WEIRDLAND: Virginia Mayo: The Best Years of Her Life

Friday, August 01, 2014

Virginia Mayo: The Best Years of Her Life

VIRGINIA MAYO: Sam Goldwyn gave me a five-year contract. There was very little money offered, but "little money" was only offered to every new actor or actress back then, when they were just starting out. I got $100 a week from the Goldwyn studios, but that was OK, it was fine. I knew I had to pay my dues in this industry and work hard if I wanted fame and fortune. Don't forget, it was the early 1940's. I had Sam Goldwyn hanging around my neck like that dead albatross in "The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner." Maybe he had some dumb idea all of this harassment would toughen me up. The Goldwyns lived in a huge mansion in Beverly Hills, pretty opulent but not nearly as opulent as Jack Warner's. The Goldwyns, by all Hollywood standards, were pretty conservative. They'd come from very poor backgrounds and had lived through the Depression, so they were careful with money even if they did have servants and a swimming pool.

I was twenty-six when [Michael O'Shea and I] we married, and really hadn't dated much. Frankly I just didn't much like most men. They had to be perfect for me to have an interest. I remember Gary Cooper used to follow me around in his big, expensive car in those enormous outdoor studio areas Goldwyn had built, and I would turn and glare at him and wonder "what on earth is he doing that for?" I'd just keep on walking and he'd keep on driving, just behind me. I can still hear the low rumble of his big automobile's engine as he openly stalked me from that magnificent convertible car of his. Males had to have something really very special going for them before I'd even consider liking them.

Mike [O'Shea] had a very bad habit of telling directors that they could not even "direct traffic on a one way street," which obviously never set too well with those guys. Mike could be kind of abrasive to movie folk! I mean he liked acting, but in his heart I knew he'd always wanted to be a cop. The FBI people promised in the beginning that Mike, when they began to make arrests, would never have to testify. He just trusted them, and when later on he had to in fact testify, he felt so terribly betrayed. He had to get up in front of those dangerous men and be pointed out as "the fink." He couldn't believe it. It all just broke Mike, just completely broke him. Everyone turned against him. All his so-called Hollywood friends.

It was after "Wonder Man," that I met a man who would become a dear friend for all the rest of my life, and his life too, right up until he died. His name was Steve Cochran and I loved him (like a brother). He was tall, and in spite of the fact that he photographed as if he was a really big man, he wasn't. Steve was a man with a slight frame, had unusually dark, deeply smoldering eyes, thick black eyebrows, black hair, and was often cast as a gangster or a rough, hard man. Steve was none of those things in real life. He was polite and sensitive, and very kind. But indeed, he was extremely sexy and women just couldn't get enough of him. I know there's been speculation over the years that I had an affair with Steve Cochran, but I didn't.

And then came that great classic, "The Best Years of our Lives." I am inordinately proud of that film and still feel a great sense of pride when I see it on TV. This film was about four military men returning from World War II. A haunting, memorable movie, it has never gone out of style, and while my part, Marie, was that of an insensitive, flighty air-headed wife to Dana Andrews' character, it was one of the best parts I ever had. I recall John Huston telling me I should have gotten an Oscar for my role playing Dana Andrews' wife. At the American Cinema Foundation Awards in 1988, Bette Davis did say that I should have won an Oscar for my performance in The Best Years of Our Lives. I so well remember when I eventually went to Warner Brothers , I was immediately able to get the famous director Raoul Walsh on my side. That man wanted to put me in every movie he ever made! He loved me!

He tested me for "Colorado Territory" (with Joel McCrea). The Golden Years of Hollywood are over for good. I'd love to see those old types of films come back, the crazy, beautiful wonderful musical comedies, but they won't... those wonderful old films, they simply lifted people's hearts. It's a shame. A terrible, hopeless shame. Back then, people could go home from the movies with good feelings and not troubled feelings. The films always ended happily and the singing and dancing in those great old films left people feeling happy, humming new tunes. Today it seems we have begun to enjoy pain, misery and violence as entertainment. I am filled with regret over this. How did it happen? When did it get so bad?

I had the chance to work with the gentle and sweet Alan Ladd in a couple of films, and we had wonderful time acting together. I really loved that man. There wasn't anyone nicer in Hollywood and we became good friends. The rumor is that he killed himself, and I've always worried about the fact that maybe if I'd just called him in Palm Springs where he lived, maybe if I'd just done that, he wouldn't have shot himself. I'll never know, but it will haunt me.

Let's talk here about George Raft. I appeared in a movie called "Red Light" with this so-called actor. Honestly, he was awful. He could not act his way out of a paper sack and I have no idea why he was ever even hired for any movie anywhere. (I've managed to block out everything about "Red Light," probably because I had to act opposite that non-actor.) I know Mae West thought he was the cat's pajamas and they had a tumultuous affair, although it's hard for me to imagine that "actor" being tumultuous about anything. Oh, he was just terrible!

