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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 Vampire, Poole gives us the eclectic life of the dancer, stripper, act 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 Vampire, 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.


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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 Vampire, Poole gives us the eclectic life of the dancer, stripper, act 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 Vampire, 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.

30 review for Vampira: Dark Goddess of Horror

  1. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    Instead of, you know, a biography of Vampira, it was a serious of long meditations on sexuality and gender in the 1950s, subjects discussed at length by far better writers. This was kind of like several mediocre term papers cut and pasted together. When the author deigned to actually discuss Vampira, it was decent, but that was not very often. It felt like the author got a book deal, discovered he didn't have enough material for a book and then padded the hell out of it. Oh well.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    The book is enjoyable, although I had a few problems with it. The author admits at the beginning that the biographical details of Maila Nurmi's life are so scant that the book deals as much with the context with which the Vampira character emerged, and the influence it exerted, as much as it did with the performer herself. I have no problem with this approach, and I actually appreciate that it isn't trying to tease out scant biographical information, and is trying to source what it has. But ther The book is enjoyable, although I had a few problems with it. The author admits at the beginning that the biographical details of Maila Nurmi's life are so scant that the book deals as much with the context with which the Vampira character emerged, and the influence it exerted, as much as it did with the performer herself. I have no problem with this approach, and I actually appreciate that it isn't trying to tease out scant biographical information, and is trying to source what it has. But there are some avenues that remain tantalizingly unexplored by the book. Because so little of her act has survived, the author concentrates (understandably) on the importance of Vampira's image, which ultimately ends up seeing a little shallow: it occasionally seems like her importance rests on how striking she is visually, where I think the author is trying to contend that there was more to it. And, after the fall of Vampira, why were all the other horror hosts that came in her wake -- Ghoulardi, the Bowman Body, etc. -- men, up to the ascendance of Elvira? With the author insisting on Vampira's mixing of sex and death and humor, what sort of influence did she have on something like the rise of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a movie that mixed horror b-movie tropes with alternative sexuality quite openly, and something that was engaged with as camp by its audience? For that matter, can her influence perhaps extend to other performative artists who constructed alter egos, such as David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust? Why does Maila Nurmi continue to be such an active interest of certain groups, including drag queens, where other "female female impressionists" (like Mae West) have not? For that matter, what about the character did the author connect with? (Also, am I the only one who sees "Rocky and Bullwinkle"'s Natasha Fatale as essentially a Communist Vampira?) I think a more interesting text would have traced the influence of the sort of gothic and camp strands that Vampira worked through 20th century culture, from Theda Bara on, with a heavy emphasis on what Vampira introduced. As it stands, it sometimes feels that she is important just because the author keeps saying she is, and I say this as somebody who actively sought out a book on Vampira to read. I would also mention that there were a couple cases in the book that the information that is presented in the book is simply incorrect. For instance, the comic character Vampirella is indicated as being designed by Trina Roberts. I had a hunch that this wasn't correct, and checking Wikipedia I found that it was Trina Robbins, a well-known comix artist. She is referred to as Roberts three time in the course of the paragraph. These sorts of errors (and I noticed a couple others) end up undermining the story the author is trying to tell: given that so much of the information about Maila Nurmi is obscured by time or speculative, you would hope that something this easy to corroborate would be correct. As a meditation on Vampira, I think the book works, and at times gets across the excitement of seeing her on-screen in 1954. I think it's less effective in contextualizing it, and seems to ignore certain things (like the rise of the femme fatale in Film Noir) that would seem to feed into what Nurmi eventually did.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I'm always so sad when a great premise has terrible execution. This book is rife with factual and grammatical errors, to the point of distraction. I read about half of it before giving up. I understand the author's stance is that Vampira is this ground-breaking feminist icon in the entertainment industry, but that he can't seem to bring himself to mention Betty White (who was a TV executive before Lucille Ball), gives only a passing nod to the Addams Family, and doesn't even acknowledge that LA I'm always so sad when a great premise has terrible execution. This book is rife with factual and grammatical errors, to the point of distraction. I read about half of it before giving up. I understand the author's stance is that Vampira is this ground-breaking feminist icon in the entertainment industry, but that he can't seem to bring himself to mention Betty White (who was a TV executive before Lucille Ball), gives only a passing nod to the Addams Family, and doesn't even acknowledge that LA was a hotbed of political turmoil (the friggin LA Times newspaper's offices were BOMBED, fergoodnessakes!), means that Poole's tunnel vision is not giving a clear perspective toward this brief and blinding light in the Hollywood universe.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Katy

