Virginia Grey and Her Father Ray: Comedy and Melodrama

A celebration today of minor movie star Virginia Grey (1917-2004) who appeared in films with many classic comedians. But first a detour into the life of her father, whose career was also relevant.

Ray Grey (1890-1925) started on the Mack Sennett lot, as an extra in the film A Movie Star (1916) with Mack Swain. He obviously proved his worth. In his next film His Rise and Tumble (1917) starring Harry McCoy, Grey not only acted but was made assistant director. By 1919, he was given the assignment of co-directing Among Those Present with Ford Sterling. Grey directed or co-directed 16 films over the next half dozen years, including Down on the Farm (1920) with Louise Fazenda, at least one of the Andy Gump comedies, and several James (Paul) Parrott comedies for Hal Roach. At the same time he continued to act, in such comedies as The Shriek of Araby (1923) with Ben Turpin, and Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush (1925), and to assistant direct on things like the Mabel Normand vehicles Molly O (1921) and Suzanna (1923), and the Harry Langdon short Flickering Youth (1924).

Grey passed away in 1925, but the torch was almost instantly passed to his daughter. In 1927, 10 year old Virginia took a screen test at Universal and was cast in the plum role of Little Eva in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. A few other silents followed, and then after a brief break to finish her schooling she returned as a chorus girl in such musical films as Eddie Cantor’s Palmy Days (1931), Dames (1935), Gold Diggers of 1935, and The Great Ziegfeld (1936). She had a small role in Laurel and Hardy’s Our Relations (1936). Other notable stuff from the early years includes Rosalie (1937), Billy Rose’s Casa Manana  Revue (1938), Idiot’s Delight (1939), and The Women (1939). She was the ingenue in the Marx Brothers’ The Big Store (1941) and also had good roles in Whistling in the Dark (1941) with Red Skelton, Sweet Rosie O’Grady (1943), Flame of Barbary Coast (1945), Mexican Hayride (1948) with Abbott and Costello, and Jungle Jim (1948) with Johnny Weissmuller. In her later years she was cast in supporting roles in lots of sudsy melodramas. You can see her in All That Heaven Allows (1955), Tennessee Williams’ The Rose Tattoo (1955), the bio-pic Jeanne Eagels (1957), Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song (1961), Madame X (1966), and the disaster movie Airport (1970). She also did TV with her old friend Red Skelton, and shows like Ironside, Marcus Welby MD, and Love American Style. Her last credit was the 1976 Arthur Hailey mini-series The Moneychangers.

For more on silent film and classic comedy please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.