In Part 2 of her final interview, Vampira actress Maila Nurmi discusses her friendships with James Dean and Jack Simmons, the day Dean died, the devastating aftermath and seeing Dean’s ghost. Plus more inside-Hollywood tales about Clifford Odets, Nicholas Ray, Anthony Perkins, Jack Nicholson and how refusing to relinquish the rights to Vampira to The Addams Family led to being blacklisted and losing her career.
S: Let’s go back to when you first met Jimmy. This would all be a year before Rebel Without A Cause was shooting? Your show started in ’54 and then Rebel was ‘55…. Tell me about his and Jack’s relationship, did they ever live together?
S: That isn’t true?
S: They never lived together?
S: Where did Jack live?
M: Rented rooms. Different rented rooms. He never stayed too long in one place, because he was restless, or maybe he’d get thrown out, I don’t know. I think he was just restless and moved on. Where did you read that?
S: A few places.
M: All books by that same man?
S: No, different people.
M: You know that guy who makes up the whole story about Jimmy?
S: Is that Bill Bast?
M: No, no, no. Bill Bast was his friend. The other guy.
S: Are you talking about this book? [Holding up Live Fast, Die Young: The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without a Cause] Did these writers interview you, Lawrence Frascella and Al Weisel?
M: No. Books by… oh what the hell is his name? He’s written many books about Jimmy and their supposed life together. Bill Bast has written books about Jimmy for real. This other guy invented it all. Bill Bast is a very nice guy, but he never understood Jimmy when they were roommates. He couldn’t figure him out you know. They were roommates out of financial need.
No, this guy has written about ten of them, all of them about nothing but James Dean and his life with him… Oh, John Gilmore.
M: He never knew him, never met him, and wrote a whole book about their supposed sexual relationship, books and books. John Gilmore was about 17 years old and going to Hollywood High one week before Jimmy died. In September 1955, he decided he had a crush on Jimmy Dean. He was a homosexual whore. When he was in high school, he was already hanging around on Sunset Strip looking for rich men, while he was living in the valley with his mother and going to Hollywood High. And one week before Jimmy died, he came to Googie’s looking for him. He had heard Jimmy hangs out at Googie’s. He was a pretty blond by some people’s standards, and Jack Simmons found him and was hot for him and took him on as a trick and said, “Yes, I’ll lead you to Jimmy Dean,” but then Jack immediately hid Jimmy. Jack wanted Jimmy all for himself.
John Gilmore never got to meet Jimmy Dean, but now he writes books about how he and Jimmy lived together in New York, when the kid would have been nine years old at the time. But he’s a very good writer and he’s a very good researcher. He researches and reads everything, everything that’s ever been written, and then he writes the scene the way it really existed: the time, the place and all the characters. He takes out one character and puts himself in — writes it with himself. Like he’s taken me, I’m out of the scene and he’s there.
S: What were Jack and Jimmy like together? Did Jimmy like Jack? You make it sound like he merely tolerated him.
M: Well, we both liked him at first, because he was so amusing. He was with us because he was my driver. He picked me up here and there, and then he’d leave. He would go to the other tables to steal the tips from the waitresses and to look for phone numbers from the guys who really turned him on. But, Jack was ultimately not Jimmy’s cup of tea.S: Why not? What was his cup of tea?
M: I don’t know, but Jack wasn’t it. It had to be someone of substance, with real spirit, someone with a little class. I mean this was a guttersnipe.
S: Jack was a guttersnipe? I guess, stealing tips…
M: Yeah. And he made his living shoplifting. Oh, and this is what Jack did… We had a market called The Ranch Market it was open all night. Jack was shoplifting there at night and the private detective was upstairs in some kind of room with a two-way mirror. Jack was taking baloney, or meat, or something. The detective went down and stopped him and brought him upstairs, and Jack told him, “I’m James Dean and I’ve just got my first movie in the can and if you expose me, you will destroy my career.” So, the detective let him off. I read that in an article in a detective magazine, written by the detective.
“But, Jack was ultimately not Jimmy’s cup of tea.”
S: Was someone at KABC paying him to drive you around?
M: No. He just wanted to be around celebrities. He thought he could get good phone numbers from me.
S: What other things would you three do for fun?
M: Well, we were up all night and there was nothing to do in this town, so you had to create your own fun, so we did what teenagers do.
S: Like what?
M: We would climb up on the roof of Googie’s, and then they’d call the police and we would run away from the police. We also went on the roof of – there was an apartment hotel nearby, about four or five stories tall, and on the roof they had a big sign – a billboard. So, we went up there and played that Jack was beating me up and screaming at me and pulling my hair, and I was running away and screaming and saying, “Help! Help!” There were spotlights on this billboard, way up in the sky, and people driving on Sunset, they’d hear the yelling, look up and they’d see this scene going on – a woman being chased by a man. We heard somebody screaming, “You son of a bitch!” And “POLICE! POLICE!” Somebody called the police and we ran away… And my God, you can imagine! People might have been having accidents down there. We weren’t thinking. We were just being like passionate teenagers. We went to the swimming pool at The Garden of Allah, there wasn’t any water in there, but we would play in that swimming pool. We also went to the swimming pool at the foot of the street that Jimmy lived on. There was a big, very elegant apartment hotel that had a large pool that was lit at night. And there would never be anybody there, because we’d be there after midnight and we’d wade in with our clothes on in that pool and play. Just things like that.
S: Did your husband care that you were out all night?
M: No, he wanted me out, because he ignored me all the time. He felt I should have some sort of life and he felt guilty about it.
S: Was he older than you?
M: No, unbeknownst to me he had a mistress, and he felt guilty and he wanted me to have some pleasure.
S: And during this time were you were doing The Vampira Show – your program was on TV. How often would you go into work?
M: They kept me all week long, every morning and every day. In those days it was like you were under contract at a big corporation, at the movie studios. They’d pay you $75 a week and you’d have to be groomed and go to classes and go to supermarkets and cut ribbons. You had to do press things. I had to do radio shows in the morning, disc jockey shows at night, appearances, appearances, appearances without pay. I just got my weekly salary. I took home $59.60.
S: And Jimmy and Jack were never romantically involved.
M: Oh no. Jack just said that.
S: That’s what he wanted to everyone to think?
M: Wanted? That’s how he got his tricks! He finally said, shortly before he died that he had never had sex with Jimmy. I don’t know who he said it to, but he said it to somebody: “I never had sex with Jimmy.” But you know what happened at the funeral parlor, have you read that? Jimmy was going up to the road races that day in his new car. We weren’t going along. He was gone and Jack and I were riding in his hearse and Jack said, “You know, he’s gonna die up there and he’s never coming back.”
I said, “I know.” Everybody knew it. People were always saying he’s never coming back. He drives so recklessly with that new car – he’ll be totally out of control. After he’d died, and we got the news that he died up there, up north, Jack said, “I’m going to go tear open that coffin and I’m going to get what I never got.”
So that was pretty sick hearing that. I understood he was in shock. He was in mourning… and I thought he needed to talk… Let him talk it out. But what a thought! So then the funeral took place in Indiana. Jack flew out there. A lot of people went. I didn’t go. They had a small funeral parlor named the Hunt’s Funeral Parlor – Jimmy’s family were friends with that family. It was a small town and everybody knew everybody else. That’s who was in charge of the funeral, and they gave an interview, which I heard, saying that night people came in from all over the world. But they said the night before the burial, the funeral parlor was broken into and his coffin was in disarray and the body was not in its proper condition.
S: And you think Jack did that?
M: Of course he did.
“Jack said, ‘I’m going to tear open the coffin and I’m going to get what I never got!’”
S: Did he ever tell you that himself?
