Virginia Mayo was an actress and dancer. She started her film career as a chorus girl and comic foil before becoming an accomplished actress. As Warner Brothers’ biggest box-office money-maker in the late 1940s, she appeared in a series of comedy films with Danny Kaye.
Broadway and Hollywood
Virginia Clara Jones was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on November 30, 1920, to a newspaper reporter and his wife. She had a fascination with show business since she was a child. Virginia began taking dancing lessons at the age of six from her aunt, who ran a dance studio. She joined the St. Louis Municipal Opera after graduating from high school in 1937.
Virginia Mayo made her Broadway debut in 1941 with Eddie Cantor in Banjo Eyes. Samuel Goldwyn, a movie magnate, noticed her skills and startling beauty and signed her to an acting contract with his business.
Mayo’s first lead role was in The Princess and the Pirate (1944), a Goldwyn satire of pirate flicks, opposite to comedian Bob Hope. The following year, she starred in the musical ‘Wonder Man (1945),’ a smash hit. Mayo accepted the supporting role of unpleasant gold-digger Marie Derry in William Wyler’s drama The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) for Goldwyn, defying stereotypes. Critics praised her performance, and the picture became the highest-grossing film in the United States.
Mayo starred in many of the highest-grossing films of the 1950s, including ‘Backfire’, ‘The Flame and the Arrow’, ‘The West Point Story’, ‘The Iron Mistress’, ‘Pearl of the South Pacific, and many others.
She and her husband made a pilot for a TV series McGarry and His Mouse (1960), but it was not picked up. In addition, she guest-starred on shows such as ‘Burke’s Law’, ‘Daktari’, and ‘The Outsider’. She also performed on stage in such shows as ‘That Certain Girl (1967)’ and ‘Barefoot in the Park (1968).
Mayo’s career began to decline in the late 1950s, and she had only five roles in the 1960s and four more in the following decade. Lucia was in her last role in 1997’s ‘The Man Next Door. She acted on stage throughout the rest of her career, usually in dinner theatre and touring productions. She published a children’s book in 1993, called Don’t Forget Me, Santa Claus, through the Barrons Juveniles Publishers.
In 1947, Virginia Mayo married actor Michael O’Shea, and they were married until he died in 1973. Mary Catherine O’Shea was the couple’s only child. For several decades, the family lived in Thousand Oaks, California. In later years, she developed a passion for painting and devoted much of her time to her three grandchildren
Virginia Mayo’s death
Mayo died of pneumonia and congestive heart failure at a Thousand Oaks nursing home on January 17, 2005. She was 84 years old. The New York Times reported her death the next day.
Below are some glamorous photos of Virginia Mayo when she was young.