The phenomena of the "Horror Host," I would argue, actually has a long and twisting pedigree that begins well before these creepy characters ever appeared on the television. But if you want to talk about the Horror Host in the "Classic" sense -- Malia Nurmi (1922 -2008) aka "Vampira" was the first.
Spotted at a Hollywood costume party in 1953 by KABC-TV program director Hunt Stromburg Jr. (who's career is pretty uninteresting save for the fact that he arguably invented the TV Horror Host), Nurmi was essentially cast as her prize winning costume -- a sexy vampiric woman styled heavily after Charles Addams' (then un-named) "Morticia" character -- to host back catalog horror films on Saturday nights.
"Dig Me Later, Vampira" premiered on April 30, 1954 (Walpurgisnacht, coincidentally) and ran through 1955. Nurmi/Vampira became a local celebrity around Hollywood and Los Angeles, partially from the show but mostly from her frequent publicity stunts and public association fashionable young Hollywood (including James Dean). Life magazine ran a feature on Vampira in June of 1954 ( Life magazine June 14, 1954 (p.107-108, 110) can be read in full online here. ) and she was nominated for an Emmy that same year.
In spite of her popularity, Nurmi was never really able to turn all this exposure into a lasting career. She appeared in the notorious Plan 9 From Outer Space, as well as a number of small (slightly sleezier) movies before "retiring" from film and TV.
Two years after the Vampira Show went off the air, Screen Gems released their "Shock!" licensing package, a collection of 52 horror and thriller pictures from Universal's back catalog. The package was sold to TV stations nation wide along with a promotional guide which suggested, among other things, showing the films with a colorful host. Its not directly documented, but "Shock!" seems to be, at the very least, heavily influenced by the successful formula that Stromburg and Nurmi originated.
Searching out pieces of Ms. Nurmi's biography and career you're mostly likely to find, to use one of my favortie Douglass Adams quotes, "much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate." But its a pretty fantastic story none the less. If you're interested W. Scott Poole's Vampira: Dark Goddess of Horror is probably as comprehensive a version as you're likely to find, its not exactly a biography, but it does give lots of details and places Nurmi and her character solidly in her historical context.
|Vampira and The Misfits|