Stars of the Las Vegas stage come back from beyond to channel classic undead characters
By Jack Houston
Photos by Christopher DeVargas | Digital Imaging by Erik Stein
Hair and makeup by Zee Clemente | Styling by Christie Moeller
Before we could see what scared us, we read about it. And when we could no longer read about it, motion pictures came along to frighten us even more. In the 1920s and ’30s, movies like Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy established a visual template for many of the characters we now commonly associate with horror films and Halloween costumes, most of them once-living creatures returning to the earthly realm to wreak havoc on unsuspecting mortals.
In celebration of Halloween, Las Vegas Magazine has reimagined some of the city’s top entertainers as classic undead characters, with a nod to the movies that made them famous. Some are easily identifiable, while others have undergone extensive makeup and costuming to fully embrace their alternate personas. All of them embody the fright and fantasy of the holiday and the glamour and nostalgia of classic cinema.
Terry Fator makes inanimate objects come to life every night at The Mirage, but it was his own puppet, Maynard Thompkins, who turned the tables on the Strip’s premier ventriloquist. Outfitted as the mad Dr. Henry Frankenstein, Thompkins summoned to life the monster and his bride, Fator and his wife/onstage assistant Taylor Makakoa, in homage to the Universal Pictures’ original Frankenstein (1931) and its sequel, Bride of Frankenstein (1935), starring Boris Karloff and Elsa Lanchester. Where Lanchester achieved her iconic hairdo by combing it over a wire mesh cage, Makakoa only required hairspray—lots and lots of it—and temporary dye to channel the silver-screen icon. Fator, meanwhile, needed a prosthetic forehead and black wig to assume the monster’s frightening persona.
The Lady is a Vamp
A staple of 1950s TV, Maila Nurmi entered undead lore as the glamorous Vampira, a spoof of the more familiar male vampire popularized in films such as Nosferatu (1922) and Dracula (1931). Frank Marino, who heads a cast of female impersonators in Divas Las Vegas at Imperial Palace, assumed the role of the fantastically slim-waisted maven, famed for her lengthy fingernails and jet-black tresses. In turn, Marino’s partner of 18 years, Alex Schechter, vice president of SPI Entertainment, became Vampira’s male counterpart. While Marino has become a Las Vegas celebrity during a more than 25-year career on the Strip, Nurmi wasn’t as lucky. She achieved legendary status in one of the most critically panned movies of all time, Ed Wood’s cult classic Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959), in which she played opposite perhaps the ultimate Dracula, Bela Lugosi, in his final screen role.
Magic of a Mummy
Leave it to Penn Jillette to unlock the curse that brings to life his silent partner Teller. Using Universal Pictures’ The Mummy (1932) as the inspiration for the magic duo’s characters, Jillette portrays the young archaeologist Ralph Norton, who goes mad after reading the scroll that animates the mummy, portrayed by Teller. Transforming Teller into an entombed corpse was no small task—it took foot upon foot of tea-dyed fabric to do the trick, not to mention makeup worthy of an ancient Egyptian burial. Onstage at the Rio, the Penn & Teller show is more often putting things to rest—the hoaxes perpetrated by so-called “mind readers,” for one—than perpetuating myths, but the mummy is one of those legends that just will not die, as evidenced by a 1999 remake of the 1932 classic that has already spawned two sequels.