FINNISH CELEBRITIES IN HOLLYWOOD – PART 1

Reporter, pictures: Tomi Hinkkanen

One must humbly admit that Finland cannot even begin to compete with our dear neighbor, Sweden, when it comes to movie stars and other Hollywood luminaries. After all, Sweden has given us Greta Garbo, Ingrid Bergman and Lena Olin. Nevertheless, over the years there has been a steady Finnish presence in Tinseltown. Some of the Hollywood Finns have been serious artists, some shooting stars and some just famous for being famous. Here’s a  few mental sketches of some Finnish Hollywood celebs, whom I’ve met personally while working here as a journalist since 1994.

 

Renny Harlin signing a petition to keep the Consulate General of Finland in LA open, January 2012.

RENNY HARLIN

There has never been a bigger Finnish star in Hollywood than director-producer Renny Harlin. He has had a long and illustrious Hollywood career with hits such as Nightmare on Elm Street Part Four, Cliffhanger and Deep Blue Sea. I have met Renny several times over the years. The very first time we met was around 1985 or so, when his very first movie, Born American was shown in Hollywood. I was a film student then, lived in Hollywood and just happened to notice that his movie was being shown in a local theater. Renny had long hair back then that was tied in a ponytail. He was standing in the theater lobby and I walked up to him to introduce myself. He asked me, if I had seen the movie yet. No I haven’t, I said. He then gave me a ticket and invited me to a party in the Hollywood Hills after the screening. Later on I was a young journalist in Finland, when he brought his then-wife Geena Davis for a visit. It was a media circus. I have met Renny at various occasions after that. He is always a gentleman. Last January at the Scandinavian Film Festival in Beverly Hills, he spoke lovingly of his dog Little Harlin, who had died recently. During the post-production of his movie, 5 Days of War, the dog got a special permit on the Warner Bros. lot, where pets aren’t normally allowed. The reason was that Little Harlin was Renny’s muse that helped him edit the picture. Afterwards Renny signed our petition to keep the Consulate General of Finland in LA open.

Renny Harlin with girlfriend Erika Marchino

Harlin is a striking presence. Heads turn when he walks into a room. He is tall, handsome, blond, one of the most confident men I have ever met. Many ladies have lost their heart to the tall Finnish Viking. He’s been elusive about giving interviews lately, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Renny, if you happen to read this, I promise to make it real classy and do the best interview ever written about you.

 

Renny Harlin and Finnish model Pia Pakarinen at the Scandinavian Film Festival in Beverly Hills, January 2012.

TAINA ELG

I met Taina Elg when she toured with a theater group, performing in a musical version of Titanic in 1997. Elg played the real life character Mrs. Strauss, who rather went down with the ship to remain with her husband than to be rescued alone. Elg was extremely friendly and open, telling me her life story – how she was discovered by an American producer and as a result, went on to sign a seven-year contract with MGM. There her most famous movie was the musical Les Girls, directed by George Cukor. She won a Golden Globe for that role. Taina was not happy with the pictures I took of her with her hair in a ponytail, but let me publish them and the story anyway. Taina Elg is now 82. She lives in with her husband, professor Rocco Caporale in New York. This Summer Elg will appear at the Sodankylä Film Festival in Lapland.

 

Taina Elg in the 1950's.

MAILA NURMI AKA VAMPIRA

I wrote a whole piece about Maila on Finntimes recently. She was the most original person I have ever met. I know it’s a lot to say, but she was. Born in Petsamo,Finland, Maila created the alter ego Vampira, which she says is based on the Charles Addams character Morticia in the Addams Family. I got to know her after the Tim Burton movie Ed Wood had hit the screens in 1994.

Maila Nurmi in the autumn of her life.

She lived in a converted garage in a blue collar part of Hollywood. She had no car, but would be chauffeured around by young friends who would take her to parties and other events. Maila had been good friends with James Dean, who died tragically in a car crash at 23. She once told me that everybody had abandoned Dean during the production of George Stevens’ Giant – supposedly to strengthen his performance as a lone field hand who in the movie became a millionaire after finding oil. Maila had spent the last night with James before his death. She never quite recovered from it. Maila was an animal lover. She sheltered injured animals in her humble little adobe (I was never invited in), and had named every pigeon that she fed in front of her apartment. Maila had a fiery temper – everything was either black of white to her, there were no gray areas. Hence, her time in the limelight was brief. She introduced horror movies on KABC-TV in the mid-fifties but got into trouble with the management due to her uncompromising nature. She also appeared in a handful of Ed Wood movies, of which Plan 9 from Outer Space remains a cult favorite. Maila died at the age of 85 in 2008. She was a truly original Hollywood character.

 

Maila Nurmi was a Hollywood original.

TONY HALME

Tony appeared on the Hollywood scene some time in the mid ‘90’s. The big and burly Tony boxed and wrestled and apparently was paid handsomely for both. He also had a big mouth. I never will forget the day I shot a TV segment with him. He climbed down laboriously from his second floor Venice apartment into a waiting limousine at the curb. I asked him about his limo usage. He responded: “I am chauffeured to the boxing matches and back home in a limousine and my adversary is taken to a hospital in an ambulance.”

Tony Halme appeared as "Viikinki" (the Viking), on the Finnish TV show Gladiators.

Tony got into some trouble later on when the police found illegal weapons and drugs in his apartment. He was detained and deported from the U.S. Later on Tony bounced back and got elected in the Finnish parliament (Eduskunta), on a populist platform that emphasized war veterans’ rights and shunned immigrants – refugees in particular. Frequent sick leaves marred his term and he was often incomprehensible. Then came the faithful day in July 2003. A handgun was fired in Halme’s Helsinki apartment. Tony was found inside unconscious. He remained so for days. After a DUI arrest and a stay in a mental hospital, Tony shot himself fatally in his apartment in January 2010. He was 47 years old.

Linda Lampenius had a whirlwind romance with Hollywood.

LINDA LAMPENIUS

Classically trained violinist Linda Lampenius had both looks and talent. After having excelled in music, modeling and acting In Finland, she came to Hollywood in 1997 and was instantly signed up by talent agent Mike Reynolds, who spoke very highly about her to me back then. Linda’s Hollywood premiere happened in the Century Club. She played the violin in a bikini, causing an instant sensation (if not something else as well among male audience members). TV roles in Fame L.A. and Baywatch followed. But then things started to go south. Her business relationship with manager Mike Reynolds soured amidst accusations of swindling. Lawsuits followed. Linda got a difficult reputation in Hollywood that virtually ended her career before it even had begun.

Linda turned heads in Beverly Hills.

I got to spend an afternoon with her. She was dressed in a two-piece outfit that left her midriff bare, showcasing her ample bosom. Heads turned and fire trucks honked. We had lunch in Beverly Hills. She had brought along an old issue of Playboy, in which she was featured. She showed the copy to the producers we met at Caffe Roma. With Linda, there was only one topic that was spoken all day – Linda. This was after her troubles in Hollywood. So, I asked her, if her Hollywood career was now over. She got very upset about that. I dropped her off at the Playboy Mansion, where she was staying. Later on Linda continued her musical career, moved to Sweden and married a Swedish lawyer with whom she had a daughter.

Linda Lampenius left Hollywood after a few TV roles and a whole lot of off-stage drama.

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