Virginia Mayo was born on November 30, 1920 in in St. Louis, Missouri to Luke and Martha Henrietta Jones. 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. From an early age Mayo was interested in show business and at the age of six she began taking lessons at her aunt’s dance studio. She appeared in the St. Louis Municipal Opera chorus and then appeared with six other girls at an act at the Jefferson Hotel, where she was recruited by vaudeville performer Andy Mayo to appear in his act (as ringmaster for two men in a horse suit), taking his surname as her stage name. She appeared in vaudeville for three years in the act, appearing with Eddie Cantor on Broadway in 1941’s Banjo Eyes. 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 against using her in films.
Goldwyn though believed that Mayo had talent as an actress and cast her in a small role in “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 began 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).
With 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 receiving good reviews in both. After a starring role in the well-received “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (1947) Mayo landed the role of Verna, the scheming, cheating wife of homicidal killer Cody Jarrett (James Cagney) in “White Heat” (1949). Throughout the 1950’s, Mayo’s popularity continued with roles in “The West Point Story” (1950), “Parts in Backfire “(1950), “She’s Working Her Way Through College” (1952), “South Sea Woman” (1953), “Pearl of the South Pacific” (1955), “The Big Land” (1957), and “Fort Dobbs” (1958) among others. By the start of the 60s, her career had slowed, but she had occasional film appearances in the following decades, her last being in “The Man Next Door” in 1997.
When her Hollywood film career began to wane, Mayo turned to television, appearing in many made for television movies and series such as; “Wagon Train”, “The Loretta Young Show”, “McGarry and His Mouse”, “Rod Serling’s Night Gallery”, “Police Story”, “Santa Barbara”, “Murder, She Wrote”, “Remington Steele”, and “The Love Boat”.
Mayo and her husband, actor Michael O’Shea also co-starred in such stage productions as “Tunnel of Love”, “Fiorello”, and “George Washington Slept Here”. She appeared in her own right as well in stage and musical theater productions.
Virginia Mayo wed Michael O’Shea in 1947, and remained married to him until he died in 1973. They had one child, Mary Catherine O’Shea, born in 1953.
Virginia Mayo died at the age of 84 on January 17, 2005 of congestive heart failure in Los Angeles.
Virginia Mayo has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1751 Vine. In 1996 she received a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.