"At a 1980 USC seminar featuring Lucille Ball, an audience member asked "whatever happened to Virginia O'Brien?" and before anyone could answer, Virginia shouted from the back of the theatre, "She's back here in the cheap seats!"
Known as "The Deadpan Diva", she was the diametric opposite of the big, brassy, over-the-top comediennes and musical comedy performers popular in 1940's radio and movies (Martha Raye, Cass Daley, Betty Hutton, Judy Canova).
She was wonderfully droll and an excellent singer to boot: the great Virginia O' Brien.
Her unique style enlivened many an otherwise unmemorable MGM movie. Here she is, delivering her trademark deadpan dry wit, beauty, impeccable style and perfect pitch in DuBarry Was A Lady.
Virginia possessed a dark sense of humor more akin to Michael O'Donoghue in the 1970's than anyone in the 1940's. Here are two versions of her black comedy gem "Say We're Sweethearts Again".
And here, from Panama Hattie (following the introduction by an overbearing and unfunny Red Skelton), is "Boy, Did I Get Stinkin' At The Club Savoy", absolutely the best song ever written about what follows the enthusiastic and excessive consumption of highballs.
Don't be fooled by the opening featuring Gloria DeHaven and June Allyson here; Virginia enters this production number from Thousands Cheer at 1:12 - and how!
Arguably, her best known film is The Harvey Girls, the star-studded spectacular featuring musical comedy powerhouses Ray Bolger and Judy Garland.
The Wild Wild West is a particularly funny number that suits Virginia's talents to a T. And the jokes about blacksmiths are only equalled by the Bullwinkle's Corner Village Blacksmith episode.
Her witty and highly original presence graced many films throughout the 1940's.
In particular, Virginia's droll presence brightened many films among the spate of WW2 era revue features produced by MGM. For example, the following excellent production numbers from Till The Clouds Roll By and Ziegfeld Follies.
Virginia didn't make many silver screen appearances after her MGM contract expired, but did co-star in Francis In The Navy. Except for the ignominious fate of following Marilyn Monroe in this scene, she's quite good playing off of Donald O' Connor. Now just why Donald's character is so unenthusiastic about kissing Marilyn and Virginia back-to-back I'll never know; too much time spent around a damn mule, I guess!
After she married actor Kirk Allyn and semi-retired, Virginia periodically played nightclubs in the 1950's and later would appear on television on Ed Sullivan, Steve Allen and Merv Griffin's shows.
One thing I am certain of: all those who saw Virginia's nightclub act had an excellent time!