Virginia Campbell: Remembering Marilyn’s ‘Hometown Story’ Co-Star

Actress Virginia Campbell ended her movie career in one of Marilyn’s earliest movies, Home Town Story (1951.) According to The Times, she recalled to her husband that Marilyn “couldn’t act her way out of Grand Central Station.”

While Marilyn was younger and less experienced than Campbell, her brief appearance is the only reason this unremarkable movie – intended as propaganda for General Motors at a time of rising strike action – is remembered at all today, with numerous bootleg DVDs rather dishonestly giving her top billing.

In a recent ranking of Marilyn’s filmography for Screen Rant, critic Jack Carter rated Home Town Story lowest among her 29 screen credits. You can watch her three short scenes as Iris Martin, a secretary in a newspaper’s office, sparring with future Gilligan’s Island star Alan Hale Jr. – and with Campbell also featured as a reporter – here.

Born into a notable, if slightly scandalous family in Plaquemine, Louisiana in 1914, Virginia Campbell started her career on Broadway, appearing with Montgomery Clift in a 1939 production of Noel Coward’s Hay Fever, and with Harpo Marx in The Yellow Jacket (1941.) She made just four movies, including Cecil B. DeMille’s Unconquered (1947), alongside Gary Cooper and Paulette Goddard. While shooting a scene for Ernst Lubitsch’s That Lady in Ermine (1948), Campbell offered some unsolicited acting advice to leading lady Betty Grable, who snapped back: “Honey, you do your thing and I’ll do mine.”

Leaving Hollywood behind, Campbell moved to Italy and hosted high-society parties, often putting on puppet shows with her husband, the writer John Becker. Filmmaker Federico Fellini invited her to appear in his 1959 masterpiece, La Dolce Vita, which she declined – but the characters of Steiner and his wife are said to be partly based on the Beckers (Fellini even duplicated their apartment on the set), as well as the Italian novelist, Cesar Pavese, who like Fellini’s ‘Steiner’, committed suicide.

At left, Virginia Campbell in Unconquered (1947); and at right, as a puppeteer in 1950s Rome

Virginia married her third husband at 82 and in later years divided her time between Rome and London – where her legacy lives on, as Robin Cherry reports for Garden & Gun.

“If my grandmother had been a Louisiana socialite, an actress who co-starred with Boris Karloff and Gary Cooper, a puppeteer who performed at glamorous parties and on cruise ships, as well as a trained plumber who died on her 102nd birthday, I’d open a restaurant in her honour, too.

Plaquemine Lock, a Cajun-Creole restaurant on Regent’s Canal in London, takes its name from a lock that the chef Jacob Kenedy’s great-grandfather built and stands as an homage to his fascinating grandmother, Virginia Campbell, and their Louisiana heritage … From the outside, the Plaquemine Lock restaurant looks like a standard-issue British pub, but step inside and you’re greeted by colourful murals of the river steamboat Carrie B. Schwing, named after Kenedy’s great-grandmother, and other scenes of the Louisiana bayou, including a hungry alligator. One of the murals even includes a painting of Campbell and her husband Lenny walking up to the pub. Campbell’s daughter (and Kenedy’s mother), the artist Haidee Becker, painted the murals, making the restaurant a true family affair.

Since you don’t go to a restaurant just for its backstory, rest assured the food is wonderful. Kenedy is also the chef-owner of the beloved Italian restaurant Bocca di Lupo in London, and he says his family members throughout Louisiana have taught and continue to teach him ‘our ways of making dirty rice, gumbo, devilled eggs, and the like’ … Kenedy’s desire to open a Louisiana-themed restaurant became more important after his grandmother died on her birthday, February 17, 2016. He opened the restaurant the following year … Kenedy says he thinks that Campbell, or ‘Ginny’ as she was known, would have been overjoyed with ‘her’ pub … Campbell lived her long, happy life the same way—by making up the rules as she went along and enjoying it all with family, friends, and great food.”