For The Love Of Mike—Virginia Mayo
Sooner or later in every interview, Mike and I are asked why we don’t go out oftener than we do. That’s a natural enough question, I suppose. We almost never go to parties, nightclubs, or any of the places that make up the “nightlife” of Hollywood.
Why not? The question never fails to fluster me. I hate to run the risk of sounding prudish or disapproving when actually I am neither of these things.
My husband, however, is rarely bothered by questions like that. He has a direct Irish way of putting things that makes our attitude sound as unpretentious as it really is.
“Virginia and I,” he says, “don’t go for big affairs. In fact, we have more fun doing nothing together than many married couples at a ball.”
That’s true. Especially the part about the togetherness of our life. During the five years of our marriage, Mike and I have seldom been apart. We have lived simply, and I doubt if anyone would consider our daily existence glamorous and exciting.
It’s amazing how much a woman can come to depend upon the mere presence of the man she loves. I know that I am never really serene or happy unless Mike is there. Even on the nights when the baseball games come on television and his whole attention is absorbed in the play, I feel completely at peace. All I need to do is look up from the book I’m reading and see Mike enjoying the game, then I am happy, too.
We used to go out more than we do. We still go to nightclubs when any of our favorite entertainers come to town. But both Mike and I spent too many years working in nightclubs to prefer them to open sky and fresh air. Cocktail parties are awkward for us because we don’t drink, and that often makes other people feel uncomfortable.
Even before we were married, Mike and I did a relatively small amount of hand holding in restaurants. Our first dates were spent in the out-of-doors. Almost every week-end, we would pack a picnic basket and drive to Mount Wilson or the Mojave Desert. We went to the zoo, to the baseball games, and, occasionally, to the ballet in Hollywood Bowl.
There couldn’t possibly have been a more romantic setting for courtship than the moonlight rides we used to take through the rolling hills behind Monte Montana’s ranch, where Mike stabled his horses.
Mike is fond of telling people that the reason he fell in love with me was my mother’s home cooking. There must be some truth in that; he had dinner at our place every night for months before our marriage. But the first inkling I had of my true feelings for Mike occurred when I became aware of his genuine fondness for animals. He cared for his horses with a gentleness and completely personal affection that set him apart from other men. From childhood, I have known that I could never love a man who was cruel or insensitive to animals.
I will always remember the day, only a few months after we started going together, when Dinky, my Boston bull pup, ate some poison on the lot. His death was a great loss to me, and I felt suddenly all alone until Mike talked to me. He was so sincere and sweet that I knew he understood completely how I felt. I was so broken up that I couldn’t have managed the details of burying Dinky myself. But Mike took over the arrangements at the pet cemetery just as if Dinky were his.
I don’t know of another man who would put up with the swarm of dogs I have around. There is Dukie and Rooney, and Annie, an over-friendly Airedale and Doberman pup who hasn’t yet learned that she’s too big to sit in people’s laps. Mike likes them as well as I do, and I am sure he wouldn’t mind a bit if I rescued another dozen dogs from the pound and brought them home.
It’s difficult for me to explain to people, who don’t realize how painfully shy I used to be, the many ways Mike has helped bolster my courage. I used to become absolutely petrified at the thought of watching myself on the screen. But after many months of going to movies and analyzing performances with me, Mike has at last begun to convince me of my own ability as an actress. The self-confidence I have gained has helped my work immensely.
Confronted with a problem, Mike is always buoyant and optimistic, and his sense of humor will always see him through any situation. I need that balance in my life, for my first inclination is to hide until the trouble blows away. Two years ago, when I went to England to play Lady Barbara in Captain Horatio Hornblower, I was simply terrified when the British press began printing critical stories about an American girl playing the role of a British aristocrat. When we were still a few days out of port, they began calling the ship to get a statement from me about it. I wouldn’t have known exactly what to say. But Mike quite wisely told them to wait until we docked, and, in the subsequent interview, when he was asked what he thought about my playing Lady Barbara, he settled the matter once and for all.
“Wha’s so great about Lady Barbara?” he asked the assembled newspapermen. “In the history books, she looks horse-faced and a little masculine. Now, we certainly didn’t complain when Vivien Leigh came over to the U. S. to portray a beautiful southern belle. Why should the British press get in such an uproar about Virginia playing the role of an ugly female like Lady Barbara?”
