Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Vampira and the image of the forbidden

Bondage and discipline, sadism and masochism and their accoutrements, costuming and lifestyles, are much more out in the open than they were in the repressive days of the early 1950s. At one time such an underground was kept quiet, lest it invite the law’s intervention. No more. You want to go into someone’s dungeon dressed in only a collar and leash and be someone’s dog, it is your business. Likewise, you want to dress up in leathers and thigh-high boots and crack the whip over said dog, also your own business. Just make sure you don’t involve the kids, or let your religious neighbors know about it.

In his 2014 book, Vampira, Dark Goddess of Horror, author W. Scott Poole devotes much of the book to an analysis of the postwar era of the 1940s into the ’50s. Vampira, the actress Maila Nurmi, stood out because she seemed to be the antithesis of what was considered wholesome. She was over the top in a more repressive era. To appear on television, even during a late night broadcast hosting old horror movies, was something different for 1954 America. 

Nurmi had been influenced by Bizarre magazine, which showed bondage and women as dominatrices. According to Poole’s book, Nurmi patterned her character after such images. Vampira probably owed something to Chas Addams, too. The mom in his cartoons looked much like a vampire. (Later, on television she would go by the name of “Morticia Addams,” and her image forever set by the beauty of actress Carolyn Jones. There was more than a little Vampira in Morticia.)

The Vampira show on television was likely a victim of its own success...it called attention to that dark side of human nature and sexuality, and would have been alarming to moral crusaders and parents,* whose kids would be sneaking a look at the TV to see sexy Vampira with her hourglass figure and 17” waist.

Little of Vampira’s television program survives. Apparently it wasn’t kinescoped. It lasted a year and was abruptly cancelled. Nurmi ended up in scandal magazines, linked, rightly or wrongly, with actor James Dean, by then deceased. In her sixties Nurmi sued actress Cassandra Petersen over the character, Elvira, but lost. What remains of Nurmi on film is Plan 9 From Outer Space, in an unspeaking part.

Life did a short article on Vampira during the heyday of her television show. It appeared in the June 14, 1954 issue.

Copyright © 1954 Time-Life

*The same people who were after horror comic books, and were successful in their efforts.


DEMiller said...

I am a new fan of Vampira. I found a couple of great things of her on youtube and I bought a copy of the book on Amazon. She was years ahead of her time. Thanks for posting this.

Postino said...

Thanks. A fellow blogger who was friends with Maila "Vampira" Nurmi is Karswell of The Horrors Of It All blog.