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 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.
W. Scott Poole has written a fascinating and illuminating socio-sexual history of the last half decade of American Pop Culture....W. Scott Poole explores deftly and accurately the history and the politics of both feminism and "the outsider," the parts of America pushed to the curb but yearning for acceptance, love, and financial success, the "new and shiny" 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.
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...[Vampira] provides an interesting and singular window into a time in the nation’s past that can hardly be over-examined, especially as so many of the battles described are still being fought and it can often seem as if some of the hard-won gains of the era are slowly being given up.
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.
...this pioneering book is a tribute to the change that Vampira incited and the awakening that so many unknowingly received from her presence.
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.
Horror hostess, bondage goddess, Charles Addams cartoon comes to life, Vampire 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 com-mentary on American society around, is the man to tell it.
An expert critic of pop culture, W. Scott Poole is one of the finest historians of all that is wicked, salacious, and sexy in America. Poole’s previous award-winning books on monsters and the devil in movies, comic books, and television have revolutionized how we think about evil and culture. Now with Vampira, he plans to wow us again. By looking into the life and times of Maila Nurmi, the former stripper turned television’s dark goddess of sex and death, Poole unveils a new side of midcentury America, the ’American century’ in which we too often forget the steamy, scary, and sensational.
Scott Poole is, in my view, the finest (certainly the wittiest and most crafty) scholar working in this area and by far the most persuasive. Vampira represents a way to talk about fifties culture, especially about the political and moral pressures exerted then and what costs ensued. Scott Poole has shown how brilliantly he can unearth cultural fears and desires, both dangerous and heartbreaking, by analyzing what passed itself off as entertainment.
Poole brings to life American horror stories by framing them within folk belief, religion, and popular culture, broadly unraveling the idea of the monster. Thanks to Poole’s insights we see the ubiquity of the monster lurking in and around us.
Poole’s connection of the monster to American history is a kind of Creature Features meets American cultural history. Here we not only meet such monsters but also discover America’s cultural monstrosity.
A well informed, thoughtful, and indeed frightening angle of vision to a persistent and compelling American desire to be entertained by the grotesque and the horrific.
With Monsters in America, W. Scott Poole has given us a guidebook for a journey into nightmare territory. Insightful and brilliant!
An unexpected guilty pleasure! Poole invites us into an important and enlightening, if disturbing, conversation about the very real monsters that inhabit the dark spaces of Americas past.
From 19th century sea serpents to our current obsession with vampires and zombies...Poole plots America’s past through its fears in this intriguing ...sociocultural history.
Poole ... has set the bar ridiculously high for any future research exploring the locus of historical and cultural studies, particularly as it pertains to the horrific. ... Monsters In America challenges, enlightens, and, quite honestly, frightens in its prescient view of American history, as well as the seeming ubiquity of the monsters of our past and probable future.
After reading Monsters in America, a reader will view monsters in a completely different light. No longer just something that goes bump in the night, Mr. Poole showcases that monsters have more meaning and shed more insight into society than one might have previously suspected. Well-written and engaging, Monsters in America is a must-read for anyone fascinated by history or monsters or both.
While we can never isolate all the elements contributing to our horror stories, Poole looks at the distinct soil that produced Monsters in America. He lurks in the forests and depths that gave rise to Moby Dick, the Headless Horseman and even Bigfoot. Writing from his faculty position at the College of Charleston, Poole locates many of our manias in racial fears and tensions.
The story of monsters, Poole rightly observes, is actually the "underground history of the United States.... American monsters are born out of American history." Monsters reveal what simultaneously enthralls and repels us, whether it’s leviathanesque sea monsters off the shores of 17th-century New England or Stephenie Meyer’s puritanical, defanged Edward Cullen addressing contemporary America’s split-personality longing for a supersexy Ozzie-and-Harriet family.
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...it provides and interesting and singular window into a time in the nation’s past that can hardly be over-examined, especially as so many of the battles described are still being fought and it can often seem as if some of the hard-won gains of the era are slowly being given up.