Sunday, May 05, 2013

Happy Cinco de Virginia Mayo!

From the whimsical suggestion of Comrade Lou Lumenick, who announced on Twitter a craving to see She's Working Her Way Through College, here's a little celebration of the gorgeous Virginia Mayo. A great screen moll, she was exquisite in Technicolor musicals and delightful in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which the Siren will defend to the death no matter how many times you quote James Thurber's horrified reaction at her.



Mayo was discovered by Samuel Goldwyn when she was playing in a Billy Rose revue at the Diamond Horseshoe in New York. The revue was called, and this is the sort of thing the Siren tries to remind herself of when she gets all dreamy-eyed about the golden age of New York nightlife, Mrs. Astor's Pet Horse. Sure enough, like Mack Sennett before her, Virginia Mayo was playing in a horse act, although she was the straight woman, and not playing either end of the horse. The act itself was called "Pansy." (The Siren has no more information than that, nor does she want any.) Samuel Goldwyn swept Virginia Jones, who was performing under her brother-in-law's surname of Mayo, off to Hollywood to become the next Anna Sten.

From A. Scott Berg's definitive Goldwyn, which the Siren hopes you own:

[Goldwyn] provided her acting lessons, voice lessons, speech lessons, and dance lessons. Twice a week, Hollywood's leading charm coach, Eleanore King, instructed her in posture and appearance. A nutritionist put her on a diet. A masseuse "contoured" her face after Miss King pronounced Virginia Mayo's cheeks "too fat for screen work." Goldwyn himself called her every night at nine o'clock, inquiring if she was keeping up with her lessons and if she had brushed her hair one hundred strokes.

After six months of this regimen, Virginia Mayo had improved in every department. But one problem remained. Every time a motion picture camera turned her way, she froze.

Mayo had warmed up quite a bit by 1946. And by 1949, she was positively smokin'.

"Hotcha do, Countess?"






(To celebrate the real Cinco de Mayo, do read the wonderful Bobby Rivers on La Perla, the golden age of Mexican cinema, and the great cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa, right here.)

28 comments:

James said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jessica Pickens said...

This is great! Cinco de Virginia Mayo-very fun.
Though she may not be the best actress in the world, I always enjoy seeing Mayo in films. She looks beautiful in color and can either play the best bad girl or the brassy blond with the heart of gold.
Great post!
Cheers,
Jessica of Comet Over Hollywood

Aubyn Eli said...

I have a soft spot for Virginia Mayo. She was a glamor girl but she had such a breezy, casual air about her. Kind of a "I'll work it while I've got it" attitude. My vote for favorite Mayo performance is White Heat. Walsh might have been her best director since Colorado Territory gets high marks from most people (haven't seen it) and I like her in Captain Horatio Hornblower. Gives the movie a bit of charm and romantic heat, much more than Gregory Peck does.

Happy Cinco de Virginia Mayo! And happy birthday to Tyrone Power and Alice Faye, while we're at it.

The Siren said...

Jessica and Aubyn, Mayo is one of those players who, while not hugely gifted, is a remarkably consistent bit of happiness in every film. She was so lusciously pretty and had verve and sparkle and humor. The one I want to see now is Flaxy Martin, apparently the biggest "moll" role she ever got. The clip on Youtube looks great.

Kirk said...

Love how she yells, "Snap out of it!" to a PTDS Dana Andrews in Best Years of Our Lives. An idiotic and insensitive thing to say, perhaps, but she says with such spunk.

The Siren said...

Kirk, I'm going through her filmography and realizing she had a nice run...The Flame and the Arrow, Great Day in the Morning, Along the Great Divide...it was a good career.

Caftan Woman said...

I'd say her "Honey Swanson" compares favourably to Stanwyck's "Sugarpuss O'Shea" when Hawks reworked "Ball of Fire" to "A Song is Born". An actress can't do a better day's work than keep up with Missy.

yojimboen said...

Bobby Rivers doesn't mention Figueroa's victimization by dear old Uncle HUAC.

(I posted what follows in October last year):

The Torch is one of 20 movies Emilio Fernandez shot with Gabriel Figeroa, one of the greatest cameramen who ever lived.
(He shot seven films for Bunuel.)

Something a leader of the pack of Mexican artists (Pedro Armendarez; Dolores Del Rio, Gilbert Roland et al), Figeroa shot over 200 features, but, after 1947, none in the US – apparently HUAC didn’t care for his politics. Nonetheless directors like Welles, Ford, Don Siegel, Bunuel, Huston (twice) and others headed over the border for the opportunity to work with Figeroa.

This giant of an artist (he studied under Greg Toland) after shooting Ford’s The Fugitive, was never again permitted to work in the US. Even though Oscar® nominated for Huston’s Night of the Iguana, the State Department wouldn’t let him in. H’Wood’s loss. He died at 90 years-old, I like to think with his head held high.

yojimboen said...

I would’ve liked to see Virginia Mayo in more roles like TBYOOL; (a role she was born to play IMHO) but I have to confess an ambivalence to her work – one too many sassy, brassy broads – “can’t act, balding, sings, can dance a little” – well at least she wasn’t balding.

I did try to like her, I never concretely disliked her, but it seems I’m stuck here with one cheek on Alice Roosevelt Longworth’s sofa. An odd kind of double-take beauty, when caught right; at her peak, she could carry a movie filled with lesser talents – Working her way… and She’s Back on Broadway are classic examples, but I don’t think Goldwyn ever understood her or (TYBOOL excepted) used her to her benefit.

Strangely, and rather cruelly, I think, when I watched interviews with her in recent years, she dazzles; and proves to be a woman of infinitely more intelligence than any of the characters they let her play.

