A Look Back At The Career of Barbara Leigh, The Original Vampirella (Festival of Dread Special)
Welcome back to the Festival of Dread, The Splintering’s month-long celebration of all things bloodcurdling and bizarre.
For countless horror fans of the 1970s, there was one publisher that stood out amongst all of the comic book companies at the time. Warren Publishing was not only the home of Famous Monsters of Filmland, a horror movie fan staple, it also was publishing the best horror comic magazines at the time, namely Creepy and Eerie. There was a sister publication from Warren however that was garnering a lot of attention. Vampirella magazine debuted in late 1969 with a stunning cover by Frank Frazetta, and all throughout the 1970s, this title was gaining massive attention from fans across the globe.
Vampirella fandom reached massive heights in 1975, when it was announced that Warren Publishing was partnering with Hammer Films to create a Vampirella movie. Cast was none other than Peter Cushing, who would’ve played Pendragon, and Barbara Leigh was cast as the titular character. Ms. Leigh actually signed a six-picture deal to portray the beautiful yet deadly Vampirella.
Certainly no newcomer to the entertainment scene, Barbara Leigh had spent time working as a model prior to being cast in several television and film roles, most notably of which was the Sam Peckinpah film Junior Bonner starring Steve McQueen.
Barbara Leigh debuted the famous Vampirella costume at a convention in 1975. As she recalled for Film Fax magazine (#105; 03/2005) “I introduced it to a live audience at the Monster Convention in New York City for 5,000 screaming fans.” She would later add, “The only horrible thing that happened to me during the Vampirella saga was that it didn’t get made, and changed my life forever. The project ended when Hammer and Warren Comics couldn’t come to an agreement for the merchandising rights to the character.”
Warren knew that Ms. Leigh was the perfect fit for Vampirella, so how would they capitalize on her popularity if the movie was not going to be made? Warren came up with the idea of picturing her in costume on their magazines. Seven different magazine covers in fact, which ran sporadically from issues #67 to #78 from March 1978 to May 1979.
Not too long after the entire Hammer film debacle, Ms. Leigh retired from acting. She spent several years modeling, including two celebrity pictorials for Playboy in 1973, and 1977, posing for world renowned photographer Helmut Newton, as well as appearing on several covers for the Australian Rock Band INXS. Ms. Leigh also worked for Playboy for 17 years serving as both Photo Projects Coordinator and Assistant Photo Editor. In 2002, she published a memoir titled The King, McQueen, and The Love Machine, and has also served as a spokesperson for the National Graves’ Disease Foundation.
Still, with all of her accomplishments, it’s her time as Vampirella that horror fans remember the most. Although many actresses, models and cosplayers have since donned the iconic Vampirella costume, no one has worn it better than the original Vampirella herself, Barbara Leigh.
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