M: No, of course not. I heard what Jack had said, “I’m going to tear open the coffin and I’m going to get what I never got.” Somebody else said the funeral parlor was broken into and his coffin was in disarray and the body was not in the condition that it was supposed to be in. Unbelievable. Unbelievable.
S: When we spoke to Jack Larson yesterday, he said, he remembered running into Jack Simmons, less than six months after James Dean died, and Jack was a completely different person. He was dressed very well; he described him as wearing some dandyish, Edwardian-looking outfit, and from that point forward started to make money somehow in real estate. Do you know how he got money to buy property?
M: There was a woman he knew, a well-to-do divorcee. I never met her. He would keep people carefully separated. He would separate friends, so they couldn’t compare notes. Plus anyone he wanted, he wanted them for himself. He kept them hidden. But he had this woman who was a very well-to-do divorcee.
S: Where had he met her?
M: Oh, I don’t know. He didn’t tell me about her. It would come out little by little and after the fact. Anyway, I heard he had told her to put on her diamond and emerald choker and she put on her gown and she went to a party that he had talked her into going to. And, when she came home there was a hooded man waiting at her door and he ripped the necklace off her neck. So she called the police and all of her friends took a lie detector test. She demanded it of all of her friends and I know Jack refused. They said it was a definitely an inside job.
But then, Jack who had seen this Masonic Temple in Long Beach that he wanted, and he had no money — he was stone cold broke. He was really broke because he would over extend himself. He would always just lose everything. The temple was $21,000.000 down. Very little money for a seven story building, but a lot for Jack. It was a beautiful building. You know, the Masons built beautiful buildings, but he managed to buy it two days after the necklace was missing. He bought the Masonic Temple.
S: There was no criminal investigation into where he got the money, or anything? So he basically hustled to get money?
M: Always. He always hustled.
S: When officially did Jack Simmons leave your life?
M: It was never an official time. Officially in his mind he left my life as soon as he got that small part in Rebel, because he suddenly had some life of his own and he didn’t need me anymore. Then I was a burden.
S: Did Jack move to New York after James Dean’s funeral?
M: After the funeral he went to New York, but he came right back. He never went to New York to live.
S: Okay, but then he somehow reinvented himself in real estate?
M: Yes and he came back into my life when we were both elderly. Much later.
S: How long ago did he die?
M: About six years ago.
S: And when he came back into your life what were the circumstances?
M: We were both living near Vermont Avenue down in the ghetto. It was a ghetto then. Wait, actually it was by Melrose and Fountain. The people who own it now…those religious people…Scientology. They own it now. It’s a red brick building, but it was just one of the rag-taggle buildings, a rundown building. He was living in it and I was living in a storefront. So we encountered one another. I walked by his building and saw him sitting in the window of a storefront, and I said, “Hello Jack.”
S: Did he have money at that point?
M: He never spent money. He said money now comes to me like so many poker chips, but he never spent money.
S: But he did own the building.
M: Oh yeah, lots of buildings.
S: Do you remember what you talked about?
M: We talked about when he first declared bankruptcy. The second time he earned much more than that. He owned that Masonic Temple in Long Beach, that was worth millions. He’d been living in that for years, but when he died his lawyer got it for his unpaid bills.
S: Did he die a rich man?
M: No. He was never rich.
S: What was he like when you ran into him? What year was it?
S: Was that the only time you saw him after all that?
M: No. Another time. A little later he produced a film.
S: Yes. I know about that. A Paul Morrissey film.
From Turner Classic Movies: Madame Wang’s (1981) Director: Paul Morrissey, Executive Producer: Jack Simmons. A KGB agent comes to California to meet Jane Fonda and prepare for a Russian takeover of the US. After losing his papers, he connects with a band of homeless, overweight, and over-the-hill transvestites and becomes a punker in a Chinese restaurant owned by an elderly transsexual.
M: Yeah. Was Paul Morrissey the director? He told me Paul Morrissey tried to kill him.
S: Oh really? Why?
M: Everyone wanted to kill Jack, but very few had the courage to actually strike out and try. Paul Morrissey got angry enough that he picked up hand irons and was going to smash his head, but the security guard stopped him and held him out of the way and interfered. That’s what Jack told me. Jack said, “He tried to kill me, during the filming, but the security guard stopped him.”
S: Was he nice to you?
M: Who, Jack? In some ways when it was useful to him, but he wasn’t a nice person. He told me when we re-met that he had gone home to Scranton after not having been there for 25, or 30 years. He stopped by. He found a Greyhound bus tour that toured all of the United States for $32.00, or something. He was able to go to Florida to pick up tricks on the beach, and also go to Scranton, and go to New York to the all-night baths, you know, and sleep there, and then get back here all for this unheard of price. But he stopped in Scranton and his old mother was there. She was 72 at the time. Well, that’s young to me now, but I thought it was old at the time. She was 72, and he socked her in the jaw and she fell back and hit her head. Also while he was there, he gave his uncle a heart attack, all in a day and a half. He socked his old mother and gave his uncle a heart attack. They drove him out of town. Don’t ever come back. They’re all Italians, you know.
S: It’s so interesting to hear this about him. In so many biographies, Jack is portrayed as the closest of James Dean’s friends. Why do you think Jack never capitalized on knowing Jimmy, like all of the other people who wrote books?
M: He was writing a book and he changed his mind. He had hired somebody to write it for him. He never paid the guy, and then all of a sudden he just took it over and put it aside, but he couldn’t write anything.
S: At the time Jimmy died, did he try to capitalize on knowing him at all?
M: He capitalized on Jimmy. He got thousands of tricks saying he slept with Jimmy. That’s all he cared about was sex. He didn’t need more money.
S: But there isn’t much out there about him. It doesn’t seem like he tried to get his name in the paper, or that he went out of his way to court writers or journalists.
M: He did give an interview, I understand, very late in life, but I don’t know where. He also tried to write that book very late on. In the late eighties, or early nineties, he was trying to write a book. He wouldn’t know how to write a book anyway. He didn’t know how to think straight. All he could think about was where the money was, and who to rape. He had AIDS and he said he’d slept with 50,000 people.
S: Did he die of AIDS?
M: Yes, he did.
S: Were you living near him when he died?
M: No, he was living in Long Beach, and I was living in Hollywood. I was not seeing him.
“He got thousands of tricks saying he slept with Jimmy.”
S: How did you hear that he’d died?
M: Well there was a celebration. They came to my door and said, “There’s a celebration. Jack is dead.”
S: A celebration?
M: Yeah. They had a party.
S: Who had a party?
M: People who hated him. People who knew him best. What a wonderful thing for humanity that he’s gone. He was like the devil incarnate.
N.R: Why did Jimmy stick around him?
M: Jimmy couldn’t get rid of him. He had the studio keep him off the set and Jack broke his way in, anyway. You couldn’t stop him. He was unstoppable if he wanted you, and at that point he wanted Jimmy more than anything else. He wanted Jimmy. So, finally Jimmy said, “Hey man, how do you do it? You’re not even supposed to be on the lot and here you are in my dressing room interfering with my work. I can’t concentrate. Well, since I can’t get rid of you, you may as well do something. So, be my valet.”
And Jack came and he cried to me, “He wants me to be his butler…Wahhhh.”
I said, “At least you get to see him half naked.”
S: Getting back to that quote about the body being in disarray by the funeral parlor, you don’t remember where you read that? Was it in a newspaper article?
M: I heard it in the documentary someone’s got.
S: Was it the documentary that they made shortly after James Dean died? The James Dean Story? I watched it with [Rebel Without a Cause writer] Stewart Stern. He wrote it and Robert Altman was one of the directors. I don’t recall anyone saying that. It was made about a year and a half after he died…
M: No, this was made long after he died, about ten years later, because I was so shocked to hear about it ten years later.
S: And you don’t know which documentary? Was it the one that you were in? The one they interviewed you for?
