2 oz. Theda Bara (vamp, vamp)
2 oz. Morticia (morbid Victoriana)
3 oz. Norma Desmond (Sunset Boulevard)
4 oz. Tallulah Bankhead (the voice dahling)
2 oz. Marilyn M. (Demons are a ghoul's best friend)
3 oz. Katie Hepburn (Victorian English)
2 oz. Bette Davis (mama, baby)
3 oz. Billie Burke (dilettante insouciance)
3 oz. Marlene D. (singing voice)
8 oz. "Bizarre" magazine pin-up (an S&M magazine of the day)(big boobs, waist cincher, mesh hose, high shoes, long nails)
--Vampira's recipe for "Vampira"
American actress and model (1921-2008). She was born as Maila Syrjaniemi and sometimes acted under the name Maila Nurmi. The daughter of a Finnish immigrant, she played up her foreign background to enhance her exotic appeal.
In the 1940s, she worked as a model and actress in Los Angeles and New York City. She got fired by Mae West from a play called "Catherine Was Great," supposedly because West was worried Maila was upstaging her. And she had a baby with Orson Welles -- at the time, Welles was married to Rita Hayworth, and the baby was given up for adoption.
In the 1950s, while working in the United States as an actress, dancer, model, and artist, Maila attended the annual Ball Caribe Masquerade in Hollywood. Inspired by the cartoons of Charles Addams, she dressed as Morticia Addams (who was, at the time, unnamed). She wore a black wig, taped her breasts flat, and painted her whole body white. She beat out 2,000 other contestants to take the top prize and was later offered a job by Hunt Stromberg, Jr., a producer for KABC-TV, who was looking for a hostess for a late-night horror-movie show the station was starting. Maila used her Morticia Addams costume, but toned down the morbidity of the look and made it sexier. Since she called herself Vampira, the station named her 1954 program "The Vampira Show."
Vampira's career took off like a rocket. She was featured in Life Magazine and Newsweek, and a number of fan clubs popped up, devoted to the weird ghoulish horror host with the 18-inch waistline. She hung out with real Hollywood stars like Marlon Brando and James Dean. In fact, Vampira considered Dean one of her good friends (after initial misunderstandings in which he thought she knew black magic). After his death, she briefly tried to capitalize on her "mystic powers", claiming to be haunted by Dean's spirit, but once the papers started claiming she'd put a curse on him, she quickly tired of the game and even destroyed a photo of the two of them together because she thought it would lead people to believe they'd had a relationship outside of simple friendship.
"The Vampira Show" lasted only one season, and no copies of the program are known to exist, but by this time, her movie career began to take off. Well, "take off" is the wrong phrase. "Stutter forward" might be better. She appeared in very few films because she didn't like the Hollywood studio system, and she may have been blacklisted because of her connection to James Dean. But one film she did appear in was the famously inept "Plan 9 from Outer Space". In fact, it's said that her mute, wooden performance as the "Vampire Girl" was her own idea--she'd seen the script and disliked the dialogue that director Ed Wood, Jr. had written for her. She's said that she got on well with her co-stars in the film, particularly with Bela Lugosi and Tor Johnson. She was paid only $200 for the movie, which ain't much, considering how it killed off any hopes she had of having a normal acting career. She appeared in a few cheap exploitation/horror flicks, but was largely forgotten by Hollywood and the rest of the world. She started an antique store that was called "Vampira's Attic". She sued actress Cassandra Peterson over the similarities between Vampira and Elvira, but since Peterson still dresses up as Elvira regularly, it appears that suit was not successful.
It eventually turned out that animators at Disney had based the appearance of Maleficent in 1959's classic "Sleeping Beauty" on Vampira.
In the 1990s, Vampira enjoyed an upswing in popularity, thanks to the Ed Wood "renaissance". She was portrayed by Lisa Marie in Tim Burton's "Ed Wood" biopic, and was featured in a number of documentaries, including one called "Vampira - About Death, Sex and Taxes", which had a small theatrical release and was aired on TV in Finland in 1995. She lived her last years in Los Angeles, where she appeared occasionally in small movies and Ed Wood documentaries. She also painted Vampira self-portraits, which are considered minor collector's items. She died of natural causes on January 10, 2008.
Research from the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb) from http://media.urova.fi/~tkivilah/vamp.htm , and from an old, old interview with her in "Draculina" magazine (transcript at the http://www.cypherzero.com/vampira website)