“I really wanted to be a dancer, but I ended up as an actress
and I got to perform next to some of the greatest actors of our time.”
Virginia Mayo spent nearly sixty years in the public eye as one of the most successful actresses in history. She appeared in dozens of movies with some of the biggest names of Hollywood. She was called “one of the most beautiful women to ever appear on camera” and was one of the first stars honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
THE EARLY YEARS
Virginia Clara Jones was born on November 30, 1920, and was raised in St. Louis. Her family had deep roots in the Show Me State, dating back several generations. Her father was a local newspaper reporter and her aunt ran an acting school, which she began attending at the age of six. After graduating from Soldan High School in 1937, she immediately put her acting skills to the test. She landed her first professional acting and dancing jobs shortly after graduation at the St.
Louis Municipal Opera, or the Muny.
RISE TO FAME
She had a large amount of success on local stages, but she expanded her skills by traveling the country with a stage act known as Pansy the Horse. As her fame grew, she changed her name to Virginia Mayo. Around the same time, she gained the interest of the Hollywood icon Samuel Goldwyn. He signed her to a contract where she was able to work on larger budget productions with much bigger stars.
SHOW ME SUCCESS
Signing with one of the biggest studios in Hollywood opened doors for her she never imagined. Her first job under Goldwyn was in 1942 at the age of 22. It was a small part in the movie Jack London. She landed additional small acting roles when producers realized that her incredible beauty was an instant drawing card for a movie. Audiences were coming to the theater just to get a glimpse of her on screen, which led to bigger and better roles in a wide variety of productions.
She starred in a half-dozen films between 1944 and 1946 before finally hitting it big in 1947 with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Her pairing with Danny Kaye was music to the ears of studio executives who used the couple as co-stars in three additional films. At the pinnacle of her career in the late 1940s and early 1950s, she was the top money-making star for Warner Brothers. Mayo packed theaters with hits like White Heat with James Cagney, The Princess and the Pirate with Bob Hope, The Silver Chalice with Paul Newman, and The Girl from Jones Beach with an up-and-coming young actor named Ronald Reagan.
Starring roles for Mayo started drying up in the 1960s, but she continued to act as a supporting character for several more decades. Contemporary audiences
enjoyed her acting in shows like Murder She Wrote, Remington Steele, and The Love Boat. Six decades of working as an actress produced one of the most amazing resumes in Hollywood history. Virginia Mayo died in January 2005, with her legend already in the history books as one of the greatest screen icons in American history. She earned a number of awards for her acting, but her biggest claim to fame was being one of the first names to appear on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
*Her great-great-great grandfather founded East St. Louis, Illinois.
*Her stage name of Mayo came from a Vaudeville act where she performed with two men known as the “Mayo Brothers” who dressed up in a horse costume.