M: Yes, but I was in more than one.
S: Was it The First American Teenager? It was a documentary Jack Larson mentioned yesterday.
M: No. That was way long ago.
S: Do you remember the first time you heard Jimmy mention anything about Nicholas Ray, or Rebel Without a Cause? Do you remember him talking about it?
M: About Nick Ray?
S: Yes. Do you remember?
M: I remember the first time he talked about Nick. He had done East of Eden and they had screened it and it was all of a sudden skyrocketing him to stardom. Woohoo! Everyone’s very excited and then there was a little period where he wasn’t working between films. But one night he said, “I’ve got a new movie.” He told Jack and I. He told us a little bit about it, and then he said, Nicholas Ray.
And I said, “Oh yes, I know who he is.
He said, “You don’t. “
And I said, “Yes, I do. “
He said, “You don’t.”
I said, “Yes, I do. One night there was a fire and Nick could have burned to death. He was living in this house blah, blah,” whatever story I told him and I said, that’s the first time I was aware of Nick Ray. I didn’t know his name. He was a very distinctive looking gentleman, tall with white hair. He had such an air about him. He had the two matching boxer dogs so…
Before he lived at the Chateau Marmont, he lived across the street from Paul Hesse’s photo studio, up on a cliff, in a house up there that really was no street up in the hills. He would go out the back door and climb down the steep cliff. He didn’t even have a path. He would just come skidding down with the boxers and I had seen him. I worked near there. I worked on the Strip and on my way to work, or somewhere, I’d see that distinctive looking man, this presence, and his two dogs. I’m always interested in a man who walks his dogs. He had these two lovely boxers and I discovered that he was going to Paul Hesse’s; he was a friend of Paul Hesse, the photographer.
So I went to work every night where I was a coat room girl at The Savoy. It served breakfast to people after the clubs closed at 2 a.m. We closed at maybe four in the morning, 4:30, and I was going home one night and someone said, “There’s a fire.” There were fire engines, and I saw that building on fire, where the man with the dogs lived. So I told them — they didn’t know anyone lived there. It looked abandoned, or they thought it was abandoned. He lived there alone. I guess.
I said, “There’s a man in there with dogs. There’s a man who lives in there.” So the
firemen went in and found him and brought him out with the dogs. And so that’s what I told Jimmy about Nicholas Ray, and Jimmy didn’t believe me.
He said, “No. No.”
So he asked Nick and came back and said, “That was true. He does remember there was a fire.” So that’s the first time I heard Jimmy say anything about Nick Ray. Otherwise, I had no idea who he was.
S: Had Jimmy seen any of Nick’s films?
M: I don’t know. He didn’t say. He didn’t tell me.
S: Stewart Stern told me, Nick went through a whole courtship period to get Jimmy to do Rebel Without a Cause. Did Jimmy ever talk about that? At the time, Jimmy had a big hit with East of Eden, he had worked with Elia Kazan, and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to work with Nick. Rebel, initially, was going to be a B-movie, a teenager film. In fact, they started shooting it in black and white, but once they realized how big a star James Dean was going to be, they reshot the first scene, in color, which was the knife fight at the Griffith Observatory. But at the time, Jimmy wasn’t sure if he wanted to play a teenager. I don’t know… I’m just throwing things at you to see if you remember.
M: No. He never mentioned anything to me about his work. It was amazing that he even said, I got a new film and the name of the director. That was unusual. We never talked about it. I didn’t talk about my work and he didn’t talk about his.
S: Did you ever go to The Chateau Marmont with him, while Nick was living there?
M: Oh yeah.
S: Do you remember the first time you went there? Was it you, Jimmy, and Jack? Or any other time hanging out with Nick?
M: No. I just remember sitting by the pool one afternoon and we weren’t invited. We dropped in.
S: But that was okay with Nick?
M: Oh sure, because he always wanted to see Jimmy. They always had something to say and Jack was always sort of hanging around with him looking for phone numbers, or whatever. Jimmy was very smitten with Nick when he met him.
S: When you say smitten, you don’t mean romantically?
M: No, no. Just charmed, utterly charmed. He looked up to him… Look, he needed a parental figure. He didn’t have one, you know. His mother was gone and he was always looking for a mother figure. He always had a mother figure, like in New York, [his agent] Jane Deacey was his mother figure, and here, me, another one. I was his mother figure.
He once drew a picture of me with him — when he drew on the napkins — there was a picture of me dressed as Vampira holding the baby Jimmy in my arms. He’s got the little glasses and the cowlick and underneath he’s written: Mother. I didn’t mother him. I didn’t intend to, but I guess he looked upon me as a mother. He was ready to find a mother figure anywhere, and I have a great nurturing instinct and I did feel very fondly in that way toward him. I don’t know that I consciously showed it, but I felt it. So, I guess he saw it.
S: Did Nick ever seem a little desperate around Jimmy — desperate to get Jimmy to like him, or to be in the film? Stewart Stern thought Nick was in love with him.
M: I didn’t see him at that time. I didn’t see him until the whole film was rolling. I didn’t see Nick when he was still trying to get him. They were very comfortable together. I could see that… very, very familiar with one another, very comfortable, like somebody wearing cozy slippers. They were close and warm and easy. I never saw anything else.
S: I know you said he rarely discussed work, but I’m asking anyway. Did Jimmy ever talk to you about the difference in how he was being directed by Nick after being directed by Elia Kazan? Did he ever mention anything?
M: No, he didn’t, but I could see that he must’ve enjoyed the fact that he was given so much creative freedom by Nick. One little thing, I used to take diet pills, I’d get so hot, and I’d take ice in a glass and cool myself off and Jimmy used that in Rebel. He took something from everyone. Whenever he saw something, he incorporated it and Nick encouraged that, encouraged his creative imagination. Nick gave him such creative freedom. He was very happy with Nick and Rebel.
“He once drew a picture of me dressed as Vampira holding the baby Jimmy in my arms. He’s got the little glasses and the cowlick and underneath he’s written: Mother.”
S: Do you remember anything more about Nick?
M: I remember the last time I saw Nick Ray. I think it was the last time. He had come in to Googie’s. Jimmy hadn’t come around for a while. We didn’t meet every night at midnight anymore. I had left my husband at the end of 1954 and took a house of my own. I rented a house in January, so I was living elsewhere. Then I didn’t have transportation. Jack didn’t come around anymore. He didn’t want me around Jimmy, so I didn’t have my driver. I had no way to get to Googie’s, so I didn’t go anymore.
The last time I saw Nick was very shortly before Jimmy died. It must have been maybe September. Could it have been? Yes, maybe September, early September, 1955. I wasn’t going into Googie’s much, but somehow I was in Googie’s and Jimmy came in with Nick. They came in together. They’d been somewhere on business and it might have been 10:00 at night.
I sat down and Jimmy was drawing on the napkins and he was drawing a picture of me. Oh, and Jack was there, too. Then somebody came and called me away. [Playwright] Clifford Odets was over there and he wanted to meet me. He had been trying to meet me and had been foiled by Jay what’s his name…Who are those people that Marlon respected so much? The theater people?
S: Stella Adler?
M: The Adlers. Jay Adler. Jay Adler was the bad boy of the family. He’d been telling Clifford Odets he couldn’t meet me. Not her. Not her. But now he came over and said, “Clifford Odets is here and he wants to meet you.”
I told Jimmy, “Hold that thought. I’ll just be a moment.” I wasn’t gone long. I went back to join their group back there, because Clifford Odets had tried several times to get a how do you do and when I returned, Jimmy and Nick were gone. They had just gone. And I had said to Jack, “Don’t take that picture on the napkin, because he was drawing me and don’t let him throw it away.” But, he was gone and Jack wasn’t there. They were all gone. So…that was it. Very little to do between me and Nick, but that was it.
