Maila Nurmi and Me

In Astoria, Oregon, later this year there will be a Maila Nurmi event. She grew up there, born in Gloucester, Massachusetts, although claiming to be born in Finland, and later became Vampira on TV. She also starred in the Ed Wood film Plan 9 From Outer Space. Recently a a new biography was published about Maila, Glamour Ghoul: The Passions and Pain of the Real Vampira, Maila Nurmi, written by her niece Sandra Niemi. I found all this out when I was talking to my friend, the lawyer, Kohel Haver. He brought up Maila in conversation. He was not surprised when I said I was familiar with her. He had been brought into the Maila realm when he was consulted on copyright issues in the book. I will be part of the Astoria event. So, what did I have to do with Maila? Here is that story.

On March 28, 1996 I flew from New York to Stuttgart.  There it would be the start of my second tour of Europe showing films. This time I had no girlfriend with me to share the fun.  I did have Vampira with me.  Earlier in March I played the film for two weeks, Vampira: About Sex, Death and Taxes, at my Lighthouse Cinema at 116 Suffolk, New York City. A few people came to see it. Not nearly enough to make up for the misery that Johannes and I went through just lugging the 35mm print around. I had met Johannes in Seattle in 1993. I had him run my theatre, The Pike St. Cinema, for a month, while I drove to Cleveland to see a ballgame. Johannes was instrumental in the opening and running of the Lighthouse. In February Johannes went to Germany for a couple of weeks to keep in good graces with the immigration authorities. Possessing only a visitor’s Visa he was required to exit and re-enter the country every six months. Taking the train to Niagara Falls wouldn’t count. While he was in Berlin he picked up the print of Vampira. He hoisted it up on his grave digger strengthened shoulders and took the bus to the airport. He then lugged it onto the plane as carry-on luggage. At JFK he took it on the shuttle bus to the subway and from there it made the one hour ride to the lower east side. After the run at the Lighthouse Cinema we decided that shipping it back to Finland by air from NYC would cost a fortune. Taking it with me to Stuttgart and shipping it from there would probably be cheaper. That was probably not true. I took it on the subway to JFK in a box. I also took one suitcase with three 16mm film programs and a couple of changes of clothes. That would get me around Europe for a month.

I arrived in Stuttgart on March 29 with exactly one hundred dollars on me, and no credit cards. I’d left all my ready money in the theatre for making change.  The Europe money was in the form of a hundred-dollar bill. On March 27 I had rented out the theatre to Claudia Heuermann to use as a sound stage for interior shots for her feature film Sabbath In Paradise featuring John Zorn. It was shot in 16mm. She had paid me with the C-note.
After the sleepless all night flight, with a change in Frankfort, I arrived in Stuttgart. There I changed the hundred bucks into 175 DM. Jet lagged, I was taken to the Hotel Maritime. It was very nice, which really didn’t make much of an impression on me. It was Friday morning and I wanted to get the film on its way to Finland. For some foolish reason I didn’t ask for directions to the post office in the hotel lobby. I just hoisted the heavy burden on my throwing-hay-bales-around-on-the-farm-strengthened shoulders, and walked out the door, trusting to blind chance that I would stumble across a place to abandon it. This usually worked in any US city. You just head for the middle of town and look for a flag pole.

Oh: this no longer works in America. All of the flag poles there are flying over fast food franchises. The bald eagle should be dropped as the American symbol and replaced with the Big Mac. It also didn’t work that day in Stuttgart. After aimlessly walking for an hour I started asking people for directions. This was very difficult in Germany then, when no one over the age of thirty seemed to speak English.

I then found out that no one under the  age of thirty seemed to write letters. The only saving grace was it was a beautiful late Winter day with clear skies and a bright if not warm sun. I was finally rescued when a young person with some use of English gave me good directions that took me to a mailbox. Luckily a mail man soon appeared to empty the mailbox and he gave me directions to the post office. It wasn’t that far away.  It cost 105 DM to send the film on its way.  I went back to the hotel and tumbled into bed. I awoke after 9:00 PM, hungry. I walked out of the hotel looking for a hot dog cart. I didn’t want to ask for my appearance fee until after my films had shown. I had to make my 70 DM last for a few days. Nothing seemed to be open. I walked through the darkened, charmless streets. I finally found an open falafel joint and filled up.

After the upcoming event in Astoria, I will file a report.

Dennis Nyback is a legendary independent film archivist and historian. Formerly of Seattle, he now resides in Portland, OR with his 13,000 film collection and a clear conscience.