And after "Red Light" came one of my favorites, "White Heat". Jimmy Cagney remains, at least to my view, one of the most talented men the world has ever had. I have to say I'm really proud of my films. Nearly all of them. I think they were wonderful and I never, ever get bored seeing them. We had such good lines to say all the time. We didn't have to curse and show people having sex. Do you think Cagney needed to use profanities to get his message across? No way! He could scare people without using those terrible words. Bogart and Cochran and all the great movie gangsters could make us fearful without uttering one single filthy word. The shock system came much later.

We didn't want to shock - we wanted to entertain and I know we did. I have been so fortunate in my life to meet so many well-known people, and not all were in show business. I've met scientists and inventors, authors, great painters and sculptors. Show business has given much to me, and part of it is that I've been able to be in the vicinity of a lot of people who have shaped the thinking of a lot of other people. The list of famous and interesting people I've met and known over the years is so long.

I know I shouldn't even be making this list, but here are some: Bette Davis. What a snob! She acted like she was a queen or something. Joan Crawford. I really didn't know her but I was always frankly sort of put off by those huge lips and huger shoulders. I guess those things became her trademark, but it seemed to be too stylized for me. Vera Ellen, my dear, darling friend. She was at Mike's and my wedding. And, she could dance like no other woman alive. Mamie Van Doren. Very sexy and funny and talented. But Jayne Mansfield was a freak and that's all I have to say about that. Henry Fonda. Didn't like him. Sorry, but I thought he was a jerk. Vincent Price was a great man, author, cook, and art collector. The wonderful Ann Miller. Jane Powell. Martha Raye. Dana Andrews was dear to me. Myrna Loy, oh boy, so beautiful. Cathy O'Donnell was lovely and tender. Robert Mitchum, the perfect bad boy! Lucille Ball—I knew her vaguely. Never did like that awful "I Love Lucy" TV show. Sorry America! Jean Peters. Well, she got the prize, didn't she? Howard Hughes! Mickey Rooney (Don't ask). Guy Madison. Dear man. Rosalind Russell, a woman I never really knew, but I did admire her acting abilities. John Wayne —I really didn't care much for him. Van Heflin, good actor. George Sanders—tragic death. Married Zsa Zsa Gabor. Cary Grant—a rue! Wonderful leading man. Ann Sheridan. Billie Burke was just wonderful. Funny lady. Loretta Young—how beautiful and smart. Shelley Winters—that voice! Margaret Sullavan. She was so melodramatic and her speaking voice always sounded as if she was about to burst into tears! Hammy. Yvonne De Carlo—good actress but kind of weird! Franchot Tone. I had a friend who used to date him. He was married a whole lot of times! Olivia de Havilland—glorious actress. Irene Dunne, just the best. Wonderful in "Life with Father." Walter Brennan—that man won three Oscars with Sam Goldwyn. Walter Pidgeon. Such a sweet nice man and of course treated me with such kindness when I got so sick on that Howard Hughes plane going to New York. Cornel Wilde. Gorgeous man. Gregory Peck, -who doesn't love that classy guy?-. Lee Remick, a darling woman. Died way too young. Debbie Reynolds—she's marvelous.

Barbara Stanwyck? Well, I hate her. She was always after all her leading men and even went after Mike when they worked in "The Lady of Burlesque." A very critical actress. Errol Flynn was introduced to me in my dressing room one time. Alice Faye was a wonderful lady, married to Phil Harris. The beautiful, gracious Maureen O'Hara. Betty Garrett, one of my all time favorites! Gloria Grahame. Didn't ever seem to move her upper lip much, but was very funny in Oklahoma with my beloved friend Gene Nelson, a man I miss so much. What a dancer. Kathryn Grayson—so beautiful, and that voice! Patricia Neal, a fabulous woman. I admire her enormously. Mercedes McCambridge. She could play the most ominous roles! Spencer Tracy, one of the world's greatest actors, but he could be a drunken thug. Glenn Ford. Kind of a lech. Keeps pictures of himself all over his house. John Garfield. Wasn't he wonderful? Robert Taylor—the world's heart throb. Ruth Roman, a lovely woman, great actress. Alexis Smith, Kim Novak. Jimmy Stewart—the best. Just the best. Claire Trevor. Oh, what a great actress and wonderful lady. Gloria De Haven. She worked hard, was a good actress, but never quite made herself into a big star. Sterling Hayden was kind of hard to categorize. Deep voice. A real rebel. Lizabeth Scott. Mary Astor. Humphrey Bogart. Elizabeth Taylor. Lauren Bacall is wonderful too. -"Virginia Mayo: The Best Years of My Life" (2002) by Virginia Mayo and L.C. Van Savage

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