S: Do you remember what you and Clifford Odets talked about?
M: Yes. He said, “I want you to cry those oceans of tears on this shoulder.”
S: Why did he say that?
M: Because Clifford Odets was trying to be a girl trap. He didn’t know anything about oceans of tears. Except he looked at me like, what woman doesn’t want a tall kind broad shouldered man to say there, there, there, there. He was trying to pick me up. Apparently he had seen me in Canter’s [Deli] sitting way across the room and said, “I’ve got to meet that woman.” He probably saw those oceans of tears way across the room. He was really drowning!
S: Were you aware that Jimmy had had Nick audition Jack Simmons for the Sal Mineo role, Plato?
M: Yes. I told Jimmy, “You have to give him a job.” I didn’t know Jack was shoplifting, but he was shoplifting. I was giving him $9 a week for his room and my take home was only $59.60. So, when I left my husband, I didn’t have any money. I couldn’t continue paying Jack’s room. My check was still coming in, but my rent was now $150 a month.
S: Why were you paying Jack anything? To drive you around?
M: No, because he didn’t have his room rent. I was still under contract at the studio, although they took me off the air, but I still had my paycheck, which wasn’t much, now that I was a bachelor. Usually my husband was paying my expenses. So, I said, “Somebody’s got to give Jack a job and it isn’t me. I’m just in a local station. There are no jobs open there, but you’re in a big studio, you’ve got clout, you can get him something. You have to find him a job.”
So Jimmy did. That’s why he put Jack in that movie, but he didn’t know what a nuisance Jack was going to become.
S: In what way was Jack a nuisance?
M: Well Jack changed his touch entirely, and fell madly in love with Jimmy and couldn’t stop pawing him. Jimmy said to him, “Take your fucking claws off of me, you horny faggot.” And Jack was so hurt and cried to me. I was everybody’s confidante.
S: When did Jimmy say that to him?
M: Oh, when they’d been shooting Rebel about a month. Jimmy had Jack barred from the studio, while he was shooting. The days Jack was working, he was entitled to come, but other than that, the cop at the gate was told don’t let him on. But Jack would still get into Jimmy’s dressing room — not allowed on the lot, but in the dressing room and Jimmy couldn’t concentrate. Jack was really bugging him. Jack was very, very intent, and very, very frustrating.
Jimmy said to Jack, “How the fuck do you do it? You do the impossible. You’re not supposed to be on the lot.”
Jack was determined to get this thing. This was a willful person, determined to get what he can’t have, and that’s not pleasant to have hanging over your shoulder and, he was. He would paw Jimmy lecherously. Lecherously.
You know, Jimmy was physically demonstrative. He touched everyone. He didn’t touch me, but normally he would touch people during conversation. He had a good sense of brotherhood and camaraderie, and he was very warm. But Jack? He didn’t touch Jack. You don’t want to arouse a guy like that. God!
And then Jack would cry to me, “He touches everyone, but me. Never me.”
S: What was Jack’s background? Where was he from?
M: Scranton, Pennsylvania.
S: Had he come to Los Angeles to be an actor?
M: He came out here to try to go to bed with actors. He was in love with Alan Ladd. Jack had approached him in the men’s room.
S: Do you think that’s where Nicholas Ray got the idea to put the Alan Ladd photo in the locker?
Sal Mineo in Rebel Without a Cause keeps a photo of the actor Alan Ladd on his high school locker door. His character, Plato, is deemed to be the first portrayal of a gay teenager in a mainstream movie. At the time, the Hays Code office sent a memo warning Warner Bros. head Jack Warner, against “inference of a questionable or homosexual relationship between Plato and Jim,” James Dean’s character.
M: Yes, because Jack had Alan Ladd’s picture in his locker growing up.
S: Originally it wasn’t supposed to be Alan Ladd. In fact Stewart Stern told me he thought it was too overt. He wanted to tone it down and make the Sal Mineo character more ambivalent. So, that came from Jack?
S: Did you ever meet Sal Mineo?
M: No I don’t think I did. I was accused of killing Sal Mineo, but I was accused of killing a lot of people.
S: What do you mean accused of killing him?
M: He was murdered.
S: I know.
M: The police came to me, because many people told them they knew that I did it. They called the police and said they knew that I did it.
M: I don’t know. They didn’t explain it to me.
“I was accused of killing Sal Mineo, but I was accused of killing a lot of people.”
S: Is it because of the occult association with Vampira? That you were a witch and cast a spell or something? People actually said stuff like that about you?
M: Oh yeah. All the time. For decades! They finally stopped saying it. Then one policeman, his name was — I remember his last name, because it reminded me of a toilet, Mr. Tankersbe, from the Hollywood Police Department, told me they’d had phone calls with the same story, told in detail by people who didn’t seem to know one another, and all involving me. They didn’t tell me what the story was, but it involved me and tied me right into the murder of Sal Mineo. Who I never met!
S: Did you meet any of the actors on Rebel? Frank Mazzola? Natalie Wood? Dennis Hopper?
M: I met most of them. I don’t remember who Frank Mazzola was.
S: He was in a Hollywood street gang called The Athenians, who acted as a consultant on the film and played the part of Crunch in the movie. He helped stage the knife fight — very dark hair, Italian… I just interviewed him. He’s now a film editor, who worked with [Performance director] Donald Cammell.
M: I knew him from after all the interviews.
Stacey: What about Nick Adams?
Maila: (Laughs) I did. I certainly did. God. Well, one night, Jack was so excited after he got on the film. There he is in a film studio, stars all around him and Jack is in heaven. Jack’s seeing a lot of Jimmy every day, because they’re working in the same place and all is well in his world. One day Jack said to me, “Oh, you know, I have a new friend. I met someone I really like at the studio,” and it was Nick Adams. I didn’t know who he was talking about.
He said, “I have a new friend, someone I really like and we buddy around and we have lunch, while other people are working, and we pal around together and I just really like him, and I want you to meet him.”
So, one night at Villa Capri, we were all there, but it was a time when Jimmy wasn’t. Anyway, it was Jack and I, and Nick Adams, and I was never so revolted by a human being in my life. I thought, how fitting that Jack would find him to adore.S: Why was he revolting?
Maila: Well, he was Sammy Glick.
[Referring to the main character in Budd Schulberg’s novel, What Makes Sammy Run? The name has become synonymous with a ruthlessly ambitious go-getter].
Not everybody likes Sammy Glick. So, Nick Adams told me his life story: how he started in this town, how he first lived in a greenhouse and his slow climb up, but everything about him was so utterly repulsive to me. I don’t like Polacks and I don’t like redheads, and he was both; red-headed and Polish and Sammy Glick. He told me his story and I’d had enough of that. So, when I was alone with Jack, I said, “Oh my god, you like that? What is it about him that you like?”
He said, “I don’t know, he’s so much fun.” Or, something like that. So, I never saw Nick Adams again. He didn’t hang around me. He hung around with Dennis Hopper and Natalie Wood. They were a trio.
S: Did you know Dennis and Natalie at all?
M: Oh, I knew Dennis, forever and ever and ever, but I knew Dennis from The Honey Hole. He was a regular at The Honey Hole. [Another erstwhile hip Hollywood hangout, where Maila worked as the cleaning lady]. Dennis was a very good friend to me. Dennis is very sweet. Though, I don’t know him now.
S: We actually met and interviewed him last Tuesday. Did you ever go to any parties at The Chateau Marmont, at the bungalow where Nick used to have regular Sunday afternoon get-togethers? They might have been exclusively all men.
M: I never was at them. No.
S: Were you aware of any bisexuality on Nicholas Ray’s part?
M: No. It could have been going on and I wouldn’t have known it.
S: You knew his son, Tony Ray from The Honey Hole, did Tony ever talk about his father with you?
