Virginia Mayo was one of the most popular and glamorous actresses of the 1940s and 1950s, starring in musicals, comedies, westerns, and dramas with some of the biggest names in Hollywood. She was known for her honey blonde hair, flawless face, and dazzling smile, which made her ideal for the Technicolor films of the era. She was also a talented dancer and singer, who began her career on Broadway and in vaudeville. But how did Virginia Mayo die, and what were the circumstances of her death?
Early Life and Career
Virginia Mayo was born Virginia Clara Jones on November 30, 1920, in St. Louis, Missouri. Her father was a newspaper reporter and her mother was a former actress. She had a passion for dancing from an early age, and attended an acting school run by her aunt. She also had several dancing instructors who helped her hone her skills.
She made her professional debut at the age of 17, as a chorus girl at the St. Louis Municipal Opera Theatre. She then joined a vaudeville act called “Morton and Mayo”, where she met performer Andy Mayo, who gave her the stage name Virginia Mayo. They toured the country for three years, performing with a horse suit named “Pansy”.
In 1941, Mayo got her big break when she appeared on Broadway with Eddie Cantor in Banjo Eyes. She caught the attention of movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn, who signed her to a contract with his company. He loaned her out to other studios for various roles, until she landed her first starring role opposite Bob Hope in The Princess and the Pirate (1944), a spoof of pirate movies.
Rise to Stardom
Mayo’s career took off after The Princess and the Pirate, as she became one of the most sought-after actresses in Hollywood. She made five films with Danny Kaye, including Wonder Man (1945), The Kid from Brooklyn (1946), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), A Song Is Born (1948), and On the Riviera (1951). She also signed a contract with Warner Bros., where she became one of their biggest stars.
She showed her versatility by playing different types of roles, from romantic comedies to serious dramas. She co-starred with James Cagney in White Heat (1949), one of the most acclaimed gangster films of all time, where she played his treacherous wife. She also starred opposite Gregory Peck in Captain Horatio Hornblower (1951), a swashbuckling adventure based on the novels by C.S. Forester.
She also appeared in two classic films that won Oscars for Best Picture: The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), where she played the sluttish girlfriend of a returning World War II veteran; and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), where she played the dream girl of a timid daydreamer.
She also worked with Ronald Reagan in two films: The Girl from Jones Beach (1949), a romantic comedy; and She’s Working Her Way Through College (1952), a musical.
Decline and Retirement
Mayo’s career began to decline in the late 1950s, as musicals and Technicolor films lost their popularity. She also faced competition from younger actresses like Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn. She tried to reinvent herself by taking on more dramatic roles, such as playing Lorna Doone in The Flame and the Arrow (1950), a historical adventure; and playing an alcoholic singer in Great Day in the Morning (1956), a western.
However, she failed to recapture her former glory, and her roles became fewer and less significant. She also suffered from personal problems, such as the death of her husband Michael O’Shea in 1973, whom she had married in 1947 and had a daughter with. She also struggled with alcoholism and depression.
She retired from acting in 1997, after appearing in a few low-budget films and television shows. She spent her last years in a nursing home in Thousand Oaks, California, where she died of pneumonia and heart failure on January 17, 2005. She was 84 years old.
Legacy and Influence
Virginia Mayo was one of the most beautiful and talented actresses of her generation, who entertained millions of fans with her charm, grace, and versatility. She left behind a legacy of over 50 films, many of which are considered classics today. She also influenced many other actresses who followed her footsteps, such as Debbie Reynolds, Doris Day, Sandra Dee, and Goldie Hawn.
She received several honors for her contribution to cinema, such as a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; an award from the National Board of Review; and an honorary doctorate from St. Louis University. She was also inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame and the Missouri Walk of Fame.
She was also remembered by her friends and co-stars, who praised her as a kind, generous, and professional person. Raoul Walsh, who directed her in three films, said: “She was beautiful in pictures, but she was even more beautiful in person. I guess maybe it was because she was so good inside.”
According to The Celebrity Deaths, Virginia Mayo’s cause of death was pneumonia and complications of congestive heart failure She died peacefully in her sleep, surrounded by her loved ones. She was buried at Valley Oaks Memorial Park in Westlake Village, California