Everything you ever wanted to know about Vampirella, daughter of Drakulon

Interview with Barbara Leigh - 2005

RA: Hi, we're talking to Barbara Leigh--model, actress and author. Between 1978 and 1979 Barbara was the cover model for seven Vampirella covers. Barbara, first we thank you for taking the time out of your schedule for this interview.

BL: You're welcome, and thanks for the interview. Jim Warren was the king of his time, and his field. A real legend. I liked him a lot.

RA: Where and how did you first hear about Vampirella?

BL: I first heard about her in a general casting call being held here in Los Angeles. It was for the movie, VAMPIRELLA, produced by Michael Carreras & Hammer Films. I went on the interview, and that was the first time I’d heard of the character. She’s more of an Eastern [US] type comic book hero. A lot of people out here in LA didn’t know who she was, not then anyway. Maybe the comics didn't sell that well out here or something. In any case I hadn't heard about her before the casting. Of course, after that it didn’t take me long to get right into it, she being the ultimate vampire that she was.

RA: You mentioned Michael Carreras. What can you tell us about him?

BL: He was the producer and owner of Hammer Films. He loved women heroes, especially Raquel Welch in 1,000,000 Years B.C., which he produced. And he loved Jane Fonda in Barbarella. Films like that. He liked Sci-Fi films with the woman being the lead. Unusual for his time. He did all the GREAT vampire films with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Even today, those are my favorites, like "The Horror or Dracula". I loved Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and got a chance to meet them both. I would have done Vampirella with Peter Cushing if it had actually happened. That was a disappointment. Peter Cushing was my hero.

RA: Cushing would have played Van Helsing?

BL: No, he was cast to play the character Pendragon, Vampi's side-kick. He was an incredible actor and a special man. There’s a book about Peter's life, on, by Christopher Gullo. It's titled "In All Sincerity", a must read for any Peter Cushing fan.

RA: Was the movie script ever completed? Do you remember the storyline?

BL: Yes, the first or second draft was completed. Vampirella comes from another world where they drink blood as water, she tries to survive on earth, and you can imagine the rest. Sorry, it’s been a while! I looked at the script not too long ago and it seemed boring. Not very good at all, {laughs} but then it was written 25 years ago in 1977 or 1976. Nowadays, we see movies made from comics with special effects that blow you away, so that Vampirella script definitely needed more action. Movies are superior today than from those times.

Did you see the last Vampirella movie? The one that was made by Jim Wynorski? I did but it wasn't that good. They didn't have a large budget and they didn't GET the costume right. The costume was the number one thing about her. The movie was a bit ridiculous, I guess, maybe even laughable but I thought Talisa Soto did a good portrayal of Vampirella. Jim could have done better, had he had the budget he needed and wanted. Jim's a cool guy, a good director, and a friend.

Anyway, back to me! {laughs} I got cast to play the part a little while after that first casting call with Michael. He decided I was it, so I signed a 5-picture contract and went to New York to do the Famous Monsters convention with Peter Cushing and Michael. Jim Warren introduced me there as Vampirella, both as a model and as the actress who was going to portray Vampirella in the movie. I think it was the first time anyone had seen the costume on a live person. That was spectacular. At that convention they had the famous poster of Vampirella drawn by Jose Gonzalez where she's pointing her finger with a bat on it. The kids that attended the convention thought it was me. I signed many, many posters but I did tell them that I wasn't the model for this poster. "We just looked alike." But in their mind, they thought it WAS me. Some still do.

RA: What year would this have been?

BL: 1978? No, wait, don’t hold me to that. It's been a long time now.

RA: Did you make the costume that you used for the cover shots?

BL: Western Costumes, a costume company back in the 1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s, made it. They costumed major movie stars in movies and TV, and were located right next to Paramount Studios. They did a great job. Western Costume was famous. Later, when that type of business started winding down, one could go in and rent costumes for private affairs. It was an enormous warehouse with every type of costume possible. Everything was set in divisions so if you went to this section, you'd feel like you were a cowgirl in the wild, wild west. Another section, you'd be looking at space suits. Another would be tropical islands. Just amazing. They had the celebrity section where they made beautiful couture costumes. The dressing room was like being in Paris. Designers would come in and out measuring you. This is where Vampirella's suit was made. It was awesome. The jewelry was done there too, made to match Vampirella’s jewelry, the arm bands and earrings, from the Jose Gonzalez painting. They used that painting as the guide for the final result. I love that poster.

The boots were made by DiFabrizio, who designed shoes for the stars. Most movie stars had DiFabrizio’s shoes made for them.

RA: What were your impressions of Jim Warren?

