Cooking with the Stars

Cooking with the Stars — I Tried Virginia Mayo’s Miracle Diet

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Virginia Mayo enjoying what appears to be a healthy meal.

Hey, everyone! I’m sorry that I haven’t been able to get this month’s edition of Cooking with the Stars out as quickly as I’d like to, but I have a very good reason! As I’ve usually done for this column since starting it in October, I had intended to test out one recipe of a star who was born in January. I had a few classic movie actors and actresses that I’d thought about including this month, but right around the same time as I was deliberating exactly which recipe I would try, I found out that The Online Books Archive has extensive scans of back issues of Photoplay Magazine, one of the most popular fan magazines (and my personal favorite) that ran during the golden age of Hollywood. There were issues available to read from as early as 1914, but I decided to check out some of the editions published in the early 1950s as I believed that there would be a great mix of stars from my favorite eras of classic film within the pages. I was perusing these magazines purely for entertainment as it’s fascinating to read reviews of some of my favorite films as they were released and see articles and fun bits of trivia about dozens of glamorous stars, but I definitely didn’t expect to find the solution to which star and recipe I should write about for the new year.

Lo and behold, as I flipped to page fifty of the August 1954 issue of Photoplay, I had my answer. There was a fascinating, yet quite flawed article which tells the story of how Virginia Mayo’s husband, Michael O’Shea, called his own wife a “fatso” when she gained weight after giving birth to their daughter, Mary Catherine O’Shea, and compared her figure to a painting of Virginia in her thinner days. Of course it enraged me how unkind her own husband could be if this article was true, but at the same time I have to admit that I was thrilled to find any food post that was related to Virginia Mayo, an actress who’s skyrocketed this past year on my radar to become a star that I truly admire. While I would never, ever encourage my readers to follow a diet because of a husband’s bullying, I did think that it would be interesting to try this diet myself for more positive reasons: my adoration for Virginia and my curiosity about how she lived her life and what she ate on a daily basis. Even better, I was delighted for an opportunity to share my experience with you all as part of Cooking with the Stars, as I know that many of you may be trying to adopt a healthier lifestyle as part of your own new year’s resolutions.

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If you aren’t as familiar with the gorgeous Virginia Mayo, she was born under the name Virginia Clara Jones on November 30, 1920 in St. Louis, Missouri to newspaper reporter Luke and his wife Martha Jones. Her family had a well-established history in the area as Virginia’s great-great-grandfather, Captain James Piggott, served in the Revolutionary War and founded East St. Louis, Illinois in 1797. Virginia showed an interest in the entertainment field, particularly dancing and acting, from a very young age. Her aunt operated an acting school in the area, which Virginia attended from the age of six, and her aunt also hired a variety of dance instructors for the talented hopeful around the same time. She continued to hone her skills until she graduated from Soldan High School in 1937, after which she quickly snagged her first professional acting and dancing job at the St. Louis Municipal Opera Theatre as well as an act with six other girls at the nearby Hotel Jefferson. Her work caught the eye of the vaudeville duo Morton and Mayo, who enlisted her in a part as a ringleader for their act in which Andy Mayo and Nonnie Morton dressed as the two halves of a horse. It was from this act that Virginia found her stage name, Virginia Mayo, but it also led to an opportunity to appear with the iconic Eddie Cantor on Broadway in the play Banjo Eyes.

From there, Virginia Mayo’s star status only rose. She was discovered by both David O. Selznick, who gave the ingenue a screen test before eventually passing on her, and Samuel Goldwyn, who saw the potential in Mayo as an actress and a dancer that Selznick didn’t. He eased her into his productions with small parts in pictures like Jack London (1943), Seven Days Ashore (1944), and as one of his glamorous “Goldwyn Girls” in Danny Kaye’s first starring vehicle Up in Arms (1944). It was then that Goldwyn realized that she could be successful as the love interest of a variety of comedic stars. She received her first leading role opposite Bob Hope in the swashbuckling satire The Princess and the Pirate (1944), followed by appearances in back-to-back roles with Danny Kaye, her most frequent and successful onscreen partner, in Wonder Man (1945) and The Kid from Brooklyn (1946). She followed up these films, which made her one of the top box office draws of the 1940s, with two more diverse movies that would define her career. The first, The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), cast her as the unsavory wife of a serviceman played by Dana Andrews, earning her critical acclaim for her dramatic performance while also becoming the highest-grossing film since Gone with the Wind (1939). The second of her best-known pictures gave Mayo another chance to shine against Danny Kaye in their most successful pairing, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947).

