Speaking Of Angels . . . There’s A Girl Called Virginia Mayo Sheas
A few weeks ago Virginia Mayo O’Shea waltzed into the living room holding up an exquisite red dress for my inspection. “How do you like my new Scarlett O’Shea dress?” she cried happily. “I’m going to wear it to the party tonight—if Mike will go.”
After we discussed the beauty of the dress, Virginia went to her bedroom to rummage through her jewelry for accessories. I wandered nonchalantly into Mike’s study and watched him working on his script. Finally I said, “Mike, when you see your ever lovin’ in the divine dress she brought home, you’ll really want to go to the party tonight.” Mike looked up at me and roared, “I’m not going to a formal fling or cocktail party. We don’t drink and we don’t gossip. Why go? I’m not going!”
While Mike ignored the obvious signs of party preparations, Lucy, the housekeeper, pressed the red dress. I brought Mike his favorite milk shake and Virginia continued getting ready. When Mike entered the living room, I turned on the television and said, “Wait until you see your wife, man. She’s beautiful in that dress.”
“She’s dressed?” said Mike in simulated surprise. “Well, okay, we’ll go. But only for an hour.”
At this point Virginia walked in, a heavenly vision in scarlet. “It’s beautiful, sweetie, we’ll go for an hour,” Mike said. And as they were leaving he turned aggressively to Lucy and said, “If anyone calls, we’ll be home by nine o’clock.”
I was dozing on the divan when they came back at 2:30 a.m. Virginia looked radiant and said, “We had a wonderful time, didn’t we, Mike?” Mike looked at her for a moment, “Naw, I was ready to leave at nine, but I couldn’t find you. So I found some people who weren’t talking about themselves. Then I had a good time. We sat around, talked about history. Where were you?” Virginia said, “I was having a great time. I was dancing.” Mike looked at her with a grin, “I’ve always said, sweetie, when you’ve got a beautiful girl in your arms, why dance?” On that note I said good night and went out to my home away from home, the O’Shea guest house.
Things like this go on in the O’Shea household all the time. And I should know, for I’m Girl Friday, friend, baby sitter, fan mail consultant and recipient of Ginny’s various experiments, which run the gamut from guinea pig for a new hair-do to food taster for new fudge recipes.
I have known Mike a long time because I work for his business manager, but I didn’t meet Virginia until about five years ago when we lunched at the Knickerbocker Hotel one day. In contrast to Mike, who is quick, glib and hilarious to be with, Virginia seemed quiet. In fact, not being demonstrative and yet having a wonderful trait of complete honesty can create confusion for those meeting her for the first time. She sees no shade of gray. She doesn’t waste conversation and thinks seriously before she talks. She will never be accused of chit-chatting. When I first started becoming friendly with Virginia, her abrupt answers bothered me. If I said, “Feel like a movie tonight?” and she said “No,” I felt uncomfortable waiting for the reason to come out. On the other hand, she would never say, “Let’s get together sometime,” which we are all horribly guilty of. She says, “Why don’t you come out Friday night for dinner?”
After that first luncheon, Mike and Virginia invited me out to the house so many times I practically lived there. The practically became “actually” when I started looking for another apartment. Mike and Virginia insisted I would save gasoline if I took over their little guest apartment, at least until the baby came. So I moved in—to one of the happiest periods of my life.
Mike and Virginia are enough family for anyone. When I had to go to the hospital in July for surgery, they took over. Virginia did everything possible for me and Mike made hospital arrangements, took me to their doctor and they cared for me during the whole uncomfortable period.
Virginia is the closest to being the ideal girl friend that I ever hope to find. We talk girl talk of clothes and hair-do’s and movies. We save the Westerns and Spencer Tracy pictures for Virginia to share with Mike. But as we both love movies, we spend some of the time when Mike’s working traipsing in to Hollywood or going to the Valley shows. I remember the first time we went to a movie together. I didn’t know Virginia very well, so I passed the fragrant popcorn stand with a wistful eye. I was sure the glamorous Virginia Mayo would not indulge in popcorn munching. As we started for our seats, she turned and said, “Do you like popcorn?” I said hesitantly that I loved it. “Good,” said Miss Mayo. “Let’s have a bag apiece with lots of butter.” And since then we’ve shared a lot of popcorn with lots of butter at the movies and in front of the television set.
She has a wonderful sense of humor. Virginia’s humor comes out so matter of factly that it’s startling. One night Mike and a friend were having a heated discussion of the merits of king size and regular cigarettes. Suddenly Virginia said, “They really should have three sizes; king size, regular and butt size for people who want to stop smoking.”
She has a terrific clothes sense and no one was surprised when she was voted the best dressed woman this year. Even when we are sitting in front of the television set at home, Virginia’s outfit is an ensemble. If she’s in pedal pushers or slacks, the blouse, belt and shoes will blend to perfection. When we go out she always dresses, mainly because she likes to. She is what we call a New York dresser. She is careful and completely groomed at all times.
