Happy new year! It's 2015 - how the fuck did that happen?! Well, in any case, the holidays are officially over. In fact, according to the LA Bureau of Sanitation, they ended today, because today was the official day for Angelenos to drop off their Christmas trees for recycling. Christmas is a merely a memory and we're already four days into a brand new year. Did you make any resolutions? Do your resolutions include, say, reading more books? Or increasing the scope of your horror knowledge? Perhaps you're just a fan of macabre babes? Nice, me too! Oh, and I've got a book recommendation for you - W. Scott Poole's sociological examination of the original horror hostess, Vampira: Dark Goddess of Horror.
As a lifelong Elvira fan and child of the '80s/early '90s, I didn't know a whole lot about Vampira growing up. Honestly, I'm not even sure when I first heard of her. Was it when Tim Burton's Ed Wood came out? Did I see her glamorously ghastly visage peering out at me from the shelves of some goth clothing store in north Orange County? I'm not sure. But I can tell you exactly when I became deeply interested in Vampira, and that's when my friend Lindsay, who had written a very good article on horror hosts and learned a lot in the process, gifted me a DVD of an intriguing little documentary called Vampira and Me a couple of years ago. Vampira, also known as Maila Nurmi in the daylight, led a fascinating life - and it's remarkable how a woman who was only a television personality for a couple of years in the '50s, who has only a combined few minutes of surviving film and TV footage to her name, has managed to impact popular culture in every ensuing decade. Simply put, Vampira is the shit. So when I heard that there was a new book about her, I was eager to learn as much as possible.
W. Scott Poole makes it clear in his book's introduction that this is NOT a standard biography of the OG goth girl, mostly because Maila Nurmi remains an enigmatic figure about whom little is known. Instead, it's an examination of what Maila Nurmi's creation meant to the counterculture, to the '50s, to entertainment and to the world at large. Of course, there are still lots of fascinating biographical details to be had, from a look at Nurmi's controversial friendship with James Dean to her dalliance with a young Elvis Presley. (Incidentally, Cassandra Peterson - a.k.a. Elvira - was a Vegas showgirl in her youth and claims to have lost her virginity to Elvis, so the man clearly had a type.)
You can also expect to find lots of juicy and evocative details like the following:
I'm sorry, is Vampira actually sucking strawberry milkshake off of a rosary in this scenario?! All hail the queen, dudes.
There were a few early passages in the book that I have to admit I found a bit dry, such as Poole's look at what it must have been like for young Nurmi to grow up in the Finnish American community and the impact her parents' religious views may have had on her as a performer. The story of how the character of Vampira came to be, however - she was Nurmi's take on Charles Addams' gothic housewife (later named Morticia for the Addams Family TV series), a costume created for a Halloween party - and the ways in which the character shaped the rest of her life was truly engaging.
I may not look like Vampira (I mean, I wish!), but the whole glamour ghoul schtick is something that is truly near and dear to my heart. Plus, there's nothing I cherish more than witty one-liners and deadpan delivery - and Vampira certainly puts the dead in deadpan, so you could definitely say that I owed a lot to this woman on a personal level, even before I knew who she was. If you're looking for a book to kick off 2015, pick up Vampira: Dark Goddess of Horror - a look at the original "spooky little girl."
Disclosure: I was provided with a complimentary electronic copy of this book for review.