Mayo in the early 1950s
Virginia Clara Jones
November 30, 1920
|Died||January 17, 2005 (aged 84)|
(m. 1947; died 1973)
Virginia Mayo (born Virginia Clara Jones; November 30, 1920 – January 17, 2005) was an American actress and dancer. She was in a series of comedy films with Danny Kaye and was Warner Brothers' biggest box-office money-maker in the late 1940s. She also co-starred in the 1946 Oscar-winning movie The Best Years of Our Lives.
Born Virginia Clara Jones in St. Louis, Missouri, she was the daughter of newspaper reporter Luke and wife, Martha Henrietta (née Rautenstrauch) Jones. Her family had roots back to the earliest days of St Louis, including great-great-great grandfather Captain James Piggott, who founded East St. Louis, Illinois, in 1797. Young Virginia's aunt operated an acting school in the St Louis area, which Virginia began attending at age six. She also was tutored by a series of dancing instructors engaged by her aunt.
Following her graduation from Soldan High School in 1937, Jones landed her first professional acting and dancing jobs at the St. Louis Municipal Opera Theatre (more commonly known as The Muny) and in an act with six other girls at the Hotel Jefferson. Impressed with her ability, performer Andy Mayo, recruited her to appear in his act "Morton and Mayo".
Jones toured the American vaudeville circuit for three years, serving as ringmaster and comedic foil for "Pansy the Horse", as Mayo and his partner, Nonnie Morton, performed in a horse suit. They appeared together in some short films.
In the early 1940s, Virginia Mayo's talent and striking beauty came to the attention of movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn, who signed her to an acting contract with his company.
Goldwyn only made a few films a year and would usually loan out the actors he had under contract to other producers. Her first notable role was in Jack London (1943), which starred her future husband Michael O'Shea for producer Samuel Bronston.
Going against previous stereotype, Mayo accepted the supporting role of unsympathetic, gold-digger Marie Derry in William Wyler's drama The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) for Goldwyn. Her performance drew favorable reviews from critics, as the film also became the highest-grossing film inside the US since Gone with the Wind. At the zenith of her career, Mayo was seen as the quintessential voluptuous Hollywood beauty. It was said that she "looked like a pinup painting come to life". According to widely published reports from the late 1940s, the Sultan of Morocco declared her beauty to be "tangible proof of the existence of God."
Mayo was reunited with Kaye in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), another big success, and A Song is Born (1948), a box office disappointment. In between, Warners borrowed her for the lead in a film noir, Smart Girls Don't Talk (1948).
Warner Bros ended up taking over her contract from Goldwyn. They starred her in another film noir, Flaxy Martin (1949) with Zachary Scott, then she did a Western with Joel McCrea and director Raoul Walsh, Colorado Territory (1949), and a comedy with Ronald Reagan, The Girl from Jones Beach (1949).
Mayo received excellent reviews in another unsympathetic role, playing Jimmy Cagney's sultry and scheming wife in the gangster classic White Heat (1949), also for Walsh. Mayo admitted she was frightened by Cagney as the psychotic gunman in White Heat because he was so realistic.
She co-starred again with James Cagney and a young Doris Day in The West Point Story (1950), singing and dancing with Cagney, and was Gregory Peck's leading lady in Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. (1951), Warners most popular film of the year. She co-starred with Kirk Douglas in a Western for Walsh, Along the Great Divide (1951).
Mayo starred opposite Dennis Morgan in David Butler's Technicolor musical, Painting the Clouds with Sunshine (1951) which was a moderate success. While Mayo appeared in several musicals, using her training in dance, her voice was always dubbed.
Mayo appeared in the all-star cast of Starlift (1951) and was top billed in She's Working Her Way Through College (1952) with Reagan. She was Alan Ladd's leading lady in The Iron Mistress (1952), a popular biopic of Jim Bowie, and starred in another musical, She's Back on Broadway (1953).
Mayo appeared in the comedy-drama-action film South Sea Woman (1953) with Burt Lancaster and Chuck Connors. RKO borrowed her for a Western in 3-D, Devil's Canyon (1953), and she co-starred with Rex Harrison and George Sanders in King Richard and the Crusaders (1954).
