Monday, January 24, 2022

Vampira and the Pink Teacup

Recently, I finished a book on Maila Nurmi, best known as Vampira, the ghoulish hostess who introduced less-than-stellar horror movies to late-night TV audiences from 1954-1955 on LA’s KABC-TV. Written by her niece, Sandra Niemi, Glamour Ghoul: The Passions and Pain of the Real Vampira, Maila Nurmi, was an intriguing book that I could not put down. One portion that will resonate with many of my readers was Maila’s attendance at Disneyland on Opening Day, July 17, 1955:

That spring, Disneyland’s ubiquitous grand opening posters had wallpapered all of Southern California, advertising for a July 17th opening. The excitement was electrifying. An invitation-only dedication ceremony was scheduled the day before opening day. Before she was fired
[from her gig as hostess of “The Vampira Show”], Maila was given two tickets to the once-in-a-lifetime celebration, one of which she gave to Jack [Simmons].

Below is a shot of Maila (out of costume) with Simmons standing on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Heights, outside their favorite coffee shop haunt, Googies:

Jack arrived at Malia’s door for the Disneyland event with a jaw swollen up like a blowfish. He had a toothache. Maila, who’d waited too long to be denied this occasion, insisted she had a surefire fix. She brought out a glass of whiskey and told Jack to take a sip and hold it against the offending tooth, then spit it out. Before leaving for the amusement park, she used an empty perfume bottle as a flask, in case Jack needed more painkillers. The day was a scorcher. Upon arrival at Disneyland, Maila and Jack joined the crowd to wade through the gates. Then they were herded to Main Street for the dedication, to endure a stream of speeches by local dignitaries. The crowd assembled in front of the podium. The heat was inescapable and the men on the dais stripped off their suit jackets before launching into their speeches.


The hot sun began to melt the new asphalt, and Maila’s high heels stuck to the sticky morass. Jack, suffering greatly both from the heat and his toothache, sipped from his homemade flask. Just as the ceremony began, Jack passed out. The crowd parted and two men carried him off on a stretcher. He woke up on a cot in the infirmary with Maila in a chair beside him. Reeking of alcohol, an attendant determined Jack was drunk, and both he and Maila were unceremoniously escorted out of the park.

I find it fascinating to think that somewhere in the crowd below, Maila Nurmi watched the festivities of Opening Day. Somebody, please find me a photo of her! Of course, she was not quite as recognizable outside of her TV show costume.

That’s not the end of the Disneyland story for Maila, though. She returned with actor Lewis Arquette, father to David, Richmond, Alexis, Patricia, and Rosanna Arquette. Apparently Maila was…

hell-bent on riding the teacup ride at Disneyland. And not just any teacup but the pink one, which was featured in all of the ads around town. And so Maila and Michael drove to the new Disneyland park in his convertible. Upon arrival, Maila made a beeline for the teacup ride, only to be met by bitter disappointment. No pink teacups. And so, she declared, to all within earshot, that Disney’s promotional posters were fraudulent. After her loud protestations culminated in the offer of a free ride, Maila accepted a spin in another cup, albeit an inferior white one with only a pink rim.

The December 1955 photo below would seem to back up the story, as it appears that there is a white cup with red designs, but not a pink one.

While the story might make one think that Maila was a pill, the truth of it was that she was a very kind nurturing soul who found herself constantly taken advantage of throughout her life. After getting pawed over and discarded by agents, photographers, and producers when she arrived in Hollywood, it is no wonder that such a sensitive artistic soul would be outraged that Disneyland did not feature what they advertised!

I had the pleasure of meeting her in person twice, during the annual heavenly birthday celebration for James Dean held at artist/sculptor Kenneth Kendall’s Hollywood home. From February 1997:

and again in 2003, seated next to actor Dennis Christopher.

I wish I had known more of her story when I met her, as she was a truly fascinating person that I would love to have talked with more. There will be future posts here about her, as Maila’s life touched upon many topics that I am obsessed with!

See more Disneyland Mad Tea Party photos at my main website.


Melissa said...

The ads for the nonexistent pink teacup remind me of how long Disney used footage of a working Expedition Everest Yeti in their promotional materials for years after it stopped functioning.

Fifthrider said...

I guess an overpromise by Disney has been a standard for longer than I thought. I can't get over how different she looked in real life. Being of Finnish descent I recognize one of our surnames when I see it. Congrats to her niece for putting it to open for all to learn about. So cool that she was there on opening day and was one of those famous heels that sunk into the pavement. Sometimes it's better to get kicked out with a memorable story than spend all day with a mediocre one. Congrats on meeting her in person.

Fifthrider said...

Wiki says Disney archives confirmed that Maila was the model for Maleficent. Not too shabby!

Anonymous said...

Absolutely fascinating bit of history. KS

Daveland said...

Melissa - When I rode Everest in 2010, it was still known as “Disco Yeti” because it stood still while strobe lights flashed at it in order to make it appear to move. I was not fooled.