M: Not with me. I was not an intimate of his. Tony was like a movie star. Like a handsome young movie actor. Like someone on a white horse. Really. He was very glamorous, very all-American and very clean. Just like somebody from Cosmopolitan magazine. Everybody’s dreamboat. That was Tony. Everybody’s dreamboat.
N.R: You never heard any gossip about Tony and my father’s second wife? [The actress Gloria Grahame who had been married to Nicholas Ray from 1948-1952, later married Ray’s oldest son Tony in 1960.]
M: Oh yeah. Oh, of course. I heard that his second wife had an affair with his son and then they got married, and people thought it was odd, or either shocking, or stimulating, according to whomever was telling the story, but nothing else.
S: At one point Nick sent Tony to hang out with Jimmy in New York, before they began filming Rebel. Did Jimmy ever mention that?
M: No. I didn’t know about that.
S: Do you recall about five days before Jimmy was supposed to be on the Rebel set, he took off and vanished. First he went to Palm Springs and raced in a car race, which he wasn’t supposed to do, because Warner Brothers didn’t want their property to get damaged and then he went to New York. Apparently when they were about to shoot his first scenes he almost didn’t come back. Stewart Stern told me, Jimmy had called him from New York and asked him if he thought he should do the film. Were you aware of this at all?
M: No. I didn’t hear anything about this.
S: There was a moment when he wasn’t sure he was going to go through with making Rebel.
M: Really? I didn’t know that.
S: Stewart told me he had some reservations about working with Nicholas Ray. Jimmy never said anything to you about that?
M: Really? Boy! They were so close, finally. They were such buddies.
S: Stewart had the impression that something happened that freaked Jimmy out, so he took off.
M: Uncharacteristic… Do you know what Jimmy used to do? He would come to Googie’s always at midnight. We never had said we should meet at midnight. Nobody ever said that. It just fell into being. That’s when I was available, so Jack would bring me. Jimmy found out and it just became a habit. So, midnight was the time. Well, for a long while, for maybe ten months, Jimmy came either one minute before midnight, or midnight, or one minute after. He never varied from that. He was never two minutes late, or two minutes early. He just managed to pull up on that motorcycle right at that time. All the time. He was meticulous about that. I thought he was just sitting at home watching the clock waiting. In actuality, he was very busy, but if he was in the midst of something, he would cut it short in order to do that. It was a secret pride he took in being so punctual. Spooky. So punctual.
S: Did you see any change in him as success hit? Once East of Eden came out, it was almost instant. He was suddenly this huge star. Did you notice either any change in him, or in his reaction to the intensity of the sudden attention?
S: Nicholas Ray was quoted as saying that after his success, Jimmy could be cruel to be people. Did you ever see that in him?
M: I don’t even believe it. I didn’t see it. I can’t imagine. It could be so, but I can’t imagine it. You know, we were outsiders sitting there alone at Googie’s. Sometimes in the beginning when we’d get up to leave, a crowd of people would be around me, and shove Jack and Jimmy away. I didn’t care about Jack by then. I was on to him. But, I’d look to see if Jimmy was okay. I’d say “Are you okay? Over their heads and shoulders!”
And he’d answer, “Elbows and asses!”
But then I was blacklisted, right about the point Jimmy got East of Eden released. He shot up just as I was sinking down the elevator. The same damn people, in the same damn place, they’d go all around Jimmy and squeeze me out. And I was the one saying, “Elbows and asses!”
They’re supposed to be fellow actors and actresses. People in the business, they’re just pride- less and shameless, shameless, shameless.
S: Other than Connie who you met that first day with him, did you know him to be romantically involved with anyone during that period? When he was making Rebel?
M: Oh, well, let’s see, he had Connie… and after Connie, he had the blonde girl. The blonde girl wasn’t she first?
S: [James Bond actress] Ursula Andress? He dated Ursula Andress.
M: No another blonde girl. I’ve forgotten her name now. She was Swedish. He was with her for four months, but they’d stay in bed for five hours. She was under contract at 20th [Century Fox] One of those hooker babes that has to entertain the gentlemen from the east. You know, the actress in training. They’d give you a weekly salary. She looked exactly like Jimmy. If you shaved off their heads you couldn’t tell one from the other. What is her name? She kept a diary about how much she loved Jimmy and how hurt she was that he threw her over for Ursula, and she mourned.
S: Do you remember whoever she was, if she was ever successful?
M: No, she was just a contract entertainer. That’s all. She lived with [actress] Claire Kelly…Claire Kelly was dating Perry Lopez…. They went to the road races together and when Jimmy was racing in Santa Barbara – I was there that day. What is her name? She’s written about in a lot of the early books, about Jimmy, I’m sure… Lili Kardell. That’s her name! Lili Kardell.
S: Was she another dope?
M: No. She was very feminine, very sweet, warm and feminine, and very, very pretty, in fact, beautiful and she had a beautiful body. All curves, just a very beautiful body and she was quiet and sweet, like a quiet pussy cat. Sweet and mellow. Jimmy used to call her the fat cat, because she had all of these rich gentlemen. She was one of those people who was hanging around the rich people, and getting big payolas.
S: It doesn’t sound like he had much respect for the women he dated.
M: No. Maybe those are my opinions. When Jimmy found Ursula Andress, he was more hung up on Ursula, because she rejected him, and that of course fascinated him. He went through hell with Ursula, and Ursula couldn’t bear him. She was just putting up with him, but Lili loved him.
Maybe he really didn’t want to be loved. Maybe he wanted to continue suffering. Though Jimmy didn’t shun Ursula, and he didn’t shun Lili. When he was in those relationships, he was deeply, passionately in those relationships. Though he was pretty sneaky, because all the while he was dating Connie here, for five months, he had a girl back in New York, [named Barbara Glenn] and was writing to her regularly about how he appeases himself without her. Long letters. I read them. They’ve been printed. She published the letters she got from him. He told her a bunch of lies, you know. Maybe that’s just normal for a younger man.
S: The day you heard he crashed, do you remember where you were when you found out he died?
On September 30, 1955, 24-year-old actor James Dean was killed behind the wheel of his Porsche Spyder sports car after a head-on collision in Cholame, California. Dean had been en route to race the car in Salinas, 100 miles south of San Francisco.
M: Oh yes, in my house.
S: And were you by yourself?
M: No. Tony Perkins was there.
S: How did you know Tony Perkins?
M: Through Sidney Skolsky, the gossip columnist. He was our neighbor and he had his office upstairs from Schwab’s, which was next door to Googie’s.
Along with Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, Sidney Skolsky was one of the early industry’s top Hollywood gossip columnists. Skolsky, who held court in Schwab’s Drugstore on Sunset Boulevard, promoted the tale that Lana Turner had been discovered there. He was also, alleged to have been the first person to nickname the Academy Award statue, “Oscar.”
S: His daughter was in Rebel Without a Cause.
M: Yes, Steffi [Sidney née Skolsky, played one of the gang girls, in Rebel Without A Cause]. I knew Sidney long before I knew any of these people, because I lived up the hill and I’d go down the hill and the nearest thing to my home, which was two miles away was Schwab’s drugstore. Googie’s wasn’t even built yet.
I knew Sidney Skolsky from how do you do. He also didn’t drive and I didn’t drive, so people who don’t drive in a mobile society get to know one another. They get pushed together to discuss their transportation woes. So, Sidney was an old friend of mine.
Later he saw me coming out of Googie’s with Marlon Brando, and Marlon was just kind of new on the scene. His face wasn’t well-known yet. He had made The Wild One and was just about to make his second movie. It was a Sunday afternoon and Sidney said, “Maila who’s that you’re with?”
I said, “Oh, this is Bobby Johnson.”
And Sidney said, “No, I think that’s Marlon Brando.”
