Virginia Mayo, a glamorous Hollywood actress who appeared in nearly 50 movies, died on Jan. 17 of pneumonia and heart failure. She was 84.
Born Virginia Clara Jones, she spent much of her childhood studying dance, drama and elocution. The Missouri native got her big break when vaudevillian Andy Mayo gave her a job as a “ring mistress” in his popular act. Virginia adopted his surname and traveled on the vaudeville circuit for several years before landing a part in the 1941 Broadway musical, “Banjo Eyes.”
After viewing her New York debut, film producer Samuel Goldwyn signed Mayo to a studio contract and moved her to Hollywood. Over the next decade, she appeared in numerous films, such as “The Princess and the Pirate” with Bob Hope, “The Best Years of Our Lives” with Dana Andrews, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” with Danny Kaye, “White Heat” with James Cagney, “The Girl From Jones Beach” with Ronald Reagan and “Captain Horatio Hornblower” with Gregory Peck.
Her stunning appearance appealed to millions of moviegoers, including the sultan of Morocco who once penned a fan letter to Mayo and described her as “tangible proof of the existence of God.” Mayo’s beauty also led to typecasting and kept her from landing any substantial, dramatic parts during the 1960s. Instead, she was given eye candy roles in B-movies.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Mayo guest starred on the TV shows “Night Gallery,” “Police Story,” “Murder, She Wrote” and “Remington Steele.” Her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is located at 1751 Vine Street. She was also inducted into the St. Louis Hall of Fame.
On the set of her 1943 debut film, “Jack London,” Mayo met actor Michael O’Shea. “He just sat there watching me, and then he walked right up and kissed me,” Mayo once said. The couple wed in 1947 and had a daughter, Catherine Mary. O’Shea died in 1973.
In recent years, Mayo lived a quiet existence. She refused to watch her old films and eventually donated her entire collection of Hollywood memorabilia to the Thousand Oaks Library in southern California.