Urbana's First Hollywood Actress: Virginia Sale

Born in Urbana in 1899 to Dr. and Mrs. F.O. Sale, Virginia Sale was the younger sister to Charles “Chic” Sale, a famous comedian. Her exact date of birth is unknown, as it was not required in Champaign County during this time to record a birth on the birth registry. Virginia grew up in Urbana and attended the University of Illinois for two years before graduating from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. After graduating she attempted to get into Broadway but went without work as an actress for an entire year. Sale then decided to move to Hollywood. Her first film came in 1927 titled “The Crowd.”

She did many short films, had uncredited spots on films, and other small parts on films. In 1937 she was cast in “Topper” along side Carey Grant and Constance Bennet. She appeared in “Miss Annie Rooney” with Shirley Temple and Abbot and Costello’s “Hit the Ice.” Over the course of her career she appeared on approximately 300 films, 200 television shows, and innumerable commercials; her most noted commercial role was for Gulf Oil in the late 1960s where she played a grandmother. Television shows Sale appeared on included The Andy Griffith Show, Green Acres, Beverly Hillbillies, and was a regular on Petticoat Junction.

Sale was almost cast as the Wicked Witch of the West in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. The casting director called Virginia to have her audition for the part. Unbeknownst to him, Virginia had recently had surgery to straighten her nose. When she met with the casting director he “recoiled in horror” at her straightened nose (Geoff, 1970). The part then went to Margaret Hamilton.

Virginia Sale married Sam Wren, a Broadway actor and also her manager, and for the first 15 years of her marriage had a one woman show called “Americana Sketches” about small-town American that received rave reviews by critics and audiences. She drew upon her upbringing in Urbana for many of the sketches. Sale assessed she did over 3,000 shows across the country.

Virginia Sale was the first volunteer entertainer to tour west coast army camps at the outbreak of World War II, traveling long distances at her own expense. For this she received national recognition, with the First Lady Elenor Roosevelt writing her congratulations and "hoping others would follow your splendid example." Sale was made National Morale Office, 1st Lieutenant of the Women's Ambulance and Defense Corps in recognition of her efforts. (Wren 1945).

As a member of Delta Gamma, Sale was involved in charitable benefits benefiting the Nursery for Blind Children in Los Angeles and started the Toy Loan Library at the Assistance League in Hollywood. An appearance for the Junior Chamber of Commerce of Fillmore, California raised $600 for the purchase of an iron lung. She was told that the first day the ventilator was in use, it saved the lives of a woman and a baby (Wren 1945).

Sale had two children, twins Ginny and Christopher. Christopher Wren went on to become a songwriter, writing “Jesus Was A Carpenter” for Johnny Cash. Ginny gained national recognition for her work with disabled children.

Sale, her husband, and their twelve-year-old twin children also starred in a television show called “Wren’s Nest” in 1949. A first for television, it was a family comedy show about domestic life.

Sale participated in radio and stage productions, film, and television. She died August 23, 1992 at the age of 93 in California.