Musings & Meditations

“I am…Vampira”

Posted in Art & Society, Friends, Horror, Movies, Vampires by Pam Keesey on January 10, 2008

The scene is black and white, the setting gothic — a cathedral perhaps, or maybe a crypt. The lights are low; a candelabra is burning in the shadows. A low mist rises over the vast expanse of the foyer. A figure forms in the mist, advancing through a doorway at the far side of the room. She has an impossibly small waist, a wasp-like cinching between the swelling breasts and the voluptuous hips of a fertility goddess. Her black dress is in tatters, a form-fitting, cleavage-revealing shroud. Fingernails like straight razors extend from her long, pale fingertips. her face is white, placid with dark lips and kohled eyes. Eyebrows like flying arches frame her face, marking the space between her eyes and her black serpentine hair. Her gaze is fixed on the camera before her as she approaches, her eyes locked with yours. She raises her talons to her hair and screams an ear-piercing wail, a banshee’s cry. In a voice deep and rich, a timbre reaching from beyond the grave, she speaks:

“Good evening,” she says. “I am…Vampira.”

from Vamps: An Illustrated History of the Femme Fatale

Vampira (Maila Nurmi)It was my mother who told me that Maila Nurmi died today. She’s not a fan, nor of the era of the Vampira show. But she knew of Vampira through my love of horror and my friendship with Maila herself, so when she heard the news, her first impulse was to call me.

I first met Maila in 1995, at the Son of Famous Monsters convention at Universal Studios in Los Angeles. Maila made several appearances throughout the weekend, and told some wonderful stories about how Howard Hawkes brought her to Hollywood to make her “the next Lauren Bacall,” her split with Hawkes, her adventures with James Dean, and her later association with the infamous Ed Wood.

One of my favorite stories from the weekend was when she was asked who she most enjoyed working with in Hollywood. She mentioned how much she enjoyed working with Basil Rathbone, her co-star in The Magic Sword, and how much she admired and appreciated him.

“He took me under his wing and advised me, a young actress, about how to be successful in Hollywood.”

“What was his advice?” I asked her.

“Honestly, I don’t remember,” she answered, in inimitable Maila style. “At the time I thought, who the hell is this guy to be telling me what to do?”

We spent a lot of time together that weekend, talking about her expriences as a child and young woman, about great actresses such as Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich, and the world of the classic femme fatale. I bought one of my prized possessions from her that weekend, too: a painting of Vampira, by Vampira, standing in Holy Cross Cemetery, with soil from the cemetery mixed in with the paint.

We saw each other many times of over the years, at various events and conventions. One of my favorite memories is the time we were lucky enough to find her at one of her favorite haunts, the McDonald’s on Sunset Boulevard, sitting in the booth under a portrait of Greta Garbo. Intelligent, dynamic, engaging, witty, it was always a delight to visit with her. I always regretted not being able to spend more time with her because I lived so far away, and now I’ll never have that opportunity.

You’ll be missed, Maila. Thank you for everything.

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