Her bedroom is completely feminine and dainty and quite full of gorgeous clothes and jewelry. She has a real penchant for expensive costume jewelry and likes nothing better than an excuse to drag it all out. One night I couldn’t find anything of my own to wear on a dinner date and we spent a happy hour trying on everything she possessed. She says with a twinkle as she looks at the mountain of pretties, “I really must will this to the Guggenheim Foundation.”
She has no false pride about where she buys clothes. She is as happy in a marked-down special as an original. The other day at the studio the girls were raving about her toreador pants with bright pennies all over them. She said happily that she found them, appropriately enough, at J. C. Penney’s in the Valley. She bought a rather simple white net dress with masses of ruffles and a black edging at the Broadway Department Store and then had Moss Mabry, Warners’ designer, add some distinctive touches to it. When she wore it to the Eddie Cantor premiere, she drew raves for it. She probably told everybody happily where she got it.
Another time, she went shopping with a young starlet who really couldn’t afford the three-dollar alteration fee for a peasant skirt they discovered at Lerner’s. It was a sale skirt and it looked lovely on the girl. So, Virginia talked her into buying it and then took the skirt and the girl home with her. She whipped out her sewing machine and did a perfect alteration on the skirt. She understands the inability to pay a three-dollar alteration charge and she was quite happy putting her talent to work for the girl. That, too, is a clue to Virginia. She wouldn’t think of offering the wrong thing to a person. When she helps someone, it is with part of herself, not with a check. She takes the time to do for people.
Virginia has the knack of taking time to do things and still seem unhurried even though she has a strenuous schedule. Again it goes back to what’s important . . . and she seems to know. She has helped so many people, but I know she’d find it embarrassing to see it in print. She is, honestly, a working friend.
Her complete lack of artifice and delusions of grandeur are an inspiration in this “keep up with the Joneses era.” I remember the time Mike was in San Francisco, and Virginia and I were going to a premier together. Virginia has a Jaguar and I have a Chevrolet. There is a slight difference in their impact on the public mind. Virginia didn’t feel like driving and asked me to drive. As I’d never driven a Jag, my car was the obvious one to take. I protested that the public would be disappointed if she arrived in my whoopey and the industry would think she was going broke. She looked at me in that quiet steady way and said, “If they like me now, they’ll like me in a Chevy, Ford, Cad or Jag.” I should have known better than to protest, because Virginia just can’t think that way. Later that afternoon, while my Chevy was being washed she looked at it and said, “What’s wrong with this car? It looks pretty good to me.” And she meant it. We rolled up to the premiere in it, anyway, and I’m sure she didn’t lose any friends over it.
In the same vein, she and Mike find they cannot lead the exaggerated lives that some of the other stars do. They like to entertain but only for small groups. And each guest is at the O’Shea home strictly on his own merit. They enjoy the simple pleasures of life. While everyone else talks of a trip to New York, Miami or Europe, the O’Sheas plan with delight a simple educational trip through Yosemite or, after listening to me rave about my home town for years, they might decide to really see Spokane. They find no need to impress anyone, so they do the things they want to do.
I will give you proof that I trust her completely. All women will know what I mean when I say I let her cut my hair. She ragged me for weeks and finally I let her give me a short haircut. She cut so much I was really scared. She chopped blithely away and then set it for me. I held my breath when she combed it out. It looked great. The best I’ve ever had. She wasn’t surprised; she expected it to be.
I can honestly say Virginia is an oddity in this day and age. Most women have gotten to the place where they base friendships on mutual distress or need. But with Virginia it is friendship, clear and simple with no ties or dependency other than enjoyment.
I think the secret of Virginia is her deep down philosophical acceptance of life as it is. It isn’t a sense she’s acquired from books. Rather it’s an inborn instinct of quiet understanding. Virginia was born with it and throughout her life it has ripened and matured into a sure knowledge of herself, her loved ones and the world around her. She is aware that she has a long way to go; that there will be confusions and disappointments, temporary bursts of pain that will fade when the strength to be happy is the basis for living. For Virginia is happy. Her acceptance of life as it is has kept her from the temptations of succumbing to the superficial fame and success pitfalls that lead so many here astray. Her honesty in evaluating herself objectively is a breath of fresh air to me.
With the coming of Mary Catherine, Virginia seems to have found complete fulfillment. She has made the important decisions of the future within herself. Her home will always come first and her career second. With Michael and Mary Catherine as the roots of her own life, she has blossomed into the beauty that comes from tranquility of mind. No inner turmoil or inner burning dissipates her supreme serenity.
This is the Virginia I know. And with the wonderful friendship of Virginia, my admiration for Mike and playing “Aunt Dor” to the red-headed doll of the family, as long as the O’Sheas will put up with me, this is my home.
—BY DOROTHY JEFFERS
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE FEBRUARY 1955