The new book from award-winning historian W. Scott Poole is a whip-smart piece of pop culture detailing the story of cult horror figure Vampira that actually tells the much wider story of 1950s America and its treatment of women and sex, as well as capturing a fascinating swath of Los Angeles history.
In Vampira, Poole gives us the eclectic life of the dancer, stripper, actress, and artist Maila Nurmi, who would reinvent herself as Vampira during the backdrop of 1950s America, an era of both chilling conformity and the nascent rumblings of the countercultural response that led from the Beats and free jazz to the stirring of the LGBT movement and the hardcore punk scene in the bohemian enclave along Melrose Avenue. A veteran of the New York stage and late nights at Hollywood’s hipster hangouts, Nurmi would eventually be linked to Elvis, Orson Welles, and James Dean, as well as stylist and photographer Rudi Gernreich, founder of the Mattachine Society and designer of the thong. Thanks to rumors of a romance between Vampira and James Dean, his tragic death inspired the circulation of stories that she had cursed him and, better yet, had access to his dead body for use in her dark arts.
In Poole’s expert hands, Vampira is more than the story of a highly creative artist continually reinventing herself, but a parable of the runaway housewife bursting the bounds of our straight-laced conventions with an exuberant display of camp, sex, and creative individuality that owed something to the morbid The New Yorker cartoons of Charles Addams, the evil queen from Disney’s Snow White, and the popular, underground bondage magazine Bizarre, and forward to the staged excesses of Madonna and Lady Gaga. Vampira is a wildly compelling tour through a forgotten piece of pop cultural history, one with both cultish and literary merit, sure to capture the imagination of Vampira fans new and old.
Scott Poole has the chops, the Hollywood savvy, and the horror genre’s insider smarts to write a killer book on Vampira. I’ll be first in line to grab a copy.
Horror hostess, bondage goddess, Charles Addams cartoon comes to life, Vampira was every first-generation fanboy’s wet dream. Scott Poole takes us on an unforgettable ride through the overlapping underworlds of B&D magazines, Hollywood noir, and early political liberation movements that inspired actress Maila Nurmi to challenge a postwar culture bent on stifling women’s choices, bodies, and desires. This book is a subversive masterpiece.
W. Scott Poole’s last book, Monsters in America, was a dazzling work of cultural history: smart, funny, subversive and wildly entertaining. He showed a special gift for playfully saying serious things. His new book is even more wonderful. The life of Maila Nurmi, better known as the late-night TV hostess Vampira, is a great, strange story in itself, but also allows Poole to explore our attitudes about sex, death, fear, and difference. ‘The Lady of Horror’ was famous in the 1950s, but she is a remarkable symbol who connects backward to Poe and forward to Goth. She is as American as the Statue of Liberty.
Vampira is up there with Vincent Price for lovers of the macabre, an icon whose shadow and influence lingers long after death. She’s not only important to modern children of the night for being the first TV horror host, but as the original ‘Glamour Ghoul,’ whose style has inspired generations of Goth Girls to adopt the sexy undead look as their own. But there is more to her story than her ability to look good screaming, and Scott Poole, whose writing on the dark side of popular culture has proven to be some of the smartest, sassiest commentary on American society around, is the man to tell it.
[T]his pioneering book is a tribute to the change that Vampira incited and the awakening that so many unknowingly received from her presence.
W. Scott Poole explores deftly and accurately the history and the politics of both feminism and \xE2\x80\x9Cthe outsider,\xE2\x80\x9D the parts of America pushed to the curb but yearning for acceptance, love, and financial success, the \xE2\x80\x9Cnew and shiny\xE2\x80\x9D promise of the (supposed) post war era. Poole has done a great job in bringing such a variety of disparate pieces into a singular whole, and this book should be bought and read by anyone interested in the unspoken history of Hollywood, and the darker story of our culture.
Pop culture critic Poole sure knows a monster when he sees one. He continues his macrocultural exegesis in this microquasibiography and cultural (especially the 1950s) explication of TV’s first and most revelatory horror host . . . This stone-cold winner belongs in every American studies collection.
Poole looks at the life and career of Maila Nurmi . . . against the backdrop of the 1950s countercultural movement.
Poole goes to great, and effective, lengths to identify the attempts at social engineering that fostered specious notions of maleness and femaleness in the name of governmental control and selling the American dream. But the most impressive thing (besides his impeccably researched historical insight) is his understanding of Nurmi and her character in that context.
Poole, is as concerned with the larger social changes afoot in mid-century America and uses the Vampira narrative to approach the second half of the 20th century from a fresh, and new thought-provoking perspective.
Blacklisted for her outré and daring persona, often imitated but never equaled, Nurmi sunk into poverty and obscurity while the reverberations of her creation reaped financial and cultural success. Finally, Poole lovingly gives Vampira her due.