Mansfield was an American actress, entertainer, and singer during the fifties and sixties, who lived a public life and had plenty of publicity stunts – she popularized the “wardrobe malfunction” as a way to draw attention – and became a Hollywood icon. She had a short-lived career but made a huge impact on the entertainment industry. Read on to learn about this famous beauty.
Jayne Mansfield was born Vera Jayne Palmer on April 19th, 1933, in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Her family moved to Dallas by the time she turned three years old. Her father was an attorney-turned-musician, so it doesn't come as a shock that Jayne was interested in music from a young age.
By seven years old, she had learned how to play the violin. She continued to learn and branch out. When she was twelve years old, she took ballroom dance lessons, and before long, she was playing the piano as well as the viola. Three instruments – that's talent.
More Than Blonde Bombshell
Being able to play three instruments and becoming one of the biggest names in Hollywood is much more than just luck and beauty. Mansfield was extremely intelligent and hardworking and exceeded her reputation. Hollywood lumped her in with Monroe as a stereotypical airhead, but it's likely Mansfield could have beaten you handily in a test of brainpower.
It's reported that she had an I.Q. Of 163 (more than good enough for Mensa), and also spoke five languages: English, French, Spanish, German, and Italian. She had the entire world's eyes on her during her career – that takes more than just a winning smile.
Making Her Way to Hollywood
When Mansfield was thirteen years old, she and her mother (Vera Jeffrey Palmer Peers, a former schoolteacher) took a trip to Hollywood for some fun. Together they went to the famous Hollywood Brown Derby. Mansfield spotted one of her favorite national radio stars and just had to get his autograph.
With his signature in-hand, Mansfield knew that one day she would be giving her autograph to others. She even proclaimed it to her mother that hers would be a name to remember. Mansfield had found her path to walk, but she needed some more time to get there.
In 1949, Jayne met her future husband Paul Mansfield at a party on Christmas Eve. Jayne was sixteen years old at the time, and both were popular students at Highland Park High School in Dallas. Just six months later, in May, when Jayne was seventeen and Paul was twenty, the two were married.
Just six months after that, Jayne gave birth to their first child: Jayne Marie Mansfield. A little while after that, Jayne and her husband both enrolled in Southern Methodist University to study acting until 1951, when Jayne took off for Los Angeles for a little while and a summer semester at UCLA.
Her First Brush With Fame
Leaving her daughter and husband in Texas, Mansfield studied at the University of California Los Angeles' School of Theater, Film, and Television, one of the most famous of such programs in the world.
While there, Mansfield decided, practically on a whim, to enter the Miss California contest. She hid the fact that she was married from the contest and won the local round – to us, not much of a surprise.
Working the Small Before the Big Time
By 1952, Jayne had moved back to Austin to be with her husband and daughter. She studied dramatics at the University of Texas. To pay for classes and keep her family fed, she had a few different jobs. She sold books door-to-door, worked as a receptionist for a dance studio, and even sat as a nude model for art classes.
At the university, she joined a campus theatrical society called the Curtain Club, which also included eventual big names such as Tom Jones, Harvey Schmidt, Rip Torn, and Pat Hingle. The society was quite popular, so anyone interested in the arts at the college joined.
Off to War
Jayne was finding a comfortable place at the University of Texas, but early in 1952, Paul was called into service with the United States Army Reserve for the Korean War. Paul found out he was stationed in Georgia, and that meant a difficult decision for Jayne. She ultimately followed her husband and spent a year with him and their child at Camp Gordon, a United States Army training facility.
You might think an army base in Georgia is the place where artists go to die, but there was actually a small theater community for Jayne to join. She participated in a production of “Anything Goes,” a 1934 musical.
Making Her First Big Appearance
Jayne moved back to Dallas in 1953, and at that time, she became a student of actor Baruch Lumet, the father of famous director Sidney Lumet and founder of the Dallas Institute of Performing Arts. Thanks to Lumet's training, Mansfield's ability grew, and she got her first chance at the limelight with a production of Arthur Miller's “Death of a Salesman,” a legendary play.
