ELVIRA VS. VAMPIRA: TALE FROM THE CRYPT
With Halloween looming, horror hostess Elvira (a.k.a. Cassandra Peterson) is profitably haunting the airwaves in a Coors commercial, TV appearances, radio specials, et al. Although her syndicated TV show, “Movie Macabre,” is no longer aired on KHJ Channel 9, where it originated, it’s in about 72 other cities and destined for Australia. And there are a glut of other Elvira enterprises in the works.
Meanwhile, former local TV personality Vampira (a.k.a. Maila Nurmi, now 65) is living on Social Security in a small Hollywood apartment--and claiming that Peterson and KHJ ripped off the character she created on KABC Channel 7 back in the ‘50s.
“The character she (Peterson) is playing is 75-80% Vampira--some parts are missing, some things have been added,” said Nurmi. “They’ve taken a large part of Vampira and added these lowly commodities and given it a wider common denominator, but in so doing this, destroyed the character. I resent their taking my product and doing that to it.”
As Vampira, Nurmi appeared live with fish-net stockings, six-inch fingernails and a daringly (for the time) low-cut black gown. After screaming into the camera, she’d introduce herself and the horror film of the eve. After two years at KABC, L.A.'s first lady of macabre was hired by KHJ.
She didn’t last long and the character faded into obscurity. In 1980, she resurrected Vampira “from the cobwebs” to help raise money for organizations that aid stray animals. KHJ contacted her the next year, interested in doing a Vampira-type show and using the Vampira name. She told Outtakes that after three months of negotiations, the station offered a contract that would have forced her to give up all rights to the Vampira character. She declined; discussions ended.
At the time, Peterson was negotiating with KHJ to play the part of its new horror-hostess.
You’ll see Peterson this Halloween hostessing “Friday Night Videos” (actually on NBC Saturday at 1:30 a.m.), haunting “Saturday Night Live” and spooking with a three-hour radio special on KMPC-FM from 9 to midnight. There are Elvira calendars, greeting cards, costumes, make-up, perfume, plastic model kit and porcelain collector’s plates. She’s landed a deal to be portrayed in a Marvel comic, her Coors contract is in its second year and she’s co-producing a comedy feature, “Elvira, Mistress of the Dark,” due to shoot in January.
Peterson is mystified by Nurmi’s resentment: “I’d like her (Nurmi) to be friendly with me. I don’t know why she has such hostility toward me.”
Walter Baker, KHJ v.p.-program director, said, “We didn’t rip this lady off. I guarantee it.” He concedes that the station negotiated with Nurmi to use the name Vampira, and to have Nurmi make occasional appearances on the show. But: “When negotiations ceased at her doing, we changed the show--the whole concept.”
Meanwhile, Nurmi’s co-writing her bio--"Glamour Ghoul"--and, if she can sell it, says she may use the money for a lawsuit.