She was a knockout in her day. And her onscreen sex appeal took her career to many interesting places.
Virginia Mayo, born Virginia Jones, costarred with Bob Hope in the 1944 comedy, The Princess and the Pirate. She was in her early Twenties at the time, a relatively new Sam Goldwyn hire with a vaudeville past — part of a ‘performing horse act’ dreamed up by the Mayo Brothers; hence her show biz surname — and a peaches and cream complexion in her present.
She had a supporting role in Goldwyn’s 1946 screen masterpiece, The Best Years of Our Lives. She was Paul Newman’s first onscreen leading lady in Warner Brother’s 1954 New Testament drama, The Silver Chalice, in which Mayo was top-billed opposite Jack Palance (an actor she disliked; she found him “weird.”)
No question that our favorite Mayo role is that of the two-timing slut married to the excessively mother-loving gangster (James Cagney) in White Heat. Mayo’s portrayal of the double-crossing wife — setting in motion the series of events climaxing with Cagney’s explosive self immolation ‘on top of the world’ — is hard to forget.
In one key scene, Mayo’s character, ‘Verna Jarrett,’ kisses her lover (gangster film regular Steve Cochran) while chewing gum. No wonder she drove Cagney’s character nuts. (Mayo years later said that Cagney was the costar she most admired.)
Mayo died at age 84 in January 2005, in Thousand Oaks, California. We kinda hope she exited the stage chewing gum. Ok, on to our Quiz. As usual, answers tomorrow.
1) Question: For all of her renowned beauty, Mayo was privately embarrassed by what she considered to be her serious physical flaw. What was it? a) She was cross-eyed; b) She had buck teeth; c) Her receding hairline forced her to wear wigs; or d) None of the above. Mayo was perfect in every way.
2) Question: Mayo’s career may have been shortened by her reputation as a party girl and many offscreen hijinks including multiple marriages. a) True; or b) False?
3) Question: Of her key leading men, Mayo disliked Cagney and Alan Ladd, and most enjoyed working with Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster. a) True; or b) False.
4) Question: Which one of the following Mayo movies was her personal favorite? a) 1944’s Up In Arms with Danny Kaye; b) as Lady Barbara in 1951’s Captain Horatio Hornblower; c) 1950’s The Flame and the Arrow, directed by Jacques Tourneur; or d) 1952’s She’s Working Her Way Through College.
5) Question: May’s career was dogged by her inner doubts about exactly how good an actress she really was. a) True; or b) False.