Beautiful Virginia played the anti-femme fatale, or the good girl, in several top film noirs of the 1940s and 1950s, and achieved a level of recognition that was not too shabby. Sadly, she left movies to become a housewife in the early 1950s.
Virginia Ellen Houston was born on April 24, 1925 in Wisner, Nebraska, to Marcus M. Huston and Agnes Kane. Her father was born in 1897 and married her mother sometime in the late 1910s. In 1920, they were living in Illinois, but moved to Agnes’ native Nebraska in the early 1920s.
The family moved to Omaha, Nebraska not long after her birth. She made her stage debut at the age of 5 in a production of Helen of Troy. Virginia attended a catholic all girls, Duchesne school, and was acting in the drama department. She was just 12 years old when she decided to become an actress (after visiting Los Angeles).
Virginia stuck to her master plan and became a fixture in the Omaha public life. Except appearing in school plays, she was active in the local radio station and even acted in the prestigious Omaha Community playhouse (where Dorothy McGuire and Henry Fonda acted early in their careers).
Her younger brother Randy was born in 1942. In 1945, she decided to go acting full time. She could not decide between going to New York to act on Broadway or to go to Hollywood. In the end, Hollywood and the stories of making a quick buck won out. So, Virginia, her mother and brother were off to California.
They roomed in a small hotel room in Beverly Hills while Virginia made the rounds of movie studios. Due to her resemblance to Joan Fontaine, she was rejected by Darryl Zanuck and almost gave up. Luckily, Charles Feldman, a successful agent, saw her in the Romanoff nightclub, like what he saw, signed her, and finally nabbed her a contract with RKO studios due to her melodic voice.
Virginia set the prototype of most of her future roles in Nocturne, a decent film noir with George Raft. Lynn Bari was the dark and dangerous femme fatale and Virginia was the blonde good girl. While it’s pretty standard to say Raft was not a great actor, his charm and charisma make him an adequate film noir hero. Virginia’s soft spoken manner was perfectly in tune with the role, and she is one of the better things to remember from the film.
Out of the Past remains Virginia most durable role and her best known movie. An all around superb film, with Robert Mitchum in the lead, directed masterfully by Jacques Tournouer, it remains one of the staples of the noir genre. While Virginia was overshadowed by Jane Greer, who was absolutely first class as the femme fatale Kathie Moffat, her career would have been much poorer were it not for this role.
Flamingo Road is one of the so called carnival movies, with a past-40 Joan Crawford trying to act like she’s a fresh faced, naive dancer. While Crawford’s age does ruin the feeling of the movie a bit, generally it’s a well acted, well made film dealing with some topics highly actual even today.
In a sea of B westerns, The Doolins of Oklahoma stands out as a above notch piece of work. Not only is the cast a very good one, but Zachary Scott as the main character is a study in grey morality – a bank robber who can show kindness and compassion to others.Virginia is the typical decorative good girl.
Women from Headquarters is a woman empowerment movie about female police officers. Like many movies of the genre, it’s no master piece, but solely the theme makes it an interesting watching experience. Virginia, Barbara Fuller and Frances Charles make quite a trio!
While it did not endear her to the large masses like a true hit film, Virginia still struck career gold by playing Jane in one of Lex Barker’s Tarzan movies, namely Tarzan’s Peril . Let’s be realistic, it’s just another entry into the Tarzan series, and thus nothing to call a great film, but it is not a disgrace in her filmography. It’s certainly well made and decently acted, but that is about it. As a plus, actresses who played Jane are something akin to Jame Bond actresses, no matter what they did for the rest of their career, at least they will be featured on every “Actresses who acted in Tarzan movies” list, and, to some degree, remembered.
Virginia marched on. The Highwayman, a moody, dark retelling of the famous Alfred Noyes poem, is a movie that many who saw it as children will never forget. It’s got everything a movie needs: a touching, tragic story, decent actors (I am a sucker for Wanda Henrdix, who plays the female lead!) and a great cinematographer. Flight to Mars is a typical low budget 1950s SF movie. Predictable, with no big names and barely-there script, recommended only for the hard core fans of the genre.
Sudden Fear is Virginia second best movie, right after Out of the past. A unusual but very good film noir, it’s one of the few noirs that gives precedent to an older woman – Joan Crawford was nearing 50 when she played the role with special gusto (we need more movies like this, with more roles for women past 40 – just when they become great actresses, the roles dry up! Another great movie with a great role for an older woman is White Heat, with Margaret Wycherly whipping up everybody else in the cast!).Virginia, as usual, plays the good girl, and the bad girl is played by Gloria Grahame (who excelled in these types of roles!).
Knock on Wood, a decent Danny Kaye movie, proved to be Virginia’s last hurrah. Too bad. She only made one more appearance on the The Ford Television Theatre TV series, and then settled into comfortable retirement as the wife of a wealthy real estate broker.
Virginia was no means a typical starlet. Not only more delicate looking and regal than the typical starlet, she was never in the papers for reasons of private life and so on. When somebody wrote about her, it was because of her career. It was also often noted that her mother and baby brother, Randy, lived with her.
Virginia developed a crush on the star of Out of the past, the jaded, cynical Robert Mitchum. As anyone who saw Mitchum in movies can attest, while not handsome, he had a gritty, powerful charm that was very alluring to women. He was a married man with three children, but that did not stop him from having a devil-may-care lifestyle, drinking, doing drugs (mostly marijuana) and womanizing. Yet, he swiftly brushed Virginia aside as she was too small a fish to end up on his repertoire, and he was hunting for bigger fish to fry (yep, the man dated some pretty impressive actresses, like Ava Gardner, Jean Simmons and Joan Crawford, all of them more famous than Virginia). Despite this, Virginia was enthralled with Bob until the filming ended, and even some time afterwards.
Little was written about Virginia’s love life in the papers. What we do know is that, on August 12, 1952, Virginia married wealthy real estate agent, Manus Paul Clinton. Clinton was born on June 17, 1923. Their daughter, Pamela Ann, was born on September 3, 1954. Virginia retired from movies and the couple lived in Beverly Hills.
In 1953, Virginia gave an interview to Lydia Lane, the famous beauty columnist, where she made it pretty clear how ill suited she was for the highly hectic Hollywood life. She said how her stomach was often in knots during filming, and she could not eat properly as a result. In order to maintain her strength, she drank a strong beef concentrate with an egg thrown in it. Sometimes, her anxiety would get so intense she would feel she was about to faint. She could reverse the process and not faint by doing a form of self hypnosis, where she would imagine nice things and tell herself calming words. After reading this, I was glad that she gave up movies for marriage. She did not seem the type to take the extra wattage needed to become a hard core actress (imagine Bette Davis doing this!). Similarly “weak willed” actresses, many of them quite talented, often ended up in the gutter (Frances Farmer, Gail Russell), so Virginia’s story was not that a bad at all.
Virginia and Manus divorced sometime in the early 1960s.
1966 was a very tough year for Virginia. Her former husband married his second wife, and she gave birth to a long awaited son who bore his father’s name. Her own father died in September of that year at the age of 69.
Virginia never remarried, and lived the rest of her days in Beverly Hills.
Virginia Clinton died on February 28, 1981, in Santa Monica, California. Her former husband died in 1989.