Space, but she slowed down in the 1960s. By the 1980s, she was poised for a comeback, but KHJ-9 went against her wishes and cast a certain young actress as the main host without first consulting her. After that, Ms. Nurmi was officially retired, with the occasional appearance every so often.

The Vampira Show ran on WABC-7 from 1954 to 1955. In 1956 the show came back on KHJ-9 for one season. Ms. Nurmi passed away in 2008.

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