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Virginia Mayo and husband Michael O’Shea attending The Photoplay Awards on February 11, 1952.

Samuel Goldwyn attempted to follow Mitty’s success with a musical remake of Ball of Fire (1941), once again starring Mayo and Kaye, but A Song is Born (1948) ended up being the onscreen couple’s first financial failure, which essentially ended their cinematic partnership. While one might have thought that such a disaster would have spelled out the beginning of the end for Virginia Mayo, quite the opposite was true, and she continued to turn in stellar performances in successful movies with legendary actors for the remainder of the 1940s as well as the entirety of the 1950s. These performances included the iconic White Heat (1949) with James Cagney, The Girl from Jones Beach (1949) alongside future president Ronald Reagan, The Flame and the Arrow (1950) with Burt Lancaster, Captain Horatio Hornblower (1951) with Gregory Peck, and The Silver Chalice (1954), Paul Newman’s first feature film. As was unfortunately the case with many actresses during the studio era, Virginia Mayo’s career waned after reaching her forties, and she received an upset in 1960 after a television pilot starring Mayo with her real-life husband Michael O’Shea, McGarry and His Mouse (1960), failed to gain the traction that they’d hoped. Despite this, the actress continued to star regularly in film, television, and in dinner theater performances until her retirement in 1997. She passed away on January 17, 2005 at the age of eighty-four due to pneumonia and complications of congestive heart failure. She is buried next to her husband in Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Park in Westlake Village, California.

Breaking Down the Diet

For starters, here’s a photo straight from the August 1954 issue of Photoplay that describes the diet in full:

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As soon as I made the decision to actually attempt to follow this diet for three days in January, I studied the entire plan front to back, over and over, and it raised a lot of questions. A couple of things that I noticed as peculiar right off the bat were that fruits and vegetables were separated into 5% and 10% figures, but there’s no explanation as to what the percentage represents. Is it protein? Deliciousness? Who knows! I also noticed the presence of fruit and toast with every meal as well as the addition of a multivitamin each day. I haven’t taken vitamins since I was a child and I can’t recall ever having fruit and toast for dinner, so this was going to be quite a change for me! Lastly, some other aspects of the diet that I first groaned about were the lack of snacks and dessert in any form, and how strange it is that canned peas are allowed, but fresh ones were forbidden. What have I gotten myself into?

Once I was finished commiserating, I broke the diet down into terms that I could understand and follow more easily, including which fruits and vegetables were actually in season in the dead of winter. For the 5% vegetables especially, I began to get creative and do some research about vegetables I love that would work for this diet. Here’s my simplification that includes what I actually bought, which I hope will help you understand it more clearly:

Virginia Mayo’s Miracle Diet

Breakfast

  • 1 serving fruit (oranges, grapefruit, lemon, blackberries, cranberries, or strawberries)
  • 1 egg, coddled or boiled
  • 1 slice rye toast
  • Fat-free milk, tea, or coffee
  • Multivitamin tablet
  • Splenda

Lunch

  • 1 medium serving eye of round steak, salmon, or chicken tenderloins (broiled or baked)
  • 1 serving 5% vegetable (broccoli, bell pepper, brussels sprouts, rutabaga)
  • 2 tablespoons pot cheese (also known as ricotta)
  • 1 slice rye toast
  • 1 serving fruit (listed above)
  • Fat-free milk, tea, or coffee

Dinner

  • 1 medium serving eye of round steak, salmon, or chicken tenderloins (broiled or baked)
  • 1 serving 5% vegetable (listed above)
  • 1 serving 10% vegetable (canned pumpkin or zucchini)
  • 1 slice rye toast
  • 1 serving fruit (listed above)
  • Tea or coffee

Day One

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Breakfast — For my first meal of Virginia Mayo’s Miracle Diet I had half of a grapefruit, rye toast with a coddled egg on top, coffee with Splenda and a splash of fat-free milk, and a women’s multivitamin. I’m used to these kinds of breakfasts as I’ve followed a similar classic film star diet, Jane Fonda’s, which consisted of the same basic components in the morning: coffee, plain toast, and fresh fruit. In this case, I felt really energized by Virginia Mayo’s breakfast and I’m glad that I chose to pair this meal with grapefruit. I can’t stand black coffee but I tried to limit the amount of Splenda and fat-free milk and much as possible, so the tartness of the grapefruit really helped mellow out the bitterness of the coffee. It was still a bit of a sad situation as I really missed my sweet creamer, and my breakfast missed the mark when I realized that I accidentally overcooked the yolk of my egg. I still enjoyed all of the components, however, and I looked forward to making some tweaks to improve it throughout the week.

