Maila Nurmi (December 11, 1922 – January 10, 2008) was a Finnish-American actress who created the 1950s character Vampira. She portrayed Vampira as TV's first horror host and in the Ed Wood cult film Plan 9 from Outer Space.
The idea for the Vampira character was born in 1953 when Nurmi attended choreographer Lester Horton's annual Bal Caribe Masquerade in a costume inspired by Morticia Addams 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, who wanted to hire her to host horror movies on the Los Angeles television station KABC-TV.
The name Vampira was the invention of Nurmi's husband, Dean Riesner. Nurmi's characterization was influenced by the Dragon Lady from the comic strip Terry and the Pirates and the evil queen from Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
In the early 1960s, Nurmi opened Vampira's Attic, an antiques boutique on Melrose Avenue. She also sold handmade jewelry and clothing.
In 1981, Nurmi was asked by KHJ-TV to revive her Vampira character for television. She worked closely with the producers of the new show and was to get an executive producer credit, but Nurmi eventually left the project over creative differences.
VAMPIRA VS. ELVIRA:
Unable to continue using the name Vampira, the show was abruptly renamed Elvira's Movie Macabre with Cassandra Peterson (an actress she didn't accept to work with in the Vampira revival project) playing the titular host. Nurmi soon filed a lawsuit against her. The court eventually ruled in favor of Peterson, holding that "likeness means actual representation of another person's appearance, and not simply close resemblance." Peterson claimed that Elvira was nothing like Vampira aside from the basic design of the black dress and black hair. Nurmi claimed that the entire Elvira persona, which included comedic dialogue and intentionally bad graveyard puns, infringed on her creation's "distinctive dark dress, horror movie props, and...special personality." Nurmi herself claimed that Vampira's image was in part based on the Charles Addams The New Yorker cartoon character Morticia Addams, though she told that she had intentionally deviated from Addams' mute and flat-chested creation, making her own TV character "campier and sexier" to avoid plagiarizing Addams' idea.
On January 10, 2008, Nurmi died of natural causes at her home in Hollywood, aged 85. She was buried in the Griffith Lawn section of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Today 11th December would have been her 90th birthday.