She performed with the players of the Knox Street Theater, which Lumet headed. Mansfield's performance in the show was apparently so good that it attracted Paramount Pictures to come and give her an audition.
Off to the Studios
In April of 1954, Jayne had auditioned with both Paramount Pictures and Warner Brothers. Lumet himself trained Jayne for her first test, in which she performed a section from “Joan of Arc.” She performed it for casting director Milton Lewis, who told the actress that she was wasting her obvious talents. C'mon, Lewis, what else is she supposed to do? She's trying out for the pictures right now!
He had Mansfield return a week later to perform the piano scene from “The Seven Year Itch,” but she failed to impress. Now officially a struggling actress, Mansfield knew there was only one thing to do: ditch her natural brunette hair and go blonde.
Moving to California
During the time Mansfield was auditioning for films, Paul ended his stint with reserve duty. He made the decision to move the family to California, becoming aware that nothing was going to stop Jayne from her career in acting. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. The family moved to Van Nuys outside of Los Angeles while little Jayne Marie stayed with her grandparents.
The couple lived in a small apartment, which was full of Jayne's many pets, which include a Great Dane, three cats, two chihuahuas, a pink-dyed poodle, and a rabbit.
Becoming the Blonde
When she reached Los Angeles, Mansfield took the dive and had her hair colored platinum blonde, becoming one of the early “blonde bombshells,” a class that includes Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable, and Mamie Van Doren. These bombshells were also characterized with curvaceous figures, bright, light hair, and a perceived lack of intelligence – though likely, these gals were just as smart as you and me.
This stereotype took over Hollywood for decades, beginning in the fifties, and it's still possible to turn on the television and see a character that hearkens back to this era, though the negative aspects have usually been mellowed to just mild airheadedness.
Curves That Made the Conversation
One of Mansfield's many natural advantages was an hourglass figure, thanks to a combination of being at a low-weight and having quite...feminine hips and bust. When she was a big name, the media and public couldn't stop talking about it – newspapers would routinely publish her body measurements. It's even been said that Mansfield's bust was a major force behind the development of the 1950's style of the brassiere.
It's also been claimed that Mansfield, and Monroe, made the bikini popular. In the sixties, the ideal body shape would shift to the waif-like Audrey Hepburn or Twiggy; Mansfield's shape is still discussed today as the pinnacle of beauty.
A Working Girl
Jayne moved to California after landing a big screen test, but that didn't mean bills just evaporated. In order to make ends meet – as well as get her name out there as much as possible – Jayne took on a wide variety of odd jobs. She sold popcorn at the Stanley Warner Theater, taught dance, became a photographer for Esther Williams's Trails Restaurant, and got a part-time modeling gig with Blue Book Model Agency.
Thanks to her smarts, her hardworking nature, and her dedication to doing whatever it takes, she was able to use all of these jobs to further her career and keep herself moving forward.
When magazine Hugh Hefner began publishing “Playboy” in the fifties, it became an instant success with the male community thanks to the beauties found within its pages. These included Marilyn Monroe, Bettie Page, as well as our girl Mansfield and many more. Mansfield's opportunity came in February of 1955 when Hugh Hefner discovered Mansfield, making her the Playmate of the Month.
Mansfield went on to appear in the magazine several times – those striking photographs launched her career. More and more offers of photoshoots and acting opportunities started to roll in. But not everything was going smoothly for the new star.
Calling it Quits with Paul
Marital woes had plagued the couple since the beginning. Jayne's high ambitions kept her mind off her family, and she also had numerous instances of marital infidelity. Jayne and Paul took on the long and grueling process of filing for separation in February of 1955. Paul even sought custody of their daughter in August 1956, claiming that Jayne was an unfit mother since she posed for nude photographs.
It took all the way until 1958, before they were officially divorced. Surprisingly, Jayne decided to hold on to “Mansfield” as her professional name, though no doubt because she had appeared in “Playboy” with the name and didn't want to change her brand.