I said, “Really? Bobby did you ever hear that before?” And Marlon just didn’t react. I said, “No, that’s my friend, Bobby.”
So then Sidney saw me with Jimmy Dean all of the time. Jimmy said to me one night –this is just before East of Eden was sneak-previewed — and Sidney would come occasionally to Googie’s. He didn’t hang out there, but occasionally he’d come in for some reason. So, Jimmy said, “That guy there, he’s a columnist isn’t he? He’s a friend of yours isn’t he?”
I said, “Yeah.”
He said, “I want him to do me.” Because Sidney would do one whole column on a person and, so that’s Hollywood.
So I said, “Really?
And he said, “Yeah.” He hadn’t had any publicity up to that point. None. Ever. Jimmy had done a lot of radio and television, but they didn’t give him press, because he was just one of the cast.
I went up to Sidney, there weren’t many people there, and I said, “That’s James Dean I’m sitting with.”
Sidney said, “Yeah, yeah.”
And I said, “He wants you to do a column on him.
Sidney said, “I don’t think so, Bambi.” And Jimmy could see it. He could see that the guy was saying no.
I said, “Are you sure? You know who that is? That’s James Dean.” So I leave and I tell Jimmy.
So, a week later, after the East of Eden screening and the star was discovered, Sidney said to me, “Your friend, I’ll do a column on him.”
So, I went over and I said to Jimmy, “He wants to do a column on you.”
And Jimmy said, “No. Later for you.” So that was Sidney and me.
Then Tony Perkins arrived on the scene at Googie’s. Terribly intense. He was so bright and his eyes were so dark. He was so tall and skinny and afraid of everyone. And I thought, “Oh, there’s one of my babies.” So we became very close.
Finally Sidney said to me, “What’s with you, Bambi? What’s with the creeps? Where do you find them?” Three geniuses, including James Dean and Anthony Perkins, and to him they were all creeps. He was middle class. He didn’t understand. “The creeps, where do ya find ‘em?”
S: So why was Anthony Perkins over your house the day you heard James Dean had crashed? How did you hear?
M: Well, first Jack Simmons was at my house, just Jack and I, but shortly before, Jack had said, “Let’s go. Let’s get out of here. There’s a terrible vibe in here.”
I said, “Why?”
He said, “There’s a terrible vibe in here. Something awful.”
“Three geniuses, including James Dean and Anthony Perkins, and to him they were all creeps. He was middle class.”
S: He had a premonition?
M: He saw a terrible light. The quality of light that came through the draperies was unpleasant. Irritating. He didn’t like the light. I myself had just thought what a beautiful light, an unusual light, maybe the way the sun was setting. It was so rosy, so inspiring, so wonderful, and he hated it. It rubbed him the wrong way. Let’s get out of here. Terrible light. Let’s go. So we went.
We were driving down the Sunset Strip, going to Googie’s and saw Tony Perkins walking toward my house, because he lived at The Chateau and I was at the other end of the Strip. So Jack said, “There’s Tony.”
So we picked up Tony, and Jack for some reason took us back and dropped us off at my place, while he went on to Googie’s without us. So there I was, and Tony was lying down on the –I didn’t have a couch, I had one of those pads you float on, that goes in the pool, on the floor there in the living room. Tony was lying on it.
Directly above and behind him was a wall and there was this thing that Jimmy had stuck on the wall. His ear and this eye and ….
S: Wait a second. I’m not following you. What was it?
M: Jimmy had once been at my house when I wasn’t home. He had gone to his car and gotten an 8×10 of himself, and then gone into my house and found a razor blade. He had cut out an eyebrow, a nostril, and an ear. That’s what it was. And he went through some drawers and found a little dagger scabbard, that I wore for Vampira, you know a scabbard with the chain and the dagger hanging. I had a huge frame with nothing in it, just an empty frame and that’s where he put these parts of his face and stabbed them in with the knife and scabbard. I came home one day from the beach and said, “What is that?”
Jimmy had adjusted the spotlight so that it was cast in shadows. I couldn’t figure out quite what it was, but it was up there. He had put it up there. So Tony and I, we’re sitting there. I’m sitting a little bit away, this far apart, and all of a sudden this thing fell from the wall. The knife fell out with the little things on it, and it swung like a pendulum right above Tony’s solar plexus — part of the scabbard had two pins and it was stuck on the wall, but it dropped and swung like a pendulum over Tony’s solar plexus. Just then the phone rang and I picked it up. It was right between us on the cocktail table, and the person said, “Jimmy’s dead.”
S: Who was it?
M: Randy Robertson, who I had given a photograph of Jimmy at Villa Capri a few days earlier. I brought him a picture. Randy Robertson was just a fellow who took Jack Simmons place when Jack Simmons left my life. He became my right hand man. He called me and said, “Jimmy’s dead.”
And I said, “Randy, that’s a very unfunny joke.” Because what I’d given him was a picture of Jimmy sitting in a cemetery.
And he said, “No, he’s dead. Call his exchange.”
So I said, “Okay,” and I hung up, and I called his exchange.
S: Is that an answering service?
M: An answering service. I called and said, “James Dean.”
And she said, “Who’s calling?” They wanted to know who was calling before they even answered. And I said my name, so they checked to see if I was a no-no to be told. Apparently I wasn’t a no-no. So they told me. “Haven’t you heard?”
And I said, “Do you mean it’s true?”
And she said, “Yes.” That was all. So, that’s how I heard. He died at 6:15 and that’s when the thing fell off the wall.
“Tony Perkins later said that he walked down the Strip saying, ‘Now the throne is open. I’m next.’”
S: When did Jack find out? Did he come over?
M: Oh, now I remember what happened… So, I said, “Okay Tony. I know where Jack is. He’s gone to visit lesbians on the next street on Palm Avenue. We have to walk over there and tell Jack before he hears it.”
I still thought Jack was a nice person…I was so naïve. I’d known him over one year. So, we walked about a block and a half and I knocked on their door. I knew where they lived. I didn’t know them. I knew what apartment it was. They were friends of his. He came to the door carrying a bowl of Brussel sprouts and Tony was behind me. And I said, “Jack, we’re coming in.”
Well, he wasn’t in the position to invite anybody in. He wasn’t even invited himself. He was using their apartment. I said, “I’m coming in.”
So he kind of backed up and we came in. He wasn’t accustomed to my being assertive. So I said, “Put down that bowl.” He was standing and I was sitting.
He put down the bowl and said, “What? What is it? It must be pretty urgent you barging in like that. What is it?”
I said, “Well what did you say was going to happen? What was the worst thing that could happen in the world? What’s the worst thing that could happen? What did you predict?”
And he said, “Jimmy.” I nodded my head and Jack became Norma Desmond. He said, “NO! NO! It’s not true! It’s not true!” Literally he didn’t take the news of Jimmy’s death as himself. He took it as his heroine, Norma Desmond. The most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen. And Tony was embarrassed so he snuck out. He was uncomfortable. He felt he wasn’t needed.
Tony Perkins later said that he walked down the Strip saying ‘Now the throne is open. I’m next.’ Now that Jimmy Dean was gone he was going to be the new Marlon Brando.
S: Did he really say that?
M: He said in some interview that that’s what he was thinking when he left that scene, when Jack was being Norma Desmond. He was glowing. He was thinking, “Now the job is open and it’s mine, mine, mine.” He was very ambitious.
S: Was your show off the air at this point? What did you do then?
M: Nothing. I had a paycheck coming until November 9th. You know what was November 9th? The day they buried Jimmy. My contract with Hunt Stromberg ended, while Jimmy was lying in the Hunt’s funeral parlor. So that was the end of that saga, but that’s not all. There was one more amazing, really amazing story.
