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January 16, 2008

Maila 'Vampira' Nurmi Dies

The actress and goth icon sued Cassandra Peterson for
allegedly basing 'Elvira' on 'Vampira'


Los Angeles, CA – Actress Maila Nurmi, best known as ghoulishly sexy television horror movie hostess Vampira, was found dead in her Hollywood home. The cause of death is under investigation, Los Angeles Country coroner officials said.

The beloved cult star had reportedly just turned 86, though conflicting dates of birth have surfaced.

Born Maila Syrjäniemi in Finland, Nurmi moved in Ohio as a child. She headed to Los Angeles in her teens to pursue an acting career and strugged to find roles.

Her luck changed in 1953, after having won a costume contest at a Hollywood masquerade ball. Inspired by a ghoul from a Charles Addams New Yorker cartoon, Nurmi had donned a wig and wore pale, lavender-tinged body make-up to appear as if she were entombed, she said.

A
KABC-TV television producer subsequently tracked her down and offered her work as hosting a late-night fright program.

Dressed in a cleavage-baring, frayed black gown, Nurmi's hit Vampira character nurtured a pet tarantula, bathed in a cauldron and perfected her heart-piercing scream. She earned a 1954 Emmy nomination for Most Outstanding Female Personality and enjoyed significant yet fleeting success.

Business spiraled downward after ABC canceled her program in 1955. Though the actress owned the rights to the Vampira character and was picked up by a competing station, her popularity dipped dramatically.

Scraping by on literally just a few dollars a week, Nurmi accepted $200 in 1959 to appear in film director Edward D. Wood Jr.'s famously bad cult classic Plan 9 From Outer Space, starring Bela Lugosi.

As her acting career never recovered, Nurmi continued working as housecleaner, among other odd jobs, and later opened an antique shop out of her Melrose Avenue home called Vampira's Attic.

During the 1980s,she filed a lawsuit against Cassandra 'Elvira' Peterson, accusing Peterson of mimicking Vampira's "distinctive, low-cut, tattered black dress, emphasizing cleavage and a voluptuous figure." Reportedly unable to afford litigtion costs, the case was dropped.

Longtime friend and comedy writer
Dana Gould told the Los Angeles Times that Nurmi's influence remains evident in modern "goth" culture and fashion: "She really sort of cast the mold for a look that is still around."

Director Tim Burton's 1994 film tribute to B-moviemaker Ed Wood introduced a new generation to Wood and Nurmi (played respectively by Johnny Depp and Lisa Marie).

Maila Nurmi was divorced and had no children.

A memorial service is pending, according to her website vampirasattic.com. In lieu of flowers, those wishing to honor Nurmi are asked to make a donation in her name to Much Love Animal Rescue organization; visit www.muchlove.org.

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