A New Start
Paul moved back to Dallas, Texas, to start over. Jayne was also determined to start afresh. She maintained custody of daughter Jayne Marie and wanted to make sure she had the best life possible. It was a new experience for Mansfield, who had been with Paul since before she even graduated high school.
Nevertheless, she stayed in Los Angeles and tried to figure out a way to make it for herself and her daughter. It proved a challenge since she would soon become one of the big Hollywood poster girls. It's not the kind of situation that lends itself to normalcy.
Her First Foray Into Film
As Mansfield's marriage was ending, her career was beginning to take off. The first film she appeared in was a 1955 role in “Female Jungle,” and as far as small roles, it's one of the smallest. It was a supporting role, and the low-budget drama took only ten days to shoot. Ten days is practically unheard of now, but even then, it was a small amount of time.
Thanks to the film, however, James Byron – Jayne's manager and publicist – was able to negotiate a seven-year contract with Warner Brothers. The contract produced only two films. One was an insignificant role for the actress, and the other went unreleased for two years.
Getting Big On Broadway
In 1955, Mansfield was part of the cast of a crime thriller called “The Burglar.” It was an adaptation of David Goodis's novel of the same name, produced by Louis W. Kellman. Kellman claimed to have discovered Mansfield in order to drum up interest.
While filming “The Burglar,” Mansfield also received the part of Rita Marlowe in the New York Broadway production of George Axelrod's comedy “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” When Warner Brothers found out that Mansfield had joined the production, it took no more than two weeks for the company to drop her from their payroll.
A Short Time and a Good Time
Mansfield's contract with Warner Brothers might not have lasted very long, but Mansfield was reported to have enjoyed it. She enjoyed every second she had at the huge film studio. Though she was part of only a few films, she loved fraternizing with everyone involved at the company, from the bigwigs to the staff.
She even loved just walking around the grounds of the studio and having picnics in the garden. She would often bring her pooches to the yards for strolls and to chat with friends. We're sure the Great Dane was happy to get outside a little more.
Building Her Resume
During a year that was full of big life changes and memorable events, Mansfield worked hard to prove her skills to Warner Brothers. She locked down a number of minor film roles while under contract and appeared in three more movies produced by the studio.
None of these films are the most recognizable titles – they are “Illegal,” “Pete Kelly's Blues,” and “Hell on Frisco Bay” – but they all helped to pay the bills and helped her become a name – and more than just a body – more people would recognize.
The Next Man for Mansfield
After Warner Brothers let her go, Mansfield was still finding plenty of acting gigs. She was also, no surprise, here, proving to plenty popular among the men of Hollywood. It was in May of 1956, Mansfield met the man who would turn out to be her second husband, Mickey Hargitay.
Hargitay was a bodybuilder who had won the Mr. Universe competition in 1955. Our blonde beauty spotted this hunk while he was performing as a member of a chorus line in Mae West's show in the Latin Quarter nightclub in New York City. The brawn met beauty, and the rest is history.
A New Man and a New Contract
The same year that Mansfield stole Hargitay's heart, 1956, the actress also signed a six-year contract with 20th Century Fox. She was still under contract with Broadway at this point, playing her character in “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” on the stage until September of the same year.
It was her first major stage performance, and it not only helped her gain public popularity, but she also got plenty of critical attention. Thanks to her role in the play, she won both a Theater World Award and a Golden Globe. When it came to accolades, she was just getting started.
Her First Starring Role in Film
Once her Broadway contract was up, Mansfield dove back into film acting with a role as Jerri Jordan in Frank Tashlin's 1956 film “The Girl Can't Help It.” When the film was released, it became one of the year's biggest successes both financially and critically.
It took no time at all for Fox to start promoting Mansfield as the second coming of Marilyn Monroe (this was also an attempt to try and get Monroe to come back to them and finish out her contract). That same year, Mansfield had her first appearance on TV, with the leading role on the NBC TV movie “The Bachelor.”