I left for New York, because I couldn’t stand these streets. They were too painful. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was surviving. I had to go somewhere and I couldn’t stand being here. I had lived there and I thought I’ll find a way to survive there. I didn’t have immediate plans. I didn’t know I was blacklisted by the way. I wasn’t aware of it.
“Literally he didn’t take the news of Jimmy’s death as himself. He took it as his heroine, Norma Desmond.”
S: Who told you it was a blacklisting?
M: A lawyer from Beverly Hills. It was at The Honey Hole. He was a guest there one night. He had seen it at MCA [Music Corporation of America, a powerful and dominant Hollywood talent agency], the list. I was blacklisted. It’s just a long boring story. Somebody wanted something I had. What I had was too valuable. They wanted to steal it and put me out of competition with them. They wanted to do The Addams Family and they didn’t want me around. The head of the studio at ABC tried to make me sign a contract in which they would own my character, and I wouldn’t sign it. That’s what it was. They just did the reasonable facsimile, which would work really well. They didn’t need me, but they also didn’t want me around. He was pissed at me. Oh, he was nagging me and nagging me over the phone. He kept calling and calling.
I said, “Mr. Solomon, my answer is no. It is no. Unequivocally, no. I’m not going to say anything else. That’s my answer. I can’t keep talking all night. Please hang up, Mr. Solomon. If you don’t hang up I will have to hang up.”
He was the head of the studio. He made some outlandish suggestion. I don’t remember what it was. I blanked. I said, “Mr. Solomon, you don’t know it, but there is a God and he’s listening to you,” and I hung up.
So, I was blacklisted. He went and got me blacklisted. Nobody was allowed to hire me. I’d get a job once in a while. I used to do one network show a week. An outside show, outside of Vampira, and they would pay me $500, but the little nickels I brought home at this point were no good now that I was trying to support myself. Once they had me off the air, my contract still held, so they were sending me this little weekly check, but they hadn’t had me on the air for months. I would call a studio, or a station and I would say, “I’m Vampira and I’m available.”
And they’d say, “Wonderful, wonderful. We’ll get right back to you.”
Then a day or two later they would say, “Oh we’ve had a change of plans, there’s nothing.” And I didn’t catch on. I thought, I just don’t know how to sell anything. It was ten years later when someone told me that it was a blacklisting. My name was second from the bottom of the blacklist as Vampira.
N.R.: Can you tell us about The Honey Hole a little bit?
M: Ah, nobody ever writes about that. Where did you hear the name of it?
N.R.: From Tony [Ray] and from Dennis [Hopper].
M: They were both regulars there. Nobody ever writes about it. I wonder why that is. I was the maid there. When nobody hired me I started cleaning people’s houses. When Jack Simmons went out of my life, I still needed a driver so it became John Franco. He became my driver and John Franco was the man who had The Honey Hole. It was in a Victorian house in an alley. It had initially been the main street. The streets in that area were not paved in the early days, at the turn of the century. So it fronted what is now an unpaved alley, but behind it a hundred yards away is Melrose Avenue, right near La Cienega [Boulevard]. It had an outside staircase and the upstairs was used as a rental, but the downstairs was John’s. He had the bottom floor of the house, and he just lived there. Little by little his friends gathered round and took to hanging out there enjoying one another’s company and it evolved. He sold pot. I don’t take drugs and he knew it. So he’d always cool it around me. I wasn’t around when things were really cooking.
“I was blacklisted. They wanted to do The Addams Family and they didn’t want me around.”
S: Was it a bar? A business?
M: No, it was his home, his bohemian apartment. It was a private club for his personal friends. It became their hangout.
S: Why was it called The Honey Hole?
M: Because that’s where they’d go to get what they called honey. Whatever their honey was, it was there.
S: Sex? Drugs?
M: Sex. Drugs.
S: Were there prostitutes there?
M: No, a social hangout with sex and drugs. Sometimes the police would kick in the door, but not often, but nobody ever got arrested, which was amazing, because there were names. It was there maybe eight, ten years.
S: Who else hung out there besides Tony and Dennis?
M: Well, that guy that always tears out the crotch of his pants. Who’s that singer? I really hated him. He’s famous for that. A big, big name. All the young generation just loves him so much. He’s as big as Elvis to them. Always wore his dong hanging out… day and night.
S: He was a rock singer?
M: A big, big rock singer. You’d know the name immediately if you heard it. He’s known for the naked crotch.
S: Not Jim Morrison?
M: Yes. Horrible beast. Horrible demon out there. I wouldn’t change the sheets there when he was there. Until he was gone, I wasn’t going to have any part of the place. We had older people, too. We had John Ireland. Glenn Ford…. and Tuesday Weld. Tuesday was so young then. She was fifteen or sixteen, but she was like my mother. I was 40 and she was my mother…. Jack Nicholson. They used to call Jack Nicholson and his girl, Georgiana, Mr. and Mrs. Blood Clot. They looked down on them. I don’t know why. Why do clans get together and decide to put down something. I remember people would say, Mr. and Mrs. Blood Clot are going to be there…Troy Donahue. [Peyton Place actress] Diane Varsi. [Five Easy Pieces screenwriter] Carole Eastman. Sally Kellerman…
S: Was it a heavy drinking crowd?
M: No, more like smoking pot?
S: So you had completely gotten out of show business by that point.
M: Show business got out of me.
In addition to Maila’s refusal to sell the rights to Vampira, she also became persona non grata in Hollywood following a cover story that ran in a gossip rag called Whisper, in February, 1956. In ‘James Dean’s Black Madonna,” writer Sam Schaeffer absurdly alleged Maila — a woman scorned and acting out of malice — was a practitioner of black magic and responsible for James Dean’s death.
M: I couldn’t get anywhere, at least not in films, so I went to New York and somehow somebody attached himself to me as an agent. I don’t know how, because I was stunned, like in a stupor, with the water running down my face. Somehow there was this guy who said he was my agent. I was in a hotel and he called me up and said, “Well come on we’re over here on the red carpet, get a taxi, and come on over.”
I said, “No. No, I’m not going.”
He said, “Yes you are. There’s this oil millionaire and he’s buying for everyone. We’re having the time of our lives. This is good for your career. You get over here.”
“They used to call Jack Nicholson and his girl, Georgiana, Mr. and Mrs. Blood Clot.”
So I said, “All right, what do I do?” I created a semblance of putting myself together and got into three winter coats, because it was cold and I didn’t have any New York clothes and I went to the carpet. It was on the Upper East Side, maybe the 60s, or maybe 59th street, I don’t know. Anyway, I went there and it was like two in the morning. It was a small room, down a few steps in a basement and all red plush and there was no one in there except for one table of ten people. I went over to them and sat there. So there we are. They were having a normal encounter and I’m just sitting there.
Then the maître d came over to me and said, “There’s a gentleman who would like to meet you.”
And I thought, “Do I look like a hooker? In the condition I’m in, in the state I’m in, I’m not looking to meet strange men.” And I was so affronted, I said, “No thank you.” So he went away.
Then the agent said, “You go. You know who that is? That’s the president of Associated Press.” Now, that was the biggest press syndicate in America. So I looked around to see this one man sitting alone at this one small table. He was apparently the man who wanted to meet me — the president of Associated Press.
I thought, “What does he want with me?” So, I got up and went over and sat with him.
He said, “Would you like something?” I ordered a glass of water, or a cup of coffee. He had a glass of something. We were both smoking. Everybody smoked in those days. So, the ashtray was here and it had a few ashes in it, and so we’re smoking.
After a long while he said, “I want to know what it is.”
I said, “I’m being followed by a ghost.” And he accepted that. I then proceeded to tell him the story that Jimmy had followed me. That Jimmy was there. I couldn’t see him, but I could feel him.
“Well, Jimmy’s here,” I said. “He makes his presence known by setting fire to the
ashtray. He’s here now. So don’t touch the ashtray. He’s going to set fire to it, so you’ll know that he’s here.”
