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Here I am with "Vampira" (real name Maila Nurmi), probably best known for appearing in Ed Wood Jr.'s Plan 9 From Outer Space, and Conrad Brooks, who played the dumb cop in the same movie.

Heather and I saw Nurmi at L.A.'s Glamourcon convention (November 1995), where we doing a Carnal Comics promotion, and I got the notion to do a possible article about horror TV hosts (I’d already written stuff like that for Starlog, FilmFax, Cult Movies, and Midnight Marquee magazine). Vampira’s glamour ghoul Morticia Addams-style character debuted on TV in April 1955, hosting late night horror movies shown on KABC channel 7 in L.A., predating copycat Elvira by decades (even Elvira's name rhymes with Vampira's).

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I also wanted to ask about her fabled friendship with James Dean (who told reporters that he thought Nurmi was a genuine sorceress, before finding out she was a mere horror movie hostess). After the young actor's death in September 1955, Nurmi claimed to the press on several occasions that she was in contact with Dean's departed spirit: "The Ghost Of James Dean" was a 5-page cover feature written by Vampira herself for Borderline magazine in January '64.

When asked about this, the 74 year old actress was put off by my query and reluctant to discuss Dean at all. I asked about an article from the February '57 issue of Whisper Magazine, a cover feature entitled "James Dean's Black Madonna" -

"What did you think when tabloids published rumors that you were a jilted lover who put some kind of curse on James Dean shortly before his fatal car crash?"

Nurmi stiffened in both poise and tone. "The gossip magazines made that story up, after I wouldn't talk to them any more about Jimmy," she said icily, adding "I'll have you know that I personally destroyed the only known photograph of James Dean and I together, just so that people like you couldn't accuse me of cashing in on my friendship with him."

This belied previous interviews she'd given but I pushed on, asking about her failed infringement lawsuit against Elvira (1989 Nurmi v. Peterson - Nurmi lost because the court ruled "character likeness means an exact copy, not a suggestive resemblance").

This served only to get her more agitated - "As far as I'm concerned, she stole the entire 'Vampira' concept from me, that's all I'll say." With two strikes against me, I figured what the hell, if looks could kill I would have already been wearing a toe tag.

"Is it true your TV show was cancelled in early 1955 because parents complained that you promoted witchcraft and because you made a joke on the air saying 'My sister was lynched for raping a snake'?"

This oft-repeated rumor first turned up in 50s magazines like Whisper and Confidential and I hoped to finally get either a confirmation or denial of its veracity, straight from the sorceress' mouth, as it were, but she gave me neither. Instead, she stood up and turned swiftly on the heels of her sensible black shoes, marching away from me without another word.

I never got to talk to her again before her death in 2008.

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However...

Her tablemate at Glamourcon, 63-year old Conrad Brooks, also had a role in Plan 9 (as "Patrolman Jamie") and he sat nearby watching as my chat with Vampira abruptly ended.

"You can interview ME," he offered with a hopeful grin, stepping up to Heather and I and putting his arm around my shoulder with unnerving familiarity. I wanted to write an article with some kind of "cult movie star" angle so I said "sure" and went to start my tape recorder.

"No, wait, you have to buy one of my movies first," he insisted, pushing a VHS copy of Baby Ghost into my hands, an apparently homemade Casper knockoff that, when I tried to sit through it later, made the worst entry in Ed Wood's inept oeuvre look like Citizen Kane.

It ended up costing me and Heather $15 ($10 for the video and $5 for an autographed B&W photo) to talk to Conrad Brooks.

But at least he told me a colorful story about the time cross-dressing counterculture hero Ed Wood burst into tears because his favorite bullet brassiere had shrunk in the wash.

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Now then, here's how I pissed of Gene Roddenberry (who I wrote about for the above comic book bio)...

I was one of several people being considered to write a mass-market biography of the writer/producer to thank/ blame for the revered/reviled Star Trek phenomenon. Roddenberry and his wife, veteran Trek actress Majel Barrett [Nurse Chapel on the original series], sent word that they wanted to meet with me and with writer David Alexander at separate occasions, to get a feel for our respective approaches to the project.

My interview took place over a poolside brunch at the Beverly Hilton Hotel and all seemed to be going well at first. Roddenberry was explaining how he wanted this to be an unbiased "warts and all" account when he excused himself to visit the men's room.