Mayo was reunited with Ladd in The Big Land (1957) made back at Warners. She played Cleopatra in the 1957 fantasy film The Story of Mankind with Vincent Price, Hedy Lamarr, Cesar Romero, Agnes Moorehead, and the Marx Brothers.
Mayo did The Tall Stranger (1957) with McCrea for Allied Artists, Fort Dobbs (1958) with Clint Walker at Warners and Westbound (1959) with Randolph Scott at Warners. Her last film of the decade was 1959's Jet Over the Atlantic with Guy Madison and George Raft.
Mayo and her husband made a pilot for a TV series McGarry and His Mouse (1960), which was not picked up. She went to Italy to make Revolt of the Mercenaries (1961).
Mayo's film career tapered off considerably. She appeared in Young Fury (1965) with Rory Calhoun, Castle of Evil (1966), and Fort Utah (1967) with John Ireland. She also guest starred on shows such as Burke's Law, Daktari and The Outsider and appeared on stage in shows like That Certain Girl (1967) and Barefoot in the Park (1968).
Mayo continued to act on stage for the rest of her career, mostly in dinner theatre and touring shows. Productions included No, No Nanette (1972), 40 Carats (1975), Good News (1977), Move Over Mrs Markham (1980) and Butterflies Are Free (1981).
Mayo continued to occasionally appear on television in shows such as Police Story, Night Gallery, The Love Boat, Remington Steele, and Murder, She Wrote, and a dozen episodes of the soap opera Santa Barbara.
Mayo was in Fugitive Lovers (1975) and was one of several stars to make a cameo appearance in the all-star box office bomb Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976). She had roles in Lanigan's Rabbi (1977), Haunted (1977), and French Quarter (1978).
Mayo was one of the first to be awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Hers is located at 1751 Vine Street. In 1996, Mayo was honored by her hometown as she received a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame. In 1993, Mayo published a Christmas themed children's book entitled, Don't Forget Me, Santa Claus through Barrons Juveniles Publishers.
Mayo wed Michael O'Shea in 1947, and they remained married until his death in 1973. The couple had one child, Mary Catherine O'Shea (born 1953). The family lived for several decades in Thousand Oaks, California.
In later years she developed a passion for painting and also occupied her time doting on her three grandsons. She converted to Roman Catholicism by way of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. A lifelong Republican, she endorsed Richard Nixon in 1968 and 1972, and longtime friend Ronald Reagan in 1980.
Mayo died of pneumonia and complications of congestive heart failure in Los Angeles on January 17, 2005, aged 84, at a nursing home in Thousand Oaks. Her death was reported the next day in the New York Times. She is buried next to her husband in Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Park in Westlake Village, California.
- Follies Girl (1943) as Chorine (uncredited)
- Jack London (1943) as Mamie
- Up in Arms (1944) as Nurse Joanna (uncredited)
- Seven Days Ashore (1944) as Carol Dean
- The Princess and the Pirate (1944) as Princess Margaret
- Wonder Man (1945) as Ellen Shanley
- The Kid from Brooklyn (1946) as Polly Pringle
- The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) as Marie Derry
- Out of the Blue (1947) as Deborah Tyler
- The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947) as Rosalind van Hoorn
- Smart Girls Don't Talk (1948) as Linda Vickers
- A Song Is Born (1948) as Honey Swanson
- Flaxy Martin (1949) as Flaxy Martin
- Colorado Territory (1949) as Colorado Carson
- The Girl from Jones Beach (1949) as Ruth Wilson
- White Heat (1949) as Verna Jarrett
- Red Light (1949) as Carla North
- Always Leave Them Laughing (1949) as Nancy Eagen
- Backfire (1950) as Nurse Julie Benson
- The Flame and the Arrow (1950) as Anne de Hesse
- The West Point Story (1950) as Eve Dillon
- Captain Horatio Hornblower (1951) as Lady Barbara Wellesley
- Along the Great Divide (1951) as Ann Keith