After a hearty laugh, the reporters had to admit the logic of Mike’s argument, and the dispute was quickly dropped from the papers. I seriously doubt that I would have made any sense at all if I’d talked to them alone.
There have been many other occasions when I needed Mike’s calm disposition to guide me. I suppose some people, in similar circumstances, would have been upset by the hectic complications which surrounded our marriage. But because of Mike, they didn’t bother me. I was working in A Song Is Born at the time, and we had difficulty finding, on such short notice, a minister who would marry us in the Presbyterian church. But after talking it over, Mike and I decided to be married at the Little Church of the Flowers in Forest Lawn. That evening, Mike picked up my mother and me and drove us out to the chapel. My maid of honor, Audrey Schuermann, an old school chum from St. Louis who is now a commercial artist in Los Angeles, was there. But Mike’s best man, Eddie Foy, who was coming by train from the east, hadn’t arrived. We waited and waited until it became clear that his train might be delayed for hours. Then we went ahead with the ceremony with Dr. Fox acting as Mike’s best man.
After we were married, we all drove out to Mike’s house in the San Fernando Valley for a brief reception where, finally, Eddie Foy showed up an hour later.
That evening, several people asked me what I intended to do about the decor in Mike’s house. The place was obviously a man’s lair, with Indian rugs, guns, and cowboy trappings everywhere, and I suppose his friends expected me to pull them down and move them out into the stable. But I told them that I thought the place had a lot of charm, just as it was, and that it would be lost the minute I started applying the feminine touch. In fact, until we rebuilt the whole house in 1950, the only room I changed at all was my own bedroom, where I added frilly curtains.
We had to delay our honeymoon until I finished A Song Is Born. But right away, I discovered that I had moved into a man’s world. Every Sunday, we went out to Monte Montana’s ranch, where Mike and Monte spent hours teaching me how to ride. I started my lessons in the corral, riding bareback to learn the natural gait of a horse. In no time at all, I became confident on horseback, if not skillful. Since those days, I have made two westerns and what I learned about horses from Mike was extremely valuable.
I have lost track of the number of times we have ridden to rodeos around Southern California in the back of a dusty old horse truck, bumping along over rough roads and loving every minute. That first summer, Mike bought me some beautiful riding clothes, and we made dozens of appearances at rodeos, riding in the grand parades just for the fun of it.
Many women I know would be completely unstrung if their husbands were called out of bed at one in the morning to help track down a half-crazed man who had just shot his wife and escaped into the hills. Yet that’s what Mike did just a few months ago, and I was able to accept it with a reasonable amount of calm. He has been getting after-hours calls of this kind for three years, ever since he became a member of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Mounted Division, which works on emergency cases that the regular police cannot reach by squad cars. Last year, his group was called out to drive the cattle down out of the mountains during a big brush fire, and I have to admit that was one night I had to sit up over the coffee pot until Mike got back home safely. Still, if that is the way he chooses to serve his community, I know I’ll never complain.
Ever since Mike and I were married, we have wanted to own a ranch—a real working cattle ranch that will provide us with an income and a stable existence after our careers in Hollywood have ended.
Last year, Mike and I bought a ranch near Tucson, Arizona, in partnership with Verne Goodrich, former rodeo rider and veteran stunt man.
Shortly after we bought the place, we spent five weeks in the big adobe house there, while Mike and Verne worked every day at clearing away the mesquite to plant a cotton crop. Even with a tractor, it was a man-killing job; but finally, after considerable expense, the mesquite was all uprooted. Surprisingly enough, the cotton grew and later was sold on schedule. But less than a month after that, the mesquite had taken over everything again and the job of clearing the land was there to do once more. Fortunately, before planting time this spring, we were able to sell the place at only a small loss.
This summer, Mike and I intend to take an extended automobile trip through most of the western states. One of the reasons, in addition to just being out-of-doers, will be to find a ranch. But this time, you can be sure, there won’t be a clump of mesquite in sight!
—BY VIRGINIA MAYO
(Virginia Mayo can be seen in Warners’ She’s Working Her Way Through College.—Ed.)
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE JULY 1952