Virginia Clara Jones was born on November 30, 1920 in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of a newspaper reporter and his wife. The family had a rich heritage in the St. Louis area: her great-great-great-grandfather served in the American Revolution and later founded the city of East Saint Louis, Illinois, located right across the Mississippi River from its namesake. Virginia was interested in show business from an early age. Her aunt operated a dance studio and Virginia began taking lessons at the age of six. After graduating from high school in 1937, she became a member of the St. Louis Municipal Opera before she was signed to a contract by Samuel Goldwyn after being spotted by an MGM talent scout during a Broadway revue. David O. Selznick gave her a screen test, but decided she wouldn’t fit into films. Goldwyn, however, believed that her talent as an actress was there and cast her in a small role in 1943’s Jack London (1943). She later had a walk-on part in Follies Girl (1943) that same year. Believing there was more to her than her obvious ravishing beauty, producers thought it was time to give her bigger and better roles. In 1944 she was cast as Princess Margaret in The Princess and the Pirate (1944), with Bob Hope and a year later appeared as Ellen Shavley in Wonder Man (1945). Her popularity increasing with every appearance, Virginia was cast in two more films in 1946, The Kid from Brooklyn (1946), with Danny Kaye, and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), with Dana Andrews, and received good notices as Andrews’ avaricious, unfaithful wife. Her roles may have been coming in slow, but with each one her popularity with audiences rose. She finally struck paydirt in 1947 with a plum assignment in the well-received The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947) as Rosalind van Hoorn. That same year she married Michael O’Shea and would remain with him until his death in 1973 (the union produced a daughter, Mary Catherine, in 1953). She got some of the best reviews of her career in James Cagney’s return to the gangster genre, White Heat (1949), as Verna, the scheming, cheating wife of homicidal killer Cody Jarrett (Cagney). The striking beauty had still more plum roles in the 1950s. Parts in Backfire (1950), She’s Working Her Way Through College (1952) and South Sea Woman (1953) all showed she was still a force to be reckoned with. As the decade ended, Virginia’s career began to slow down. She had four roles in the 1960s and four more in the following decade. Her last role was as Janet Wilson in 1990’s Evil Spirits (1990). She died on January 17, 2005.
Take a look at these glamorous photos to see the beauty of Virginia Mayo in the 1940s and early 1950s.