January 17, 2005


Actress Virginia Mayo Dies
: The beautiful blonde who rose to movie stardom in the 1940s in comedies opposite Bob Hope and Danny Kaye was 84. (Dennis McLellan, January 17, 2005, LA Times)

Virginia Mayo, the beautiful blond who rose to movie stardom in the 1940s in comedies opposite Bob Hope and Danny Kaye and had memorable dramatic turns with James Cagney in "White Heat" and Dana Andrews in "The Best Years of Our Lives," died today. She was 84.

Mayo died of pneumonia and heart failure after a long illness in a nursing home near her home in Thousand Oaks, said family friend Alex Ben Block.

A former vaudevillian who came under the wing of producer Samuel Goldwyn, Mayo launched her movie career with a small part in the 1943 movie "Jack London," starring her future husband, Michael O'Shea. She also received billing as a Goldwyn Girl in "Up in Arms," a 1944 comedy starring Kaye and Dinah Shore.

That same year, Goldwyn promoted Mayo to leading lady, casting her as Princess Margaret in "The Princess and the Pirate," an adventure comedy co-starring Hope.

Over the next few years, she teamed with Kaye in "The Kid From Brooklyn," "A Song Is Born" and, most notably, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty."

As a young star known for her ash-blond hair, peaches-and-cream complexion, green eyes and curvaceous figure, Mayo caught the fancy of the Sultan of Morocco, who wrote her a fan letter in which he proclaimed her to be "tangible proof of the existence of God."

But Goldwyn cast Mayo against her dream-girl-next-door image in "The Best Years of Our Lives." As war veteran Andrews' callous, two-timing wife in the Oscar-winning 1946 film, Mayo was widely praised for her first major dramatic role.

Three years later, after moving to Warner Bros., Mayo gave one of her best-remembered performances in "White Heat," director Raoul Walsh's crime melodrama in which Mayo played the unscrupulous wife of Cagney, a mentally disturbed gang boss who alternately cuddles and slaps her.

"Jimmy was the master actor, the most dynamic star the screen ever had," Mayo told the Los Angeles Times in 1981. "His acting was so real that I was really scared half the time we were on the set."

During the 1940s and `50s, Mayo appeared in more than 40 films, including "The Girl From Jones Beach" with Ronald Reagan; "Captain Horatio Hornblower" with Gregory Peck; "The Silver Chalice" with Paul Newman; "The Flame and the Arrow" with Burt Lancaster; "Along the Great Divide" with Kirk Douglas and "Colorado Territory" with Joel McCrea.

It's always a good time to check out Hornblower again.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 17, 2005 8:01 PM
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