Vanwall said...

Mayo was smokin' hot and vibrant in "Colorado Territory", and as a Western, in it she's superlative, with no holds barred yet subtle when required, and as a noir, she is one of the definitive tragic characters in that category, as well as one of the best anti-heroines, period. The ending is all Mayo, and it's a mesmerizing one, indeed - plus it has Joel McCrea in a rare ambivalent role. A favorite film, and one my favorite actresses.

rcocean said...

Always loved Virginia. What a great floozie in BYOOL. Love her line to Fred: "There are Drug Stores everywhere". Even better in "White Heat". AND a great Lady. "The Princess and the Pirate" and "Captain Horatio Hornblower RN." Her career ended rather soon, but competition for leading roles was fierce back in the 50s. I've read her singing voice was dubbed but she wasn't a bad dancer.

rcocean said...

She is quite good in Westerns too. I agree about her performance in Colorado Territory.

rcocean said...

I think "Marie" always gets a bad rap. At bottom she was just a good time charlie, and if Fred had gotten a good job - she would have been a good wife and fun at parties.

Patrick Wahl said...

Liked her in Captain Horatio Hornblower. I'll always remember this quote from a different movie -

"I gave up the best years of my life, and what have you done? You flopped!"

barrylane said...

The great directors did not go to Mexico to work with Figeroa. That was a by-product of the location shoot.

yojimboen said...

@ barrylane – “The great directors did not go to Mexico to work with Figeroa. That was a by-product of the location shoot.”

I confess I don’t quite understand that comment, sir. Clearly directors did go to Mexico to work with Figueroa; and I don’t think anyone would suggest Figueroa just happened to be there on location – a ‘by-product’ – when the directors arrived.

I’ll take all the blame here and apologise for my lack of clarity: It’s a given that directors, great and small, prefer to use the actual locations wherein their stories take place (or did at least, these days it’s wherever’s cheapest), my intent was to portray the fact some directors elected to work with the blacklisted Figueroa despite the palpable risk of becoming blacklisted themselves. I hope I don’t have to point out that hundreds of artists – politically neutral artists – were blacklisted because they were ‘associates of’ – read ‘friends with’ others less neutral. (Dolores Del Rio was blacklisted simply because she was ‘friends with’ Figueroa, Freda Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Emilio Fernandez and Buñuel. The only ‘crime’ Del Rio was ever accused of was attending a screening of Eisenstein’s ¡Que viva México!)

No argument: Film productions – or sections thereof - have moved from country to country to satisfy the whims of directors, actors and producers countless times (I myself wrote a scene once for Paris, but it was shot Geneva-for-Paris. Why? Because the producer had a girlfriend in Geneva), but never to my knowledge to accommodate a cameraman. The idea is foolish on its face.

Nonethless, cameramen such as Freund, Perinal, Cardiff, Kaufman, Planer, Krasker, Morris, Young, Schüfftan, Laszlo, Lassally, De Santis, Alcott, Wexler and Alemandros were all noted for their influences on their directors re location choices – not just that corner vs this, but that country vs this. And, I’ll wager, if the location required was Mexico, most of those D.P.s would say, “Mexico? You don’t want me. Call Figueroa.”
To which the director would reply, “I did. He’s busy. You’re my 2nd choice.”

Figueroa obit NYT

barrylane said...

The directors prior to the 1960' did not get to call the shots. They may have had preferences for certain individual crafts people, but the studios made final determinations. No one went on location when studio overhead was in the mix, although admittedly Ford and others did do a little of that. Ah, well, it doesn't matter. It's just the movies.

rcocean said...

Love that scene. Love how Mayo plays slightly drunk. Same with Cagney.

rcocean said...

"I gave up the best years of my life, and what have you done? You flopped!"

Mayo has so many great lines in BYOOL. At times she's so delightfully shallow and grasping its hard for me to dislike her. She's like a little girl who just wants her ice cream. One of my favorite scenes in where she talks to Teresa Wright in the "Powder Room" about how Teresa will marry moneybags 'Woody' and live happily ever after. The look on Wright's face is priceless but Mayo sets the whole thing up with being so thoughtlessly materialistic.

X. Trapnel said...

But doesn't Mayo utter some bitter and awkward truths here? This is a film whose last line is "We'll get kicked around." That's what I like about BYOOL; nothing is resolved. Negative capability goes Hollywood.

yojimboen said...

And yet, 100 plus viewings later, at 2.25 in, I hold my breath and my heart fucking stops...

DavidEhrenstein said...

"I look great in mink."

"You look great in a shower curtain."

rcocean said...

This is a film whose last line is "We'll get kicked around."

I think that line had more meaning in 1946 - at least to vets and their wives. 'cause we know the rest of the story. The Vets did get kicked around, for a while, and then became the richest, most prosperous generation in US history.

gmoke said...

New photo 5/15/13: Ginger Rogers and Diana Dors?

The Siren said...

Ooh, got it in one, Gmoke! I have been getting into doing Cannes banners. The pictures from classic Cannes are always great.

Jeff Gee said...

Way off topic, but having once sworn I would never again willingly sit through any Douglas Sirk movie unless it had "Mecha-Godzilla" in the title, the cast of Lured -- Lucille Ball, Boris Karloff, George Sanders, among others-- compelled me to break my vow. I am further compelled to admit I enjoyed it without reservation. (Any movie where the comic relief is provided by George Zucco is by definition aces in my book). There is also an excellent bulldog. And now, back to Virginia Mayo.

Vanwall said...

My favorite poster for a Mayo film:

http://images.moviepostershop.com/colorado-territory-movie-poster-1949-1020200581.jpg

Ms. Bright said...

Would love to know what that diet consisted of!