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‘Mitty’s’ Mayo dies at 84

Famed film, stage star got her start in vaudeville

Virginia Mayo, the glamorous blond beauty who was one of the most popular film stars of the 1940s and 50s, died Monday of pneumonia in Thousand Oaks. She was 84.

Mayo was in more than 50 films and fared equally well in comedies, dramas and musicals.

Born Virginia Clara Jones, St. Louis native had her heart set on being a thesp by age 6. Her first major stage role came at the St. Louis Municipal Opera.

She had to change her name when she replaced an actress named Mayo in a vaudeville comedy act and bookers didn’t want to change the program. The act became part of 1941 Broadway show “Banjo Eyes,” starring Eddie Cantor, in 1941, and later played at Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe nightclub. Mogul Sam Goldwyn spotted her there and signed her to a contract at once.

Her film career took off when she dazzled auds in 1944 Bob Hope laffer “The Princess and the Pirate.”

Popular on Variety

She later went on to star opposite Danny Kaye in several Goldwyn tuners, including “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” “The Kid From Brooklyn,” “Wonder Man” and “A Song Is Born.”

She played Dana Andrews’ wayward wife in post-WWII drama “The Best Years of Our Lives,” which snared seven Oscars. Variety said she did “a capital job as the cheating looker.” She was Gregory Peck’s love interest in naval adventure “Captain Horatio Hornblower” and starred opposite James Cagney in gangster classic “White Heat.”

In comedy, she scored with “The Princess and the Pirate” and as a burlesque queen (opposite Ronald Reagan) in “She’s Working Her Way Through College.”

She also guested on TV series such as “Murder, She Wrote,” “The Love Boat,” “Night Gallery,” “Police Story” and “Remington Steele.” Legit credits included “No No Nanette,” “Barefoot in the Park,” “Forty Carats” and “Butterflies Are Free.”

In 1947 she married thesp Michael O’Shea; he died in 1973. They had one daughter, who survives. Mayo also is survived by her son-in-law and three grandsons.

Funeral services are private. Memorial donations may be made to the St. Louis Municipal Opera.