She Loved the Public, and They Loved Her Back
One of Mansfield's biggest strengths in her pursuit of fame was her public life. She pretty much gave up all her privacy in order to gain as much exposure as possible, and her doors were also open to interviews and photographers. Byron, who acted as Mansfield's publicist until the end of 1961, Mansfield appeared in something like twenty-five-hundred newspaper photographs.
She had somewhere in the realm of 122,000 lines of newspaper copy written about her – and that's just between September of '56 and May 1957! Her adoring fans ate it all up, and Mansfield's star continued to rise. And she stayed busy, too.
Going Across the Pond
1957 was another busy year for Mansfield. She was constantly working, and she would appear with a big dramatic role in “The Wayward Bus,” a drama film based on the 1947 novel of the same name by John Steinbeck. This role eventually won her another Golden Globe. She also started branching out and made her first appearance on British television when she recited the bard himself.
We're trying to figure out what exactly she recited, but it's hard to find out for sure. She also played the piano as well as the violin, putting her best foot forward for a public that knew her as nothing more than a pretty blonde.
Casting the Expert
Seeing as how Mansfield spent so much time as Rita Marlowe in the Broadway show “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” it makes perfect sense that director Frank Tashlin would cast her in the 1957 film adaptation of the same show. Fox jumped at the chance, launching both a North American tour and a forty-day, sixteen-country tour of Europe.
Mansfield was a bona fide star, and during the tour, Mansfield attended the London premiere, getting the chance to meet with the late Queen Elizabeth II. Mansfield's words to Her Highness? “You are so beautiful.” The queen's response? “So are you.”
Making Her Life Her Own
After her whirlwind tour of Europe, Mansfield and Mickey got engaged. Things couldn't be better for the star, and her fiance even made his first film appearance, playing a small role alongside his darling in the film version of “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” The couple became one of the most popular pairs around, smiling for the cameras and showing off their stuff on the screen.
They did stage shows and got plenty of headlines for the shocking performances – one of the shows had Hargitay. Still all muscles, toss Mansfield around his waist and spin her in wide circles. As far as power couples go, these two were at the top of the list.
Joining the Touring Team
One of the nightclubs acts that Mansfield and Hargitay offered was featured in a special episode of NBC's “The Perry Como Show.” The producers of “The Bob Hope Show” asked her to join the touring team with a few guest appearances. In the show, Mansfield toured around the United States Pacific Command areas with “Bob Hope for the United States Organizations” for thirteen days.
She proved to be a modern renaissance woman by getting the men to laugh with her skills as a comedian. She also appeared on a number of game shows, including “Down You Go,” as a regular panelist. She was also a team captain on “The Match Game” and was a special mystery guest on “What's My Line?”
Mother Once More
Mansfield's next starring role in “Kiss Them for Me” ended up being a big flop at the box office, and it was one of the last attempts by 20th Century Fox to publicize the actress. Still, she got the lead role in “The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw” the next year, a western comedy that would end up being Mansfield's last piece of mainstream film success.
Columbia Pictures offered her the lead role in the romantic comedy “Bell, Book, and Candle” due to being pregnant with her second child and her first with her husband, Mickey.
Well, Not Husband Just Yet
In order to marry Mickey, Jayne first had to finalize her divorce from Paul Mansfield. But, at last, in January of 1958, Jayne and Mickey Hargitay got married at the Wayfarers Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. The chapel was built entirely out of glass, which made it easy for her adoring public, and her adoring press to witness the wedding.
Thanks to a 20th Century Fox costume designer, Mansfield's wedding dress was the talk of the town, a stunning gown that included thirty yards of pink tulle and a skintight dress made of sequins.
Canceled at the Academy Awards
Though she wasn't up for any awards, Mansfield was planned to appear in a live orchestral performance at the thirty-first Academy Awards. However, due to time concerns, the show producer Jerry Wald canceled the performance to make sure everything was on time.
