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Virginia O'Brien

January 27, 2013

Today I watched an old flick called 'MEET THE PEOPLE' starring Lucille Ball, Dick Powell and Virgina O'Brien and that got me thinking about Virginia and how much I always enjoyed her scenes in various films. I started looking her up and I thought I would share her info. If you get a chance some time catch one of her films.

Virginia Lee O'Brien (April 18, 1919 – January 16, 2001) was a popular American actress, singer, and radio personality known for her comedic roles in MGM musicals of the 1940s.

O'Brien primarily performed in comedic roles during the height of her formal film career. The daughter of the captain of detectives of the Los Angeles Police Department, Virginia Lee O'Brien became interested in music and dance at an early age (it didn't hurt her career chances that her uncle was noted film director Lloyd Bacon). Her big show-business break came in 1939 after she secured a singing role in the L.A. production of the musical/comedy "Meet the People". On opening night, when time came for her solo number, Virginia became so paralyzed with fright that she sang her song with a wide-eyed motionless stare that sent the audience (which thought her performance a gag) into convulsions. Demoralized, Virginia left the stage only to soon find out that she was a sensation. In the audience was MGM's Louis B.Mayer.

The audience found the performance to be hilarious and she was soon hired to repeat this performance in a number of movies beginning in 1940, for which she gained the nicknames "Frozen Face" and "Miss Ice Glacier" "Miss Deadpan" among others. Signed by MGM in 1940, she deadpanned her way to acclaim and immense popularity with appearances in some of the studio's most memorable musicals including Thousands Cheer (1943), The Harvey Girls (1946), Till the Clouds Roll By (1946), Ziegfeld Follies (1945), Panama Hattie (1942), Ship Ahoy (1942), Meet the People (1944) and Du Barry Was a Lady (1943), performing inimitable renditions of such classic songs as "The Wild Wild West" (from The Harvey Girls), "A Fine Romance" (from Till the Clouds Roll By (1946)), "It's a Great Big World" (from The Harvey Girls (1946)), "Poor You" (from Ship Ahoy (1942)), and "Say We're Sweethearts Again" (from Meet the People (1944)).

When she wasn't singing, her acting style was just as emotive as other actresses, and she didn't always employ her gimmick when singing as evidenced by her performance in the excerpt from Show Boat in the 1946 film Till the Clouds Roll By. She made her Broadway debut in the short-lived musical Keep Off The Grass with Jimmy Durante, and recorded four of the songs for Columbia Records. She also recorded several sides for Decca Records, including two of her signature songs The Wild, Wild West and Say We're Sweethearts Again.

Among the films she appeared in during her time at MGM were The Big Store (1941) with the Marx Brothers, Lady Be Good (1941) and Ship Ahoy (1942) with Eleanor Powell and Red Skelton, Thousands Cheer (in which she endured ribbing from Mickey Rooney about her singing style), Du Barry Was a Lady (with Skelton and Lucille Ball), the film version of Meet the People with Dick Powell, The Harvey Girls (with Judy Garland) and Ziegfeld Follies. Although too often relegated to featured songs and small supporting roles, she still managed to become an audience favorite by the sheer force of her personality, polished vocals and way with a comic quip. The latter ability is especially apparent in one of her last MGM films, Merton of the Movies (1947), in which she co-starred with Red Skelton. After a guest appearance the following year in the short Musical Merry-Go-Round, O'Brien was suddenly dropped from her MGM film contract and she moved into television and back to live performances.

She made two film appearances after this: Francis in the Navy and the 1976 Walt Disney Studios comedy, Gus. She was among the stars in a 1972 nostalgia revue entitled The Big Show of 1928 with Allan Jones, Cass Daley, Beatrice Kay and Sally Rand, which toured the country and played New York's Madison Square Garden. In 1984 she created a cabaret act, "Virginia O'Brien Salutes the Great MGM Musicals," which was recorded at the Masquer's Club in Hollywood, and is currently available on CD and on iTunes. She performed several times at such clubs as Hollywood's Roosevelt Hotel Cinegrill, the Vine St. Bar and Grill and the Gardenia, as well as the Plush Room in San Francisco.

In the 1980s the still youthful beauty toured the country in a one-woman show and recorded a live album at the famed Masquers Club entitled, "A Salute to the Great MGM Musicals". One of her last significant stage appearances came in 1984 as Parthy Ann in the Long Beach Civic Light Opera's production of "Showboat", with Alan Young and also headlined The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies. She remained in semi-retirement in a large home in Wrightwood, California, for most of her later years until her death at the Motion Picture Country Hospital in Woodland Hills in January, 2001.

She died aged 81 in Woodland Hills, California from natural causes. She is buried at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, Glendale, California

Virginia O’Brien
Virginia Lee O'Brien
April 18, 1919
Los Angeles, California, U.S.

January 16, 2001 (aged 81)
Woodland Hills, California, U.S.



"Miss Red Hot Frozen Face"

Years active

Known for

Kirk Alyn (1942–1955)
Vern Evans (1958–1966)
Harry B. White (1968–1996)


Virginia O'Brien - Lullaby (Rock-a-bye baby) from the Marx Bros film THE BIG STORE

MGM 1942 Virginia O'Brien Did I Get Stinkin'At the Club Savoy

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