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Lunch — Lunch consisted of some chicken tenderloins which I cooked fajita-style (the diet doesn’t say anything one way or the other about adding spices) by broiling them with cumin, paprika, chili powder, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. I prepared some green bell peppers in the same spice mixture and served the lot with fresh strawberries, rye toast with a ricotta spread, and fat-free milk. This was so delicious, and I felt like spices would soon become my best friend when it came to keeping things interesting all week. I hadn’t eaten strawberries in forever and I’d forgotten how amazing they are, and they made a nice dessert afterwards just as the ricotta toast made a fantastic palate cleanser in between spicy bites. I opted for milk instead of tea or coffee because I was dreading anything unsweetened, and it also counteracted the spicy chicken very well. I probably could have lasted the week just having this meal for lunch, but I was excited to mix things up in the coming days.

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Dinner — To round out my first day on the Diet, I enjoyed an eye of round steak seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and rosemary and baked with some diced zucchini, with the addition of blackberries and a slice of rye toast on the side. For my 5% vegetable I decided to whip up a creative twist on steak and fries by trying out this recipe that I discovered for rutabaga fries, sliced and baked with the same spices. As I’d been feeling under the weather all day I bit the bullet and drank some green peach tea with a touch of Splenda and fat-free milk with my dinner. I love zucchini, and that along with the steak and rutabaga “fries” made for a really filling meal. The rutabaga didn’t taste exactly like the fries you would get at a fast food chain and were closer to the consistency of sweet potato fries that softened very quickly, but they were well-seasoned and I was excited to be able to try something new. If you’ve ever been nervous about cooking with rutabaga, this is definitely the way to go, and I could definitely see myself preparing these again!

Day Two

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Breakfast — The second day’s breakfast was nearly the same as the first: coffee with milk and Splenda, toast with a coddled egg (much better cooked), a multivitamin, and this time I opted for strawberries because they were looking a little wilted and I figured it was best to eat them quickly. This breakfast was much better than the first, possibly because I helped myself a little by adding more fat-free milk and Splenda, and I felt like this breakfast was something I could grow accustomed to long after the diet was over. My only complaint was that I missed how long it took to eat the grapefruit as it prolonged the meal. It took me less than ten minutes to eat everything on my plate, so I hoped that I wouldn’t be starving before lunch.

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Lunch — For lunch I was excited to try cooking salmon, which was something I rarely ate and had never prepared myself at home before. I decided to broil the fish and season it with salt, pepper, rosemary, and garlic powder, just like the rutabaga fries that I had a ton of leftovers of from the night before. I added those in as my vegetable along with some lemon for my choice of fruit, a slice of rye toast with ricotta cheese, and I added some more lemon and Splenda to a steaming cup of green tea. The whole meal was wonderful and I realized how much I was missing by not cooking fish for myself just because my boyfriend dislikes it. Sure, it was a small steak and I probably overseasoned it, but I devoured it happily and felt glad that I was making some great strides toward healthier meals.

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Dinner — I decided to go with a bit of a Thanksgiving theme for the night’s chicken dinner, opting to season the tenderloins with salt, pepper, thyme, and cloves, and pairing the fowl with fresh cranberries, fresh green bell peppers, and baked zucchini. To drink, I had my nighttime peach black tea with some milk and Splenda, as I knew that I needed to go to bed soon with how under the weather I was feeling. The chicken was somehow much juicier than the one I’d made before, and that combined with the zucchini was just what I needed. However, the bell peppers and cranberries alone were pretty difficult to work through. I’d forgotten how tart cranberries are outside of when I make Lucille Ball’s Cranberry Sauce, and the bell peppers were disappointing without anything to dip them in, but I was hungry so I ended up eating them anyway, and managed to get used to them after a little while.