Ironically, the show ended twenty minutes early, which forced host Jerry Lewis to fill the extra time. Mansfield was supposed to join Dick Powell, Jack Benny, Robert Mitchum, and Fred Astaire as a star-studded band led by conductor Jerry Lewis. Mansfield was going to play the second violin behind Jack Benny. Astaire was to play drums, which seems like it would have been fun.
Shows in Europe
Jayne found more success in Italian films: “The Loves of Hercules” and “L'Amore Primitivo.” Husband Mickey was often her male lead and also had a major supporting role in “Promises! Promises!” When the two of them appeared on stage in Jayne's nightclub acts, Mickey was often the lead, whether it was “The Tropicana Holiday,” The House of Love,” or any of their other acts.
The pair also made appearances on television specials such as the Bob Hope Christmas Specials. Even when they didn't appear on-stage or on the screen, husband and wife worked together in numerous business dealings. The two kept quite busy.
Busy in Business
Hargitay and Mansfield spent all of their free time maintaining a number of joint business holdings. These included the Hargitay Exercise Equipment Company – leveraging Hargitay's history as a bodybuilder – Jayne Mansfield Productions, and, of all things, Eastland Savings and Loan.
Of course, Mansfield always appeared in movie and TV roles, but together the husband and wife pair also co-wrote the autobiographical book “Jayne Mansfield's Wild, Wild World.” The book contained thirty-two pages of black-and-white photographs from the film printed on glossy paper, making it a must-have for any mega Mansfield fan. Mansfield seemed to be able to do it all, except for taking a break.
Zoltan Enters the Family
On August first, 1960, Jayne Mansfield and Mickey Hargitay welcomed a bundle of joy to their family. Zoltan Hargitay. Jayne already had her own daughter, and the couple's first child, Miklós Jeffrey Palmer Hargitay, was born in December of 1958. Not only was the family one of Hollywood's biggest pairs, but they were also able to create the perfect American family.
Mansfield was now bringing up children from different fathers without missing a step, but she was also holding down a stable relationship with Mickey and furthering her career. However, not everything coming for the family was out of a storybook, and Zoltan might have had the worst luck.
Raking it All In
While she was still growing her family, Mansfield was appearing all over the airwaves in television dramas including episodes of “Burke's Law,” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “The Red Skelton Hour,” “Kraft Mystery Theater,” and a 1962 episode of “Follow the Sun.” It was considered the start of a “new and dramatic Jayne Mansfield.”
Her career was hovering at the top. It's been estimated that at this point that Mansfield was earning something like twenty thousand dollars per episode of television she filmed, which is about $177,000 today. Not too shabby, and we're sure that Mansfield was happy to have reached the stardom she always dreamed of.
Everybody Knew Her Name
With a never-ending media blitz, famous movies, well-regarded TV episodes, club shows, and more, Mansfield was the kind of person that everyone knew. By 1960, Mansfield was topping press polls, but she was also thought to be the most-photographed celebrity. Likely, at that point, the most photographed celebrity ever.
Of course, not all press is good. You can't please everyone, no matter how hard you try, and someone with the kind of fame that Mansfield was garnering was bound to bring negative headlines. She also continued her trend of publicity stunts, which started to seem desperate to the media.
Showing a Little Too Much
Aside from the normal publicity stunts and her appearances in media, Mansfield also had an odd tactic of getting people to pay attention. She used her natural advantages to their fullest, building outfits that showed off plenty and even had seams that seemed to strategically burst in certain places and at certain times.
You may remember the famously low-cut dress Mansfield wore to the exclusive Beverly Hills Romanoff's restaurant hosted by Paramount Pictures to officially welcome famous Italian actress Sophia Loren to Hollywood, which got plenty of sidelong glances from other guests. Things got worse for the actress when she took charge of her own publicity without the help of a professional publicist.