    I was expecting more of a biography than a book about 1950s sexual repression. While there's plenty of information about Maila, the first third of the book is mostly setup for her appearance in Hollywood and getting her show.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    Vampires! 50s! Camp! Goth! James Dean's reanimated corpse! Shocking! Not only does this paint a great picture of a lost and then found cult icon but it also covers the influence she would come to have, while sadly being lost in obscurity. Would read again.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Teresa

    This book gave such insight into the life of one of my idols! What a strong and fascinating woman! If only I did not give this book away to a friend, I would read it again.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Abdo

    There isn't a huge cache of info on Vampira it seems. Even so, Poole manages a good bio as well as description of where she fit in the cultural changes and how she may have influenced. What stood out to me was that she was a strong figure who instead of doing the submissive pin up routine, looked at the audience and embodied a women's right to pleasure - and pain if she wants - just by a scream. She seems to have had lots of bad luck where others got breaks, made a few no so great choices (the l There isn't a huge cache of info on Vampira it seems. Even so, Poole manages a good bio as well as description of where she fit in the cultural changes and how she may have influenced. What stood out to me was that she was a strong figure who instead of doing the submissive pin up routine, looked at the audience and embodied a women's right to pleasure - and pain if she wants - just by a scream. She seems to have had lots of bad luck where others got breaks, made a few no so great choices (the lawsuit, for one), and was a little too strong for her era. Like the James Dean stunts. I feel like that would have been fine for today, but it kind of soured people on her at the time. She's kind of an underdog or forgotten legend. She was pretty revolutionary - or ahead of her time in some ways. There was a bit about how she wanted to choose the next Vampira. She wanted a black or Latina woman, but the network said no to avoid "controversy." She was under contract four a role in a work by William Faulkner. She was in the Village in the 40s, though her words are forgotten rather than celebrated like her male cohorts, Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs. Ackerman, it's said, borrowed from her without attribution. It's amazing that she had so much influence and so little reward. Quote from the beginning: "Here, the marginalized learn the importance of performance for survival. They understand themselves as different from the dominant power structure and know a direct challenge rarely ends well. So they role-play and subvert, often through the medium of anarchic humor."

  8. 5 out of 5

    Rosalie Kicks

    Overall I enjoyed this book - was hoping to learn more about Vampira herself though; her life and insight into how she became a horror host. I did find it fascinating how much influence Vampira had on pop culture and what a rebel she was for her time. And oh yeaaaa... her run-ins with James Dean were of interest. I look forward to watching the documentary that was mentioned in the book: Vampira and Me.

  9. 5 out of 5

    John Perrone

    A glimpse into the early world of TV and the beginning of Goth. The obscure peoples,Maila, and her camp version of a seductive mistress of death. Maila never gave revealing interviews so much of it is speculation. Filling in the authors' thoughts on what Maila must of been put through because of the character created by her. She created a iconic, and often copied, character. Great book. Later. Keep Reading.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Michael Samerdyke

    I thought this book would be interesting and talk about TV horror hosts and the female vampire image in American pop culture. Instead, the book drowns in self-importance and half-baked ideas. Did you know that Vampira was in revolt against Dr. Spock's ideas about raising children, Arthur Schlesinger's "The Vital Center," and the containment doctrine? I didn't believe it either.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Alessandra

    I am a worshipping member of Vampira’s glamour ghoul gang...this biography of the actual character that Maila Nurmi created is a book of canon for me from now on...especially when people may ask me HEY you know it’s not Halloween yet, right? Every day is Halloween 🖤🖤🖤

  12. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Really disappointing, I don't like the author's style at all.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Medlibrarian

    Slight book. Interesting enough, but I think the author does more than the usual share of extrapolation.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Djuna Franzén

    Even though much of the book is about the history of which she lived in and not her per se, I still enjoyed the insight into her life.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Erin Cataldi