BL: I really liked Jim Warren. I regret the way things ended with us. We had issues with how the cover photos were handled. I don't want to get into specifics here but the way it turned out didn't set well with Jim. There was some bitterness. We settled and I received $500. I was supposed to get all my art back but I only received 3 or 4 pictures out of the 8. So someone, somewhere, has the original artwork of the rest. I wish it didn't end the way it did but he was a New Yorker, very hard-nosed. He was angry, a matter of pride, I suppose. Anyway, it's long over. I really like the man, I really do. There's something about Jim, very charming, very cocky too, and now I can look back at this whole thing, almost like an outsider, to see all of the picture and not just my side of it. I like him. Bottom line is I thought I should have been paid for the use of my photos that he used on his covers, since I was a model and that is how I survived. Looking back, he did me a favor. I will always be remembered as a part of Vampirella’s legacy.

RA: Bill DuBay, who was the writer of Vampirella at the time, has an amusing anecdote about the day you met Jim Warren. His account was that Jim Warren was getting himself spruced up to meet you later that day and that DuBay ran into you in the elevator, stammered out his name and that he wrote your stories. Later that day, while you were meeting with Warren, he invited DuBay into his office to meet you and you basically jumped up, said "Oh, Dube!" and gave him a big kiss in front of Warren and that Warren's jaw dropped about six feet. It's a funny story and I was just wondering if you remember any of that?

BL: {laughs} I kind of remember us in the elevator. It does sound like me, like something I'd do. That’s my good nature. I'm sure it must have been OK with Dube!

RA: I think he said it was one of the best days of his life.

BL: How sweet of him to say that.

RA: At one point, after you'd appeared as Vampirella on a number of covers, one of the folks writing into the letters page asked if it was definite that you were going to be Vampirella in the movie and the editorial reply was basically "don’t count on it". Was that after your trouble with Warren?

BL: That was from Jim Warren?

RA: I don't know. I don't know who wrote the editorial reply.

BL: Well, that's O.K. By the time I started appearing on the actual covers, the movie was already cancelled. Michael Carreras had gone back. Everything was on hold. Jim and Carreras were already fighting about all kinds of stuff. There was an outside party, too, who was trying to get the studio to make or fund the movie. There was stuff going on about the merchandising. The movie may have fallen through because there were arguments over who would have the rights to the merchandising. That's what I heard. There were a lot of people involved in that movie. Too many egos, too many Chiefs and not enough Indians. Something like that. You never know the complete truth because you can't see everybody's motives and their perceptions. There's the underlying truth and there's the part of the truth that you can see. It's hard to see all of it, especially if you’re involved in it at the time.

RA: Did you actually read any of the comics themselves?

BL: Before being cast to play Vampirella I had not. I wasn't into that sort of thing. Superman, maybe when I was young. I grew up fast, my life took me in a different direction.

RA: Do you do conventions or appearances today?

BL: I do! My favorite convention is the famous, "Chiller Theater" in New Jersey. I love the Halloween show. It's fun! I hope to do it again this year. Kevin Clement is the greatest. He puts on the best shows of ALL.

It makes me happy to get the fan mail that I do. I try to write everyone back with a picture. I understand, and do realize, that a lot of that fan mail is from autograph collectors who write to everyone but if someone takes the time to write me, they deserve a response. Also, one can visit my website at to view my Vampirella photos/covers. I've co-written a book with Marshall Terrill called "The King, McQueen And The Love Machine", which you can find on . My address for people to write is PO Box 246 Los Angeles, CA 90028.

RA: What are you doing today?

BL: I’m the "Photo Project Coordinator" for Playboy. I work with the legendary Marilyn Grabowski who's been the Vice President and West Coast Editor for the magazine for the last 40 years.

RA: Any final words or thoughts you'd like to share?

BL: I wish that Jim and I could be friends again. I hear that he's still angry with me, and that he hates me or at least doesn't speak kindly of me which is sad. It's been a long time. We should forgive and forget. I guess if I'd have known then that Vampirella would come back into my life with fans remembering me forever just for those covers, I would had handled things differently but I was a model. I was young. It was my livelihood and when you're making a living doing something, you have to protect yourself, and the job that you're doing. I just wanted to be paid for using my image. I think most people would understand this. I hope so. I'd like to see Jim Warren back in Vampirella's life. He brought her to the public and he should be remembered for that. I think he will be. He deserves it.

RA: Thank you, Ms. Leigh. Fans or readers interested in more on Ms. Leigh’s life might want to check out the Jan.-Feb. 2005 issue of Filmfax. It features a cover photo of Ms. Leigh as Vampirella (from Vampirella #74) with a newly painted background by legendary artist Harley Brown. There’s also a five-page article with plenty of photos.


Barbara Leigh page