Taking the Top Off Her Career
When Mansfield was in Silver Springs, Florida, to promote her upcoming film “Underwater!” Mansfield wore a too-small bikini she borrowed from a friend. When she dove into the pool, that too-tight top came right off, which got her plenty of media and public attention. She also had one night when she chose a dress that kept falling down to her waist all evening long, showing off her ample assets.
If this was just a mistake, Mansfield would have changed after leaving the night's first event, a movie party, but she didn't – instead, she headed to a nightclub in the same outfit, so it's pretty clear that this was something Mansfield was ready to utilize.
The End of Her Contract
Unlike her time with Warner Brothers, Mansfield was able to see out the length of her contract with 20th Century Fox, but things took a turn down when it came to renewing. In 1962 the studio made the decision not to renew her contract. Mansfield was suddenly out of work, which means she had to not only get money to pay her bills but find ways to keep her star on the rise.
Before she could figure out a way to get back into movies and big-budget shows, she spent time appearing on game shows and a variety of smaller television programs.
Building a New Mansfield
Mansfield hadn't been off the screen before 1962. She'd been trying her luck in a number of TV shows since TV had been growing in popularity – and profits – compared to movies. One of those shows was “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour,” an anthology series that presented viewers with dramas, thrillers, and mysteries of the quality Hitchcock always produced.
Jayne starred in an episode called “Hangover,” about a man who forgets what happened the day before and has to work out what happened. Sounds pretty familiar to the 2009 movie, but in this version, it's less a comedy and more tragic and devastating.
Stunts That Would Wow Acrobats
Mansfield must have started to feel desperate since she began to pull even riskier stunts. She showed up topless to a Mardi Gras party while visiting Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (which is a little more common there). She also decided to leave her polka-dot dress on the floor of a Rome nightclub in June of 1962.
Only three years after her Broadway debut with “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” Mansfield had become one of the most controversial stars of the decade. The media, both at home and around the world, started to realize Mansfield was doing everything she could to keep an eye on her, even if the only things she had to offer peeked at her body.
Too Hot for the Censors
Mansfield had become a different person. She pushed all kinds of boundaries in both her public life and her (if she even had one) private life. It had never been truer than in 1963 when she starred in the movie “Promises! Promises!” It titillated moviegoers with promises of Mansfield practically baring it all on-screen in what would be a history-making move in Hollywood.
Due to the censorship practices at the time, such skin was unheard of, and those same organizations considered the content explicit. As a result, the footage was banned worldwide.
Keeping Things Together for the Moment
After Mansfield and Hargitay divorced, Jayne discovered she was pregnant with their third child. Being a single mother with a new daughter would have forced Mansfield to put her career on the back burner for a little while at least – something she was clearly loath to do – so the couple announced they would stay together for the time being.
At the same time, Mansfield was chosen over several other leading ladies of the time to replace the recently-deceased Marilyn Monroe in “Kiss Me, Stupid,” a 1964 romantic comedy that also starred Dean Martin. Mansfield had to turn the potentially career-reviving role down due to her pregnancy.
Making Mom Proud
The third child of Mickey Hargitay and Jayne Mansfield, they named Mariska, and that name should ring a bell. Like her mother, Mariska is now an award-winning actress, best known for her portrayal as New York Police Department Captain Olivia Benson on the NBC drama “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”
Mariska Hargitay has been part of the show since it began all the way back in September of 1999, making it the longest-running United States live-action series. We have no doubt that Jayne would be happy with the success Mariska has found, as well as Mariska's choice to avoid the pitfalls Jayne herself stumbled into.
Third Try at Love
Once Mansfield had her feet on the ground concerning the new baby girl, her divorce from Hargitay was officially recognized – August of 1964. A court decree made Hargitay the guardian of the three children, but they continued to live with Mansfield. Only a month after the divorce was finalized, Mansfield married Matt Cimber, an Italian-born film director.
The two had become involved when he directed her stage production of “Bus Stop,” which co-starred Hargitay. During their marriage, Cimber began managing Jayne's career, guiding her toward increasingly tasteless projects in an attempt to rebuild her career.