Day Three

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Breakfast — When I woke up on the last day, I had gone from feeling a little sick to feeling downright terrible. From the moment I got out of bed, I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to cook all three meals, but I still I knew that I had to get some food in me, so I quickly whipped up and ate the usual toast with a coddled egg (the yolk of which broke and made for an unappetizing presentation), strawberries, milk, and a multivitamin. There may have not been as much finesse and love in this breakfast than there was in the two previous ones but it hit the spot more than ever, and I felt proud of myself for managing much of anything after the way I felt.

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Lunch — When lunchtime came around, I thought cooking a healthy and delicious meal would be the best way to help me get on the right track. It was a slow and begrudging start, but I ended up making salmon seasoned with some salt, pepper, garlic powder, and thyme, which I paired with steamed broccoli, toast with ricotta cheese, orange slices, and green tea sweetened with Splenda. It was nice to feel accomplished after forcing myself to get out of bed and finish the diet through, and I enjoyed the lunch and even tried eating the salmon skin after my sister promised me that it was the best part of the fish. She wasn’t entirely wrong, but it still felt really strange!

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Dinner — By the time it was time for dinner, I was eager to complete the last day of the diet once and for all. For my last meal, I opted to broil an eye of round steak seasoned with paprika, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. For my vegetables I decided to roast some brussels sprouts, which I plated alongside some canned pumpkin, prepared with some cinnamon and nutmeg. I thought it’d be best to use up some more of the blackberries, and I washed down the meal with some coffee made with fat-free milk and Splenda. This meal was pretty disappointing with the exception of the steak, blackberries, and coffee. Canned pumpkin was something that I was eager to try, but just the smell that rose when I opened the can was terribly unappetizing. I did everything I could to make it into an edible side dish, but there was no saving the mash, which I would have happily switched out if I was allowed. The brussels sprouts were ice cold by the time I got around to eating them, which didn’t surprise me as we had our second day of snow outside while I was finishing the diet, but the steak was the saving grace here, which I was glad to have cooked just the way I like it.

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Virginia Mayo, voluptuous figure and all, breaking into the new year!

For me, this diet really had its ups and downs. On one hand, I love how customizable and truly healthy it is. It doesn’t encourage fasting or limiting oneself too terribly, which I enjoyed, but on the other hand this diet could easily be interpreted as fairly strict too. I wish that I had the freedom to eat any fruits and vegetables that I wanted as most diets would encourage, but I think in general this would be a fantastic starting point for anyone who’s eager to develop a healthier lifestyle. On another note, I’m also proud to report that I did lose two pounds over the course of the three days, but would I eat exactly like this every day, and would I recommend it to you all? Not necessarily. My favorite part was the delicious breakfasts, and I can definitely see myself incorporating the structure of eggs, fruit, coffee, and toast into my morning routine, but I think this diet is more of a suggestion and something that should encourage and inspire you to put more thought into what you eat. If you enjoy the concept of this diet, I hope that you consult with your doctor and customize it to suit your own tastes and dietary needs, and let me know what you think in the comments!

9 thoughts on “Cooking with the Stars — I Tried Virginia Mayo’s Miracle Diet

  1. Just thought I’d clarify for you that in nutrition-speak, a “serving” is equal to 3 oz.
    So for instance, if you were to eat a banana that happens to be 6 oz, it counts as two servings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That makes sense! Obviously when I read packaging I’m usually a little more conscious about serving size, but it didn’t even occur to me as I was doing this diet that I needed to measure the portions throughout. Thanks for the tip though, and I’ll definitely be more mindful of that in the future!

      Like

  2. This moment when you realize you pretty have the same breakfast as Virginia Mayo…Hum! This looked like an interesting experience! I admire how you manage to create variety in your lunches and dinners despite the rather strict indications. The main thing I would reproach to Virginia’s diet is to eat meet or fish both on lunch and dinner. It has proteines, it’s good for that, but we know however that too much meet isn’t necessarily very healty. But in the 40s-50s, people’s connection to food was obviously different. But overall, it’s nice to know her diet didn’t only consist of a branch of celery hahah.
    I see you mentionned Photoplay Magazine. I also love this magazine! I own two editions that I bought on ebay. I think there are some very interesting articles.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a great idea, Virginie! I do have that recipe on file, and I was planning to take suggestions for April’s edition of Cooking with the Stars, so thank you very much for this! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

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