January 18, 2005

1940s Film Star Virginia Mayo Dies at 84

LOS ANGELES - Virginia Mayo, the stunning blonde actress who brought beauty and romance to films of the 1940s and 1950s with such co-stars as James Cagney, Bob Hope, Gregory Peck, Danny Kaye and Ronald Reagan, died Monday at a nursing home in suburban Thousand Oaks. She was 84.

Mayo had been in declining health since battling pneumonia about a year ago, her daughter, Mary Johnston, told The Associated Press.

Her honey blonde hair and creamy, flawless face made Mayo ideal for the Technicolor musicals, westerns and adventures that were the rage in Hollywood in the 1940s and '50s.

"I really wanted to be a dancer, but I ended up as an actress, and I got to perform next to some of the greatest actors of our time," she recalled in 2001.

Starting as a chorus girl, she quickly advanced to co-star status, appearing opposite Hope in "The Princess and the Pirate" in 1944. She went on to make five films with Kaye before signing a contract with Warner Bros., where she became one of the studio's biggest stars.

When she signed the contract, Warner Bros. issued an effusive press release that concluded: "At 115 pounds she is potentially as valuable as an acre of land in downtown Los Angeles — and at least several times more desirable."

Mayo did indeed become a valuable property for Warner Bros., appearing in five movies in 1949 alone. She also starred opposite Reagan in the romantic comedy "The Girl from Jones Beach" that year and again in the 1952 musical "She's Working Her Way Through College."

"People always want to hear who was her favorite kisser and stories like that, but those aren't the most important memories to me," her daughter said. "The memories that mean the most to me are that it seems like wherever you were, whoever you were, she always made everything fun for you."

Her mother would acknowledge, however, that it was Peck who delivered the best screen kiss, her daughter added with a chuckle.

She made three films with the legendary director Raoul Walsh. They were "Captain Horatio Hornblower," "Colorado Territory" and "White Heat."

"She was beautiful in pictures, but she was even more beautiful in person," said Mary Walsh, Raoul Walsh's wife and a longtime friend of Mayo. "I guess maybe it was because she was so good inside."

Mayo distinguished herself in two classic movies. In the 1946 Oscar-winner "The Best Years of Our Lives," she played the fickle wife of a returning World War II veteran. In "White Heat" in 1949 she was the neglected wife of a killer.

Born Virginia Clara Jones in St. Louis on Nov. 30, 1920, Mayo got her show biz start as a child, booked to appear in local plays and other events by an aunt who ran a talent studio. She adopted the last name of Andy Mayo, the boss of a vaudeville act where she worked when she was young.

Mayo's first assignment in Hollywood was a small role in "Jack London" (1943), a biography of the author starring Michael O'Shea. In 1956 she recalled how they met on the set: "He just sat there watching me, and then he walked right up and kissed me."

They married in 1947.

Mayo never remarried after O'Shea's death in 1973. She is survived by her daughter and three grandchildren.

'All My Children' Star Ruth Warrick Dies

NEW YORK - Ruth Warrick, the darling of the daytime soap opera "All My Children" who launched her career in Orson Welles' classic "Citizen Kane," has died, ABC-TV said Monday. She was 88.

Warrick died at her New York home Saturday of complications from pneumonia, said ABC.

In "All My Children," which debuted in 1970, Warrick played Phoebe Tyler Wallingford, the grande dame of the fictitious affluent town of Pine Valley. She portrayed the meddlesome and over-the-top personality so believably that her fans often had trouble distinguishing between the stylish actress and her fictitious, equally sophisticated character.

Twice nominated for an Emmy for the role, Warrick often talked about how Phoebe Tyler had become an integral part of her life.

The producer Jorn Winther once said of the actress: "Obviously Ruth and Phoebe are separate and unique, yet they have much in common. All I can say with confidence is that they are both great ladies and that I love them."

Warrick received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for the role. She made her final appearance less than two weeks ago to commemorate the show's 35th anniversary.

Susan Lucci, who plays Erica Kane on "All My Children," said Warrick was her first mentor.

"Over the years she not only shared with me her talent and grace, but she did so with the entire country," Lucci said in the ABC statement.

Born and raised in St. Joseph, Mo., Warrick left for New York after graduating from the University of Kansas City. Her interest in acting led her to the Mercury Theater troupe, headed by Welles.

She made her Hollywood debut in 1941 in "Citizen Kane" as Emily Norton Kane. Welles, who co-wrote, directed and starred in the film, hand-picked her for the role of his wife because he said there were no "ladies in Hollywood" who fit the bill.

In 1991, Warrick was honored with a caricature on the wall of the famous New York restaurant Sardi's in honor of the 50th anniversary of her performance in the film.

Warrick later appeared in other movies, including "The Corsican Brothers," with Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and "The Great Bank Robbery."

But television turned out to be her medium. Before landing the role of Phoebe Tyler, Warrick had the starring role in the series "Father of the Bride" and received an Emmy nomination for her role as Hannah Cord in the long-running "Peyton Place." She also appeared in two other soap operas: "As the World Turns," from 1956-60, and "The Guiding Light," from 1953-54.

Warrick seemed to find her niche in the role of Phoebe Tyler. She often said it was Welles who was indirectly responsible for the character's development.

In her autobiography "The Confessions of Phoebe Tyler," Warrick wrote that Kane's wife almost seemed to mature into the soap opera character.

"Since Emily's character owes much to the compelling hand of Orson Welles, so, indirectly, must Phoebe's," she wrote.

Warrick also had a strong commitment to the arts in education. She taught at Julia Richman High School in New York as part of former President Carter's City in Schools program and was a dropout prevention consultant for the Labor Department under former President Kennedy and for former President Johnson's Job Training Corps.

She is survived by three children, a grandson and six great-grandchildren.

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