    A fascinating look at the mysterious life of the cult classic scream goddess, Vampira. Although not much is known about her life, author W. Scott Poole did a great job fleshing out what he good and writing about the history of the decade, women's rights, and the culture of the time. Filled with fascinating photos and interesting tid bits, this retrospective is on more than Vampira, it's about the culture of the fifties in which she emerged and how she shattered all the stereotypes and housewife A fascinating look at the mysterious life of the cult classic scream goddess, Vampira. Although not much is known about her life, author W. Scott Poole did a great job fleshing out what he good and writing about the history of the decade, women's rights, and the culture of the time. Filled with fascinating photos and interesting tid bits, this retrospective is on more than Vampira, it's about the culture of the fifties in which she emerged and how she shattered all the stereotypes and housewife tropes. It reads as if it's a long scholarly essay, but it's worth plowing through to learn some interesting facts about her association with James Dean, Elvis, Marlon Brando, Ed Wood, Orson Welles, and Liberace. Intriguing, but it could have been wrapped up a little more concisely.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    It was just blah. I love vampira but she barely featured here

  17. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    3.5 instead of 4. (Goodreads, bring back the half-star system!) Poole's bio on small-screen legend Vampira admits upfront that there is not a lot of material to work with and eventually evolves into a cultural survey of the movements and events that not only shaped the creation of Vampira, but tracks the effect the character had on subsequent pop culture. I personally loved this approach--the structure was very similar to Savage Art: A Biography of Jim Thompson, although not as dense. There are 3.5 instead of 4. (Goodreads, bring back the half-star system!) Poole's bio on small-screen legend Vampira admits upfront that there is not a lot of material to work with and eventually evolves into a cultural survey of the movements and events that not only shaped the creation of Vampira, but tracks the effect the character had on subsequent pop culture. I personally loved this approach--the structure was very similar to Savage Art: A Biography of Jim Thompson, although not as dense. There are some weak spots where specific examples of Vampira's work or interviews could have lent strength to some of Poole's argument. For example, many of the ends of chapters are focus more on Poole's statements of Vampira's impact, than statements she herself or other people may have made. But Poole's insights inspired plenty of curiosity & research topics for this reader, so I'm willing to overlook that. Other reviews here on Goodreads note that some of the book may have some of its facts wrong & they are probably more familiar with the Vampira mythos than I. I was fascinated & eager to get my hands on my own copy of the book so I could make more notes. Recommended for those interested in the origins of contemporary American goth or those who love the freaks and subversives that hang at the margins of the horror genre.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Crystal

    Accidentally deleted the review and rating by mistake.Thankfully I have all the reviews that I have written saved on my laptop. Won this book from Goodread's First Reads Giveaway.Thank you to the author for sending it :) Very well written and researched.The show Vampira was ahead of its time.This was an enjoyable read and I like looking at all the pictures,my favorite one was of Vampira at a funeral standing over a grave.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    I received a copy in a Gooreads First Read Giveaway. This delves into the history and background of popular media as started by the actress Vampira and her short run TV show. So far it's very interesting. As a person who enjoys a wide variety of entertainment, this looks at someone who helped form what we read and see today. Interesting to see how one person can have such an effect on culture.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Daniel DeLappe

    Vampira was a very interesting character and was about as different as anything going at the time. The author did not get deep into the person behind the character (Malia Nurmi). She was a recluse and had good reasons to be this way. Interesting, but not very deep history of the times. I would have like to seen a deeper look at her character and the person behind the Vampira. The writing as usual is at a perfect pace and some of the best non fiction writing going at this time.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Marty

    A very interesting work and the first Cultural History Ihave read. I can see where people could be put off here. This was not so much about Nurmi but her influences on culture. If you are looking for a biography look elsewhere, if you want to learn how and why Nurmi had such a long lasting influence, this is for you. Also appreciated was how Nurmi influenced and was influenced by many aspects of darker culture for example Elvira and Charles Addams.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Reid

    I went into this book thinking it would be straight biography. I was more than pleased to learn that the author attempts to go beyond the mere details of Maila Nurmi's life and career and delve into the deeper place in pop culture that she still occupies. It's bittersweet that her legacy is both large and largely uncredited.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Autumn

    Clear that the author cares deeply about Vampira and tried his best to place a rather elusive subject in cultural context, but the writing style is repetitive and could have used a stronger edit. 1 extra star for clarifying that designer Rudi Gernreich was the boyfriend of the guy who started the Mattachine Society.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Rj

    A cultural biography of a television horror host, Poole writes about the culture that produced Vampira as a way of fleshing out the few and often conflicting details available about her.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Guido Sanchez

  26. 5 out of 5

    Johanna

  27. 4 out of 5

    Missy

  28. 5 out of 5

    Maranda

  29. 4 out of 5

    Steve Indig

  30. 5 out of 5

    K Lynch

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