Virginia Maples was an Earl Carroll dancer who crashed Hollywood and actually managed to get in front of the camera. However, her true claim to fame were not her acting chops, but the man she dated – she was a serious contender to become both Mrs. Phil Silvers and Mrs. George Raft. Let’s hear her story.
Virginia Lillian Maples was born to on January 13, 1921, in Los Angeles, California to Cornelius William Maples and the former Evelyn Rae Kavanaugh. Her father was an army captain who headed the Camp Tulelake. Her younger brother, Richard, was born on March 25, 1926.
Virginia grew up in Manhattan Beach, and dreamed to being an actress/dancer from early childhood. She started dancing before she went to school. In 1937, at just 16 years old, Virginia won the title of Miss Los Angeles. Earl Carroll saw her, liked what he saw, and signed her to become a Carroll girl. Barely 16 years old, Virginia was on her way to greater and bigger things.
There are several version of the story how Virginia was discovered for the movies. In a newspaper article she claimed she was discovered on a beach near her mother’s house. Years later, she claimed she came to the studios gates one day, and said to the guards she wanted to act. Luckily, they needed a dancer that very day, and she got the part. While I can’t be sure, I just think that her engagement in Earl Carroll’s vanities catapulted her to the screen. Anyway, she signed with a major studio in 1941 and started her career.
Virginia made her debut in 1941 with Week-End in Havana, a fun, no-brains-required Alice Faye musical with her standard stock actors – John Payne, Carmen Miranda and Cesar Romero. Truly, Alice’s 1930s and 1940s movies were pure enjoyment, perfect escapism at the end of another mundane working day. The plot is pretty silly (from imdb: In this case it’s Alice Faye, a shopgirl who saved her money for a cruise and in this case the cruise ship ran aground on a reef on the Cuban coast. She just doesn’t want to sign a waiver to get the company off the hook for a lawsuit. So John Payne who is about to become Barbier’s son-in-law is sent to get that waiver by hook or crook.), but you know it’s just an excuse to paste together several singing and dancing scenes.
Virginia started 1942 with The Mad Martindales, a movie more or less lost today. It’s a pity – the movie seems like a charming, likable family romp with Jane Withers in her usual perky role. Next Virginia appeared in the highly sanitized and inaccurate biography or Ernst Ball, an Irish songwriter, called Irish Eyes Are Smiling. If you watched any musical/biographies, you know the drift – the plot only has minor similarities with the real life of the man it portrays, and there is plenty of nice music and dancing. Dick Haymes, in the leading role, was not a good actor for sure , but he sings well enough, and June Haver witth her happy go lucky act and nice snging saves the day.
Virginia appeared in only one more musicals – the “war musical” Something for the Boys. Like most propaganda movies, it’s thin int he art but abundant in the fun/morale department. It’s entertaining and nice to watch, but easily forgettable (even Carmen Miranda and Vivian Blaine can’t elevate it to a upper tier status).
You know it’s the beginning of the end, or a beginning of a new career when you start appearing in low budget westerns, like Virginia did with Wildfire. After that, you either sink and leave acting, or swim and become a B western heroine. Since the movie was easily forgettable, Virginia left movies for a period of time. She worked in nightclubs and so on.
She only returned to Hollywood in 1954, to appear in tow glossy, high class productions: Woman’s World and Black Widow. Woman’s world is one oft he best movies made abut the corporate world, about three hotshot salesmen and their wives, and the rat race to get ahead int he business. Black Widow is a mixed bag of pleasures. The plot is something right out of Hitchcock (taken from imdb: Van Heflin gives a striking, forceful performance as a theatrical producer in New York City who befriends a lonely 20-year-old girl at a party; she’s a would-be writer hoping for success, he takes a shine to her and offers a helping hand…but then she turns up dead!), and the actors are good enough, but it’s all so overtly dramatic it hurts!
Virginia left movies for good after this.
While Virginia was one of the Earl Carroll girls, she dated Lionel Newman, the Earl Carroll orchestra leader, and there was talk the two would wed. They never did.
Then, in September 1943, Virginia started dating comedian Phil Silvers. Things got serious pretty soon, but theirs was a turbulent, love/hate relationship that just went up and down for about six months. They were cooing one moment, next they were fighting, then they were separated, then they were buying jewelry… It was pretty obvious the relationship would not last. They broke up in April 1943.
Virginia then took up with another famous beau, George Raft. To be sure, George was a notorious skirt chaser that dated all the girls in Hollywood (slight exaggeration, but just slight). He had just come out of a intensive relationship with Betty Grable, who ditched him when his wife refused to grant him a divorce (he used his wife a great many times to excuse himself from remarriage). Betty was furious when she found out that George started dating Virginia, and she tried to make her life a bit more complicated – only an intervention from the studio brass managed to calm down the situation.
George allegedly carried a huge torch for Betty. Since Virginia was a dear ringer for Betty in terms of looks, you can guess where that comes from… To my surprise, they actually dated for a long time – three months!!
In July 1943, she switched to Tex Feldman. Then dirty laundry came out. Allegedly, when Virginia replaced Betty as George’s number one lady, he forced her to imitate Betty in everything from walking to fashion style. Virginia got sick of it and left him for Feldman. What can I say about Raft? The more I read about him and his ladies, the less I like him. The guy obviously had some ego problems, as he dated ladies by the load but never remotely considered getting divorced from his wife who lived on the other side of the country. Some sources claim he was unable to divorce his wife, but hey, I think there are means of divorcing somebody if you really want to! Good for Virginia to get out of such a distressing relationship.
But then (WAIT FOR IT!) they got together, again!! Ugh. And they stayed together for two more years. George went overseas during the war to tour war camps, and left his car to Virginia. It must have been love 😛 Anyway, he returned and they continued their idyll, until about mid 1945.
After that, Virginia, started to date Bill Burton, Dick Haymes’ manager. Then she was seen with hotshot lawyer, Bentley Ryan. Then she dated Arturo de Cordova in December 1945. By then, Virginia Maples worked as an exotic dancer at the Club Riviera, and was out of the movies.
Virginia’s last known Hollywood beau was Walter Kane, Howard Hughes’ right hand man. They dated in early 1946 for several months, but she denied reports she was to marry him.
Then, Virginia met and fell in love with a handsome Brazilian, Envidio Sanctos (they met at one of Carmen Miranda’s parties). They eloped in 1947 and got married in Brazil. She effectively left behind her career to live in the Amazon jungle with her new husband. They spent their time between Brazil and the US. Their daughter, Diana, was born on April 17, 1950, in Kansas City, Missouri. The couple separated and divorced in 1962.
In 1975, Virginia moved to Isles of Capri and opened a gift shop, Diana’s Gifts, in East Naples. She continued working until she was 70 years old, and retired in Naples after that. She was a much loved member of the community.
Virginia Maples Sanctos died on January 13, 2010, in Naples, Florida.