- Painting the Clouds with Sunshine (1951) as Carol
- Starlift (1951) as Virginia Mayo
- She's Working Her Way Through College (1952) as Angela Gardner / 'Hot Garters Gertie'
- The Iron Mistress (1952) as Judalon de Bornay
- She's Back on Broadway (1953) as Catherine Terris
- South Sea Woman (1953) as Ginger Martin
- Devil's Canyon (1953) as Abby Nixon
- King Richard and the Crusaders (1954) as Lady Edith Plantagenet
- The Silver Chalice (1954) as Helene
- Pearl of the South Pacific (1955) as Rita Delaine
- The Proud Ones (1956) as Sally
- Great Day in the Morning (1956) as Ann Merry Alaine
- Congo Crossing (1956) as Louise Whitman
- The Big Land (1957) as Helen Jagger
- The Story of Mankind (1957) as Cleopatra
- The Tall Stranger (1957) as Ellen
- Fort Dobbs (1958) as Celia Gray
- Westbound (1959) as Norma Putnam
- Jet Over the Atlantic (1959) as Jean Gurney
- Revolt of the Mercenaries (1961) as Lady Patrizia, Duchessa di Rivalta
- Young Fury (1964) as Sara McCoy
- Castle of Evil (1966) as Mary Theresa 'Sable' Pulaski
- Fort Utah (1967) as Linda Lee
- Fugitive Lovers (1975) as Liz Trent
- Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976) as Miss Battley
- Haunted (1977) as Michelle
- French Quarter (1978) as Countess Willie Piazza / Ida
- Remington Steele (1984, TV Series) as Virginia Mayo
- The Love Boat (1986, TV Series) as Virginia
- Evil Spirits (1990) as Janet Wilson
- Midnight Witness (1993) as Kitty
- The Man Next Door (1997) as Lucia (final film role)
- Gals and Gallons (1939) as Virginia Jones
- So You Think You're Not Guilty (1950) as Herself
- Screen Snapshots: Hollywood Night Life (1952) as Herself
- Screen Snapshots: Salute to Hollywood (1958) as Herself
- That Certain Girl (1967, Thunderbird Hotel, Las Vegas)
- Barefoot in the Park (1968 National Company)
- No, No Nanette (1972 National Company)
- 40 Carats (1975/May–June, Hayloft Dinner Theatre [Theater-in-the-Round], Lubbock, Texas)
- Good News (1977, Paper Mill Playhouse)
- Mover Over Mrs. Markham (1980 National Tour)
- Butterflies Are Free (1981 Tour)
- Follies (1995, Houston and Seattle)
|1946||Lux Radio Theatre||Wonder Man|
|1951||Lux Radio Theatre||Bright Leaf|
|1952||Lux Radio Theatre||Captain Horatio Hornblower|
|1953||Lux Radio Theatre||This Woman Is Dangerous|
|1953||Lux Radio Theatre||China Run|
|1954||Lux Radio Theatre||The Iron Mistress|
- Brown, John W. (2008). Missouri Legends: Famous people from the Show-Me State. St Louis: Reedy Press. pp. 168, 169.
- "Virginia Mayo bio". Turner Classic Movies website. 2013. Retrieved 5 October 2013.
- "About Virginia Mayo". Official Mayo website maintained by her estate. 2013. Retrieved 5 October 2013.
- "Stage Horseplay on Broadway". The Hutchinson Kansas News-Herald. February 1, 1942. p. 5. Retrieved November 28, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Banjo Eyes | IBDB: The official source for Broadway Information IBDB: The official source for Broadway Information". IBDB. Retrieved 2015-09-19.
- Variety (13 February 2018). "Variety (January 1945)". New York, NY: Variety Publishing Company – via Internet Archive.
- St. Louis Walk of Fame. "St. Louis Walk of Fame Inductees". stlouiswalkoffame.org. Retrieved 25 April 2013.
- Martin, William Patrick (15 October 2015). "Wonderfully Wordless: The 500 Most Recommended Graphic Novels and Picture Books". Rowman & Littlefield – via Google Books.
- "Fulton J. Sheen: Life is Worth Living". 9 December 2016.
- Mayo, Virginia. Virginia Mayo: The Best Years of My Life (2002), pp. 194–95.
- Severo, Richard (January 18, 2005). "Virginia Mayo, Movie Actress, Dies at 84". The New York Times.
- Wilson, Scott (19 August 2016). "Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed". McFarland – via Google Books.
- "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. 42 (2): 32. Spring 2016.
- Kirby, Walter (March 15, 1953). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 46. Retrieved June 25, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
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