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Subject: ARCHIVE: April 18, 1919 ~It was a century ago, actress, singer, and radio personality Virginia O'Brien, known for her comedic deadpan musical roles of MGM films of the 1940s, was born 100 years ago today! ...
[ Virginia Lee O'Brien ]
(April 18, 1919 January 16, 2001)
Life and career
Born April 18, 1919 in the family home at Boyle Heights in Los Angeles, California, to a homemaker Edna Cox-O'Brien and LAPD chief, she was older sister of bit actress Mary O'Brien (1923-2007). The granddaughter of early film writer/actor Frank Bacon, and she was niece of famed Warner Brothers film director Lloyd Bacon (18891955), and veteran character actor Irving Bacon (18931965). Virginia O'Brien primarily performed in comedic roles during the height of her formal film career. This was in part due to her intentionally humorous singing style, which involved her singing in a deadpan manner, with no facial expressions and very little movement reportedly she stumbled upon this "gimmick" by accident during a stage show when she became virtually paralyzed with stage fright before singing a number in the Los Angeles stage production Meet the People.
Known to classic film fans by various nicknames--including Miss Deadpan, Frozen Face, and Miss Ice Glacier--this statuesque, dark-haired singer/actress carved a unique niche for herself on stage and screen by the hilarious Sphinx-like way she delivered a song. 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.
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" amongst others. 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, in a small novelty performance of "Lullaby (Rock-a-bye baby)", Lady Be Good (1941), Ship Ahoy (1942) with Eleanor Powell and Red Skelton, 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, and Thousands Cheer (in which she endured ribbing from Mickey Rooney about her singing style), singing 'In a Little Spanish Town'. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uagD2b1TDXs
...After appearing once again with Red Skelton in 1947's Merton of the Movies
and 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 (1955) and a brief appearance in 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.
...O'Brien married actor Kirk Alyn from 1942 to 1955, the union producing 3 children
all under the name 'Freggo' Kirk Alyn's birthname; two daughters Elizabeth & Teresa,
and one son John III. O'Brien was then married to Vern Evans from 1958 to 1966, having
one daughter together before their divorce. Her last marriage was to Harry B. White
from 1968 to his death in 1996.
...She continued to perform well into the 1990s with both her one-woman show and a production of Show Boat,
co-starring Alan Young, and also headlined The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies. Virginia O'Brien died at age 81,
in Woodland Hills, California from natural causes. She is buried at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, CA.