Virginia Lee O'Brien
April 18, 1919
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Died||January 16, 2001 (aged 81)|
|Resting place||Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California|
|Known for||roles in MGM musicals|
(m. 1942; div. 1955)
(m. 1958; div. 1966)
Harry B. White
(m. 1968; died 1996)
Virginia Lee O'Brien (April 18, 1919 – January 16, 2001) was an American actress, singer, and radio personality known for her comedic singing roles in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musicals of the 1940s.
Life and career
O'Brien primarily performed in comedic roles during the height of her formal film career. This was in part due to her intentionally humorous singing style, which involved her singing in a deadpan manner, with no facial expressions and very little movement– reportedly she stumbled upon this "gimmick" by accident during a stage show when she became virtually paralyzed with stage fright before singing a number in the Los Angeles stage production Meet the People. The audience found the performance to be hilarious and she was soon hired to repeat this performance in a number of movies beginning in 1940, for which she gained the nicknames "Frozen Face" and "Miss Ice Glacier" amongst others. When she was not singing, her acting style was just as emotive as other actresses, and she did not always employ her gimmick when singing, as evidenced by her performance in the excerpt from Show Boat in the 1946 film Till the Clouds Roll By. She made her Broadway debut in the short-lived musical Keep Off The Grass with Jimmy Durante and recorded four of the songs for Columbia Records. She also recorded several sides for Decca Records, including two of her signature songs – "The Wild, Wild West" and "Say We're Sweethearts Again."
Among the films she appeared in at MGM were The Big Store (1941) with the Marx Brothers, Lady Be Good (1941), Ship Ahoy (1942) with Eleanor Powell and Red Skelton, Thousands Cheer (in which she endured ribbing from Mickey Rooney about her singing style), Du Barry Was a Lady (with Skelton and Lucille Ball), the film version of Meet the People with Dick Powell, The Harvey Girls (with Judy Garland), and Ziegfeld Follies. After appearing once again with Red Skelton in 1947's Merton of the Movies and after a guest appearance the following year in the short, Musical Merry-Go-Round, O'Brien was suddenly dropped from her MGM film contract, and she moved into television and back to live performances.
She made two film appearances after this: Francis in the Navy (1955) and a brief appearance in the 1976 Walt Disney Studios comedy, Gus. She was among the stars in a 1972 nostalgia revue entitled The Big Show of 1928 with Allan Jones, Cass Daley, Beatrice Kay, and Sally Rand, which toured the country and played New York's Madison Square Garden. In 1984 she created a cabaret act, "Virginia O'Brien Salutes the Great MGM Musicals," which was recorded at the Masquer's Club in Hollywood, and is currently available on CD and on iTunes. She performed several times at such clubs as Hollywood's Roosevelt Hotel Cinegrill, the Vine St. Bar and Grill, and the Gardenia, as well as the Plush Room in San Francisco.
|Sky Murder||Lucille LaVonne (uncredited)|
|1941||The Big Store||Kitty|
|Lady Be Good||Lull|
|Ringside Maisie||Herself||Specialty Singer|
|1942||Panama Hattie||Flo Foster|
|Ship Ahoy||Fran Evans|
|1943||Thousands Cheer||Herself||Specialty Singer|
|Du Barry Was a Lady||Ginny|
|1944||Two Girls and a Sailor||Herself||Specialty Singer|
|Meet the People||"Woodpecker" Peg|
|Till the Clouds Roll By||Ellie Mae||in Show Boat/Specialty Singer|
|Ziegfeld Follies||Specialty Singer|
|The Harvey Girls||Alma from Ohio|
|1947||Merton of the Movies||Phyllis Montague|
|1948||Musical Merry-Go-Round||Herself||Specialty Singer|
|1955||Francis in the Navy||Nurse Kittredge|
- Wilson, Scott (August 17, 2016). "Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed". McFarland – via Google Books.
- Motion Picture and Television Magazine, November 1952, page 34, Ideal Publishers
- Morning News, January 10, 1948, Who Was Who in America (Vol. 2).
- Van Neste, Dan (January 1999). "Virginia O'Brien, The Diva of Deadpan". Classic Images. Archived from the original on 2004-08-13.
- Alistair, Rupert (2018). "Virginia O'Brien". The Name Below the Title : 65 Classic Movie Character Actors from Hollywood's Golden Age (softcover) (First ed.). Great Britain: Independently published. pp. 188–191. ISBN 978-1-7200-3837-5.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Virginia O'Brien.|
- Virginia O'Brien at BearManor Media VIRGINIA O'BRIEN: MGM'S DEADPAN DIVA (SOFTCOVER EDITION) by Robert Strom
- Virginia O'Brien at IMDb
- Virginia O'Brien at the TCM Movie Database
- Virginia O'Brien at Find a Grave
- Virginia O'Brien at AllMovie
- Virginia O'Brien – Salutes the Great MGM Musicals at ArtistDirect.com