Well now we've lost someone in 2008 that I'm sorry to lose. (Not that I'm not saddened by the loss of Brad Renfro, but really, did that one surprise anyone? Sweet Emily Perry, at 100 years and counting, was a better life insurance bet than Little Brad, the poster boy for Hollywood self-destruction.) Vampira died today. Now I know it seems odd to say someone has died when they've been a walking corpse for more than half a century, but it turned out, I learned today from Little Dougie, that Vampira wasn't a real vampire at all, but an 86 year old actress named Maila Nurmi, and she was the very first TV Horror Movie Hostess of all time. She invented ghoulish horror movie hostessing, a genre of entertainer now sadly extinct, that was particularly dear to Little Dougie, who is, after all, the author of the pointless (i.e. not about me) book The Q Guide to Classic Monster Movies, which was basically Little Dougie doing all his horror hosting all at once in book form, and even dedicated to the master who perfected the form Little Maila created.
Never adverse to publicity, Maila filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against sweet, talented, and charming Cassandra Peterson, best known as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, for stealing her character, look, and act. And this, after Charles Addams did not sue Maila for blatantly stealing his character!
The only one of the bunch to have worked a variation I can detect is Elvira's quite different bouffant hairdo. Of course, Jones and Huston also brought charm and tremendous talent, attributes that Maila didn't really have in spades. But on the whole, they look like a row of paper dolls.
But she did invent the horror host. Soon after, John Zacherley in Philadelphia began his ghoulish hosting duties as "Roland". He soon went on to New York City, where, as Zacherley, he a achieved national fame and popularity far surpassing Vampira's brief flame out.
In 1962, Little Douglas fell madly in love with Jeepers, played by Bob Guy, on Jeepers' Creepers on KCOP channel 13 in Los Angeles. All Dougie wanted in life was to grow up to be a horror host, just like Jeepers. This picture of Jeepers, who was only on the air a single year, still hangs in Dougie's home. Pathetic, isn't he? Of course he has my picture up too. Hmmm.
I won't belabor the Seymour story again, as my loyal readers all read Little Dougie's account of his love of Seymour, and how Dougie came to actually write for, and befriend the beloved TV star right here, back on Halloween. If you missed that posting, Mister Halloween, just click on this link and read it. Seymour and Dougie became close personal friends, and Seymour became the Best Horror Host That Ever Has Been. Others have come and gone, Grimsley, Arach Nid, Moona Lisa (Another Vampira-ish charmer, Little Dougie worked with her once, and found her a delight.), and of course charming Elvira came and has never really gone away again, but Seymour is ever the gold standard. His tragic death from cancer at age 50, at the height of his popularity, is a wound that Dougle still feels, and his new book is dedicated to Larry Vincent, the man in Seymour's hat and cape. If this odd little nook of show business interests you, there's a very good book out called Television Horror Movie Hosts by the late Elena M. Watson, published by McFarland & Co. It exhaustively chronicles dozens of horror hosts from all over America. Vampira quite deservedly is chapter one. The chapter on Seymour, good as far as it goes, oddly omits any mention of Little Dougie, despite his being a vital member of the creative team during the show's final season, as well as actually appearing on the final segment of the final Seymour show. Writing Seymour's stage and TV shows, and that appearance was as close to realizing his boyhood dream of being a horror host himself as he ever got.
What happened to the horror hosts? Well, home video hurt the market. If you want to watch Bride of Frankenstein, or The Wolf Man, why not rent or buy the DVDs, and see them uncut. commercial-free at your leisure? But what really killed them was Saturday Night Live. Late night on Saturdays was the prime Horror Host time slot. Seymour's last time slot was exactly that which SNL took over a few months after Larry Vincent's death. It occupied that slot in every market, and drew the exact same audience. Both Grimsley and Elvira battled SNL, but you'll notice that they're no longer on the air, and SNL sails on, as impossible to kill as Frankenstein's monster himself.