While Nurmi's ancestry is Finnish, her longtime friend Dana Gould has stated that she was born in Massachusetts. Her biographer W. Scott Poole concurs.
In 1954, Vampira began hosting a late-night TV horror movie program in Los Angeles. She would introduce the film and make appearances before and after commercial breaks. She would often make jokes about the poor quality of the movies, which made the show a sort of spiritual precursor to Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Ms. Nurmi met Edward D. Wood Jr. and agreed to appear in his film Plan 9 from Outer Space. She requested that her character not speak, and that she be credited only as "Vampira". Ms. Nurmi was also credited as "Vampira" for her appearance in the 1959 film The Beat Generation (starring Mamie Van Doren), though she did not appear in costume/character.
In the early 1980s, Nurmi was involved in a planned reboot of the Vampira show, but left the production over creative differences (the account of the exact circumstances of her departure varies among the people involved). The show eventually aired starring Elvira. Ms. Nurmi took legal action, but her claim that her likeness rights were being infringed was not validated.
Later in her life, Ms. Nurmi befriended the comedian and film buff Dana Gould, who has likened their relationship to that of Ed Wood and Bela Lugosi. Mr. Gould has referred to experiences with Ms. Nurmi in his live performances and on his podcast.
In 2021, Maila Nurmi's niece Sandra Niemi published the biography Glamour Ghoul: The Passions and Pain of the Real Vampira, Maila Nurmi. The book was partially assembled from Nurmi's own notes. Among its sensational content is the assertion that Maila Nurmi had intimate physical relationships with several notable Hollywood figures, including Orson Welles whom the book claims fathered a son with Nurmi.
An animated version of Vampira appears in the animated opening sequence for RiffTrax.
- The Magic Sword (Experiment #411 & RiffTrax) - as the Hag (credited as Maila Nurmi)
- Plan 9 from Outer Space (RiffTrax & The Mads Are Back) - as the Vampire Girl