Was actress Gloria Dickson fated to die tragically by a scene in her penultimate film? Did monstrous actor Rondo Hatton actually suffer from acromegaly, which gave him a grotesque head? Was raven-haired Vampira in reality a Scandinavian blonde?
These are just a few of the engrossing film factoids from the sci-fi/horror/mystery realm that we now disclose:
-Actress Gloria Dickson began her career as a loyal wife trying valiantly to save her wrongly convicted husband from execution in 1937's They Won't Forget (Lana Turner's 1st important role, as a murder victim), then appeared in a number of dramas and mysteries, such as 1938's Racket Busters and 1939's They Made Me A Criminal.
Undoubtedly, her most intriguing role was in 1943's Crime Doctor's Strangest Case, in which she was a woman of mystery who used 2 names and was married to a man (Jerome Cowan) who repeatedly tossed down lighted cigarettes which ignited fires. Less than 2 years later, on April 10, 1945, Dickson died tragically in a house fire in Hollywood, started by, as fate would have it, a lighted cigarette!
Ruehl Fact: After suffering from a nervous breakdown, Columbia rewarded veteran actor Warner Baxter (who had won an Academy Award as Best Actor for his role of "The Cisco Kid" in 1929's In Old Arizona) with the "Crime Doctor" series, of which he only had to make no more than 2 episodes a year. He starred in 10 entries from 1943 through 1949, but never recovered his health and died at age 61 in 1951.
-Rondo Hatton starred in 1946's Brute Man as a college football hero whose face was disfigured by a chemistry accident. This parallelled his true situation, where he had a normal face until being exposed to poison gas during WWI, which triggered the onset of the head-enlarging syndrome known as acromegaly.
He also essayed the role of "The Creeper" in 2 films, 1944's The Pearl of Death (a Sherlock Holmes entry starring Basil Rathbone), and 1946's House of Horrors (where he was exploited by an evil artist played by Martin Kosleck), but was not involved in 1948's The Creeper.
Off camera, he was a gentle, deeply religious individual who had a devoted wife. Sadly, he died shortly before turning 52 in 1946 from coronary thrombosis triggered by chronic myocarditis as a result of the acromegaly.
Ruehl Fact: Acromegaly brought on by experiments in gigantism afflicted a scientist (Leo G. Carroll, best known for his starring role in the 1953-55 Topper TV series about ghosts) and 2 of his associates in the 1957 creature feature, Tarantula (a Universal film starring John Agar).
-Long raven hair! A skin-tight black gown! Long, threatening fingernails! Piercing eyes capped by thin black brows! These were the tools that TV legend Vampira employed to both terrify and engage late night TV audiences of the 1950s!
However, the dark-haired femme fatale was actually a Scandinavian blonde who was born Maila Syrjaniemi in Petsamo , Finland back on December 11, 1921. That surname was later truncated to Nurmi. Indeed, the renowned multiple Olympic medal runner Paavo Nurmi was her uncle. She arrived in the U.S. as an infant, and travelled around the country as her father lectured on temperance.
As an adult, she was performing in Mike Todd's "Spook Scandals" when celebrated director Howard Hawks caught sight of the beauty and cast her in the cinematic version of the Russian novel, "Dreadful Hollow." However, Nurmi walked out on her contract after being utterly disillusioned by repeated production delays.
She then tried modeling and dancing, including a long stint with Earl Carroll's revues. Her breakthrough came when, for a masquerade competition, she costumed herself in the mode of Charles Addams' Morticia cartoon character. Not only did she win 1st prize, but also landed a contract with the local L.A. ABC affiliate channel 7 for a late night hosting gig for horror films for the 1954-55 season. Impressively, she was nominated for an Emmy for "Most Outstanding Female Personality," and was profiled in such mags as "TV Guide," "Newsweek," and "Life."
Fan clubs sprung up all over the globe as she became a quite recognizable figure, making guest appearances at store openings and judging contests. She was dubbed the "Queen of Horror," with songs composed to honor her!
Bela Lugosi was also a fan, and was delighted when she joined him as his dead wife in 1956's Plan 9 From Outer Space. Unfortunately, he died 2 weeks into production.
Vampira's fame quickly expired after that, with only a few scant film roles, such as in 1959's Beat Generation and 1960's Sex Kittens Go To College. She did engage in painting, creating some "Vampira" portraits, and made a final screen appearance in 1998's I Woke Up Early The Day I Died.
Ruehl Fact: Nurmi sued Cassandra Peterson, asserting that her "Elvira" characterization was a ripoff of "Vampira," but lost the case in court. She died January 10, 2007, in her sleep at the age of 86.
My video critique of "Plan 9 From Outer Space" featuring Vampira and Bela Lugosi:
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