The son of journalist-turned-producer Hunt Stromberg -- who was most famous for his work at MGM and as an independent producer -- Hunt Stromberg Jr. never quite achieved the same level of success as his father; he did become successful, however, in several different fields across the decades, including theater and television, and made one popular culture discovery during the 1950s that is still widely recognized today. Rather than try and compete with his father's record of achievement on the screen, Hunt Stromberg Jr. first emerged as a stage producer shortly after World War II, when he successfully mounted a revival of Victor Herbert's The Red Mill. Under the direction of veteran comic actor Billy Gilbert, the production was a hit, and at the age of 23, Stromberg was celebrated as the youngest producer on Broadway. He followed this with a revival of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's The Front Page in a slightly updated, postwar production that starred Lew Parker and Arnold Moss. By the 1950s, Stromberg had moved into television as the program director on KABC, a Los Angeles station. Sometime in 1953, he caught a glimpse of an actress/model, Maila Nurmi, who had won the costume competition at a masquerade ball, dressed as the dark-haired, wasp-waisted character out of Charles Addams' cartoons. At the time, Stromberg happened to be looking for a host for a late-night horror movie showcase on his station to boost its ratings. Some local stations around the country had begun hiring hosts for their showings of these and other movies, and Stromberg thought that the wittily provocative, eerily sexy Nurmi, working under the name Vampira, would set his station apart from any conceivable competition. He spent months tracking her down, and in 1954 Maila Nurmi (aka Vampira) went on the air -- within weeks she was being written about in Life and Newsweek magazines, and had achieved a national celebrity despite only being seen on a local station. She became Stromberg's major contribution to popular culture, and a more enduring one than either of them could have guessed in the mid-'50s -- no kinescopes of her program have survived, but in 1956, Nurmi crossed paths with producer-director-writer Edward D. Wood Jr. and he put her into his film Plan 9 From Outer Space. Ironically, by the time the movie was made, she was off the air and her career as Vampira was virtually ended, owing to a dispute with her television station and, by her account, her subsequent blackballing by the industry. By the end of the 1950s, Stromberg had become a protege of James Aubrey, the top programming executive at the CBS network. As a production executive at the network, Stromberg was one of those responsible for bringing on the air such series as The Beverly Hillbillies, Hogan's Heroes, Green Acres, and Lost in Space. When Aubrey left his post at the network, Stromberg exited as well, and he was later involved in independent production. Surprisingly, during the 1970s, he seemed to reach back 20 years, to the horror milieu that he had brushed up against as the discoverer of Vampira, producing the 1974 version of Frankenstein starring Michael Sarrazin and The Curse of King Tut's Tomb. At the time of his death in 1986 from a ruptured aneurism, he had Robert Bloch's book The Night of the Ripper optioned for a film.
by Bruce Eder biography