So, the ashtray went up in flames. Neither of us had touched it. I said, “Jimmy used to play with books of matches and he’d take two matches and make people out of them — split the paper, so they’d have legs and arms and then put them facing each other into the ashtray and set them on fire. They’d either fight, or copulate, and he’d laugh, so now he was playing one of his ashtray tricks. Of course he didn’t do the whole people thing, but the ashtray blew up on command. The Associated Press man could see I wasn’t playing any magic tricks. My hands were nowhere near, so he believed me.
Then he said, “Would you mind if I called a scribe?”
And I said, “No, fine.” We didn’t have microphones and cell phones, or any of that then. So, he went to the payphone and in no time a little guy came and sat with a little notebook no bigger than a napkin, and took shorthand. He didn’t believe a word I was saying and the Associated Press president, Mr. Green — I don’t remember his first name, but his name was Mr. Green — he said, “Do you mind if I call a photographer?”
And I said, “No, that’s fine.” So, he went and called photographers and two guys came with their Speed Graphics, and they stood over by the door. There was still nobody else there.
I was going on with the story and then my agent came and said, “Oh well, we’re leaving. Maila has to do a disc jockey show at a breakfast club. Do you want to come with us?”
So Mr. Green said, “We’ll follow you in our car.”
So I went with the agent and those people to somewhere on First Avenue and maybe 48th Street. It was on a corner, ground floor, revolving door, very large room, with a platform, and on the platform was a deejay who was on the phone talking to people and doing a radio show.
There he’s supposed to continue interviewing me, but now I have to go on a show, because I’d been broken in on by a burglar, one of those killer rapist people who had been doing the neighborhood.
Nurmi had escaped after being held captive for four hours by a homicidal burglar, who had forced his way into her New York City apartment.
M: Just before, and it was in the news, that’s why they wanted me on this radio show. It was in all the headlines. His nickname was the same as mine: “The Vamp meets the Vamp.” They caught him. He had attacked a lot of women, but we — the police and I — nailed him and now they wanted to know about it.
S: This rapist had tried to attack you?
M: Broke in on me. Yes, and now they all wanted to hear about the attempted murder. So Mr. Green was postponed again, because now I had to do this radio interview, and it’s getting daylight and he has a life to do. He came over to me and said, “Can we continue this on Monday?” This was either Friday, or Saturday night, the beginning of the weekend. “Will you call me at my office? You promise?”
Anyway, it was snowing outside and he started to go out the door, through the revolving door and then he came back in and just stared at me. I was way over there across the room and he stared like he was in some kind of a trance. I looked at him and he finally turned around and went back out, but then came back and stared at me again. Finally he said, “I’ll never see you again.” Out of context! After he had been so persistent and so insistent, and so afraid that he was not going to get the rest of the Jimmy story.
I tried to reassure him, “Yes you’ll get it. Yes, I’ll be there. Don’t worry I will call you.”
All of a sudden, he says one more time, “I’ll never see you again.” Then he went out the revolving door and was gone.
So, Monday morning, I called the number and the secretary, I guess, answered the phone and I said, “Mr. Green, please.”
And she said, “He passed.”
I said, “Pardon me?”
She said, “He’s gone. He’s passed.” And she hung up. He had died – died in January, 1956. Mr. Green, President of Associated Press. I tried to find out how, but never did. The woman on the phone was so rude and brusque. I was too timid and too reserved to follow through at that point. Later I tried to find out, but I have never been able to.
Of course the story about Jimmy never came out. Nobody ever finished it. Nobody else believed it. Mr. Green believed it. Do you know why he believed it? When nobody else would? Because, he was being spoken to already by his teachers. When you’re going to go – when you’re going to pass over, your subconscious gets guided. He was already being guided, so he had visions other people didn’t have. He understood the life beyond. Already he had the beginnings of knowing. He was in that state.
S: I read somewhere that you said that Jimmy would enter into spiritual marriages, do you remember saying anything like that? What did you mean by that?
M: Just that: A spiritual marriage. A bonding of the spirits. A true union of the essences.
S: With whom would he do that?
M: With anybody that he was really, really fond of. Like a little innocent child loving a dog, or loving his mother, or just a natural essence. I’m not talking about sexuality. When you’re as lonely as Jimmy was, when you’re so lonely a person on this planet and feel that you’re lost, because your real planet is somewhere far away and you know you can never get there, you have to find something here. Then when you don’t find it, you exaggerate to yourself a little and think you have found it, and try to play up a relationship. Maybe you manufacture these kinds of relationships. You like someone a lot and then you start telling yourself, we’re so great together, because you’re lonely. You want to fill that hole.
S: Is there anything else, you’d like to share about him?
M: After Jimmy died – I didn’t go to his funeral – but a month later when I was on my way to New York. I went by train to New York, straight through, because I wanted not to be in the streets where everything reminded me of Jimmy. I would start tearing, my eyes ran. I didn’t cry, but tears ran down my face for six months. They just didn’t stop. You know, how like your eyes are in a windstorm. Without the sadness, or awareness of sadness, the tears didn’t stop. But I was on my way to New York, and I got on the train and there was a friend of mine named Seymour. He was an authority of art films of some kind, and he was on his way to New York for a conference, so he kind of shepherded me, because I was alone and he saw that I was very sad. He was very kind and wise and he said, “Here’s a little book you can read.” He gave me a little book of sayings by wise men.
I was in the dining car reading this little orange book and it said, “When your spirit enters into me I am made holy by it.” And I thought isn’t that beautiful? “When your spirit enters into me, I am made holy by it.”
I was traveling, sitting backward, through the cornfields as it snowed. The cornfields didn’t have corn on them, but there was snow, so you could see the cream colored corn stalks in the white snow. It was a slightly melted snow and the cornstalks appeared to be disappearing. And then suddenly, there was this angel flying right over the cornstalks, this giant, giant angel, as big as a house, with wings, and it was Jimmy. He was flying over the cornstalks and he just said, without speaking, he didn’t say the words, he said, “I’m taking you to Indiana.” And that was it and he disappeared.
I had no intention of going to Indiana, and I wouldn’t have known how to change trains. I’m a boob when it comes to anything like that. When I saw Seymour, I said, “I have to go to Indiana. Do you know how to get there?”
And he said, “Yes. I’ll arrange it for you. You can change in Indianapolis.”
So, when we stopped in Indianapolis, we bought tickets for the train south and then I sat a long while, waiting for the train. I got into the town that was next to where Jimmy was buried. I forget the name of the town now, but there was one hotel. In the morning, I told the desk clerk I needed to rent a taxi to take me to the cemetery. So the taxi took me to the cemetery and when I got back from the cemetery there was a phone call from Jimmy’s uncle, Marcus Winslow.
He said, “We understand that you’re a friend of Jimmy’s. We’d like you to come over to the farm. I’ll come and pick you up.” So he came and picked me up.
And then I was sitting in the kitchen with his Aunt Ortense, and I said, “I’ve been to the cemetery and it was so beautiful to see the corn stalks bending over. The fence was broken and the corn stalks were growing into the grey stones. The grey stones looked like they were falling into the corn stalks, like they had intermarried Jimmy’s playground with his final resting place. It was all woven together.”
She said, “That’s funny you should say that. Stewart Stern said the same thing.”
It seemed so odd to her, because she didn’t have a poetic view of life. It seemed miraculous that we both saw the same thing, but it was incredible, because that’s where Jimmy used to play. His farm was right next to the cemetery. There was no demarcation anymore.
Anyway, Jimmy is the only person I have ever met in this world with whom I have been completely comfortable with – completely. Why that is, I don’t know.
Maila Nurmi was cremated on February 17, 2008. Her urn was buried in Hollywood.