This left me in the position of making small talk with his wife, who at the time had a recurring role on Star Trek: The Next Generation as Lwaxana Troi, the flamboyant mother of Enterprise crewmember Deanna Troi.

I mentioned to Mrs. Roddenberry that I enjoy the way her character is portrayed as being far into the Autumn of her life, yet still shown as very sexual, amorously pursuing a twitchy Captain Picard and taunting him with a rotating roster of competing suitors, once even going into pheromone-frenzied "heat" and, in another episode, turning up nude on the Enterprise promenade.

"Yours is one of the most sexual characters on the show," I was telling her, just as Roddenberry stepped back up to our table.

He apparently misheard me - "For chrissakes," Roddenberry bellowed loud enough to make the orange juice in my glass ripple like the scene in Jurassic Park where T-Rex is approaching.

"I walk away for five minutes and come back to find you hitting on my wife and telling her she's the sexiest thing on Star Trek!"

At first I thought he was pulling my leg, impressing me with acting skill hitherto unsuspected on my part.

But then he was grabbing her arm and nearly yanking her to her feet, before either Mrs. Roddenberry or I could clarify, muttering "This is why I never bring my wife out in public any more."

Before a reaction could so much as register on my face, they were off the patio, out the doors and making their way toward the valet parking lot, leaving me with a breakfast bill of $57 for three orange juices, muffins, coffee and two fruit salads.

David Alexander completed his nearly 600 page love letter to Roddenberry after the Star Trek creator passed away in 1991 and the book became a mid-level bestseller. I ended up scripting two much-less-circulated comic book bios about Roddenberry and his (quite lovely) wife, both of them unauthorized but neither unflattering.

Years later, Majel Barrett autographed the below copy of her comic for me, apologizing for the way her husband's jealousy resulted in me losing a primo writing gig. "God love him," she said with weary affection, "he believed I was the most beautiful creature on Earth and was convinced every other man in the world wanted to steal me away from him."

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Famous Movie Poster Rejects You've Never Seen Part 1: Private collection of movie poster designs published exclusively on the Reader website for the first time ever: Batman, Witches of Eastwick, Supergirl

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Part 2: The Fly, Vamp, Fright Night, Howard the Duck, Stallone: Over the Top, Ladyhawk

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Part 3: Horror film Near Dark, horsey drama Phar Lap, the Robert DeNiro/Albert Brooks sleeper Midnight Run (still under its working title Running Scared when these two posters were mocked up), 3D cartoon Starchaser: The Legend of Orin, Airplane-style comedy Bad Medicine (with Steve Gutenberg and Julie Hagerty), and war story Hamburger Hill.

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Part 4: Collegiate comedy Campus Man, horror hits Wes Craven's Deadly Friend and Blood Diner, and rock and roll horror flop Trick or Treat, as well as Texas Godfather, Vanishing Act, China Girl, 8 Million Ways to Die, sci-fi biker flick City Limits, and war romance Purple Hearts.

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Part 5: Voyage of the Rock Aliens with Pia Zadora, the Annette Funicello/Frankie Avalon/Pee Wee Herman surf comedy Back to the Beach, psycho-ex thriller Fatal Attraction, alleged comedy Planes Trains & Automobiles, James Woods in Cop, the Tom Cruise hit All the Right Moves, drive-in horror hit Deadly Blessing, the re-release of Roger Corman's original Little Shop of Horrors, import sex comedy Perfect Timing, historical drama Hanoi Hilton, Stallone sequel Rocky V (under its original title Final Bell), and Nothing But Trouble, back when it was still known as Welcome to Valkenvania.

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Part 6: Horror comedy Return of the Living Dead, Force III, Meatballs III, plainclothes cop thriller Off Limits (Willem Dafoe, Gregory Hines), sci-fi McDonald’s commercial Mac & Me, the Diane Lane potboiler Lady Beware, UK comedy Mr. Love, Robert Townsend’s Hollywood Shuffle, Walter Bannert’s German-language Austrian film the Inheritors, the Dudley Moore/Eddie Murphy flop Best Defense, Richard Donner’s Inside Moves, William Peter Blatty’s Ninth Configuration, adventure flick Tai-Pan, German musical the Frog Prince with Helen Hunt, and the Rosary Murders.



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Comments

Colonna May 21, 2013 @ 6:59 p.m.

Damn, those are funny stories... What I wouldn't give to see a video of a pissed off Roddenberry and Vampira!

Thanks for sharing, Jay!

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