She Born Maila Syrjäniemi on December 11, 1922 in Petsamo, Finland. She moved to the U.S with her family when she was two years old and grew up in Ashtabula, Ohio. Arriving in Los Angeles at age 17, she modeled for Alberto Vargas, Bernard of Hollywood, and Man Ray. Like many struggling actresses in the 1950s, Nurmi posed for pin-up photos in dozens of men's magazines such as Famous Models, Gala and Glamorous Models.
The idea for the Vampira character was born in 1953 when Nurmi attended a Masquerade in a costume inspired by a character in The New Yorker cartoons of Charles Addams. Her appearance with pale white skin and tight black dress caught the attention of television producer Hunt Stromberg, Jr. who wanted to hire her to host horror movies on the Los Angeles television station KABC-TV, but Stromberg had no idea how to contact her. He finally got her phone number from Rudi Gernreich, later famed as the designer of the topless swimsuit. The name Vampira was the invention of Nurmi's husband, Dean Riesner.
On April 30, 1954, KABC-TV aired a preview, Dig Me Later, Vampira, at 11:00 p.m. The Vampira Show premiered on the following night, May 1, 1954. For the first four weeks, the show aired at midnight, moving to 11:00 p.m. on May 29. Ten months later, the series aired at 10:30 p.m., beginning March 5, 1955.
Each show opened with Vampira gliding down a dark corridor flooded with dry-ice fog. At the end of her trance-like walk, the camera zoomed in on her face as she let out a piercing scream.
She would then introduce (and mock) that evening's film while reclining barefoot on a skull-encrusted Victorian couch. Her horror-related comedy antics included ghoulish puns such as encouraging viewers to write for epitaphs instead of autographs and talking to her pet spider Rollo. In another publicity stunt, she would cruise around Hollywood in the back of a chauffeur-driven 1932 Packard touring car with the top down, where she sat, as Vampira, holding a black parasol.
Later in life, Nurmi, who was divorced and had no children, began creating Vampira drawings and selling them on the Internet. She remained proud and protective of the character she created.
"I don't have any babies or any social history that's remarkable, so I'm leaving something behind, you know, when the time comes to say goodbye, I'm leaving something," she said in an interview with KABC's Eyewitness News.
Nurmi passed away on January 10, 2008 of natural causes in her Hollywood, California home...