What Little We Know
Despite Mansfield's overly-public life, not much is known about her relationship with Cimber. We do know that the couple got pregnant, and Mansfield gave birth to her fifth child, Antonio Raphael Ottaviano, in 1965. The child was generally referred to as Tony Cimber.
Mansfield gave birth not too long before the couple decided to call it quits. Matt would go on to raise Tony with his third wife, Christy Hilliard Hanak. This third marriage of Mansfield's was over too quickly to give us too much information.
A Life Beginning to Unravel
The reasons for the faltering of this third marriage were numerous. Mansfield had no reason to stop her track record of open infidelity. She was also suffering from substance abuse, which was mainly alcohol. She also admitted to Cimber that she had only found happiness in the arms of her former lover, Nelson Sardelli.
In July of 1965, only ten months after getting married, Mansfield and Cimber separated, with their son being born a few months later. 1965, the same year that Mansfield and Cimber got divorced, also saw Mansfield branch out into a musical career that would keep her afloat for a little while.
Mansfield took to the recording studio to try her hand at fame with her first love: music. None other than big-name musician Jimi Hendrix played bass and added lead guitar later on two different songs by Mansfield: “As The Clouds Drift By” and “Suey.” They were released as separate 45-rpm singles by London Records.
Hendrix historian Steven Roby says that this odd collab came about because Mansfield and Hendrix shared a manager. Mansfield also recorded “Wo ist der Mann,” a German song that garnered a fair amount of critical praise. We shouldn't be surprised that Mansfield still had something to offer her public, seeing as how she had been playing instruments since before she even hit ten years old.
A Woman of Many Talents
Whether it was acting in comedic or dramatic roles, recording her own music, or letting slip a little bit of skin to keep the photographers tantalized, Mansfield had plenty of skill she put to good use. She showed off her musical skills on variety shows such as “The Jack Benny Program,” “The Steve Allen Show,” and “The Jackie Gleason Show.”
During the mid-sixties, Jackie had one of the most popular television programs in the United States. Another one of her more notable appearances was when she played on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” appearing in front of a six-person backup band.
Letting a Big Chance Slip Away
Mansfield liked to take as many roles as she could, with one exception. One big, bad exception. In 1964, as film and television roles were starting to dwindle and Mansfield was starting to get desperate, an in-production show called “Gilligan's Island” offered Mansfield the role of Ginger Grant, an ex-actress stranded with the other characters on an island.
Mansfield turned the role down since it epitomized the very stereotype she was trying to get away from, a somewhat ditzy and sexualized movie star (though in the show, Ginger is actually rather intelligent). The part would go to Tina Louise, and the show became one of the enduring hits of the sixties. Louise herself gained a great deal of wider recognition thanks to her portrayal as Ginger.
In the News Again
Mansfield found her name back in the headlines in November of 1966, but it didn't have anything to do with her, oddly enough. Her son, Zoltan, made news when a lion attacked him. He and his mother were visiting Jungleland USA in Thousand Oaks, California.
The poor boy suffered severe head trauma and had to undergo a number of extensive surgeries. Thankfully, Zoltan recovered, which is more than we can say for the zoo – Mansfield's attorney sued the theme park on behalf of the family. That, and intense negative publicity, led to the theme park closing down.
A Few Roles to Keep Her Busy
In 1966, Cimber got Mansfield cast in a few odd roles that kept her working. The first was “Single Room Furnished,” a film that required the actress to portray three separate characters. After that movie was completed, Mansfield was cast opposite a fellow blonde bombshell, Mamie Van Doren. Ferlin Husky also joined the low-budget comedy called “The Las Vegas Hillbillys.”
It was her first Western film, and Mansfield joined Husky and other country musicians on a twenty-nine-day tour of major cities. Before filming was set to begin, however, Mansfield had one big condition.
The Battling Blondes
Mansfield told the producers of “The Las Vegas Hillbillys” that she would not “share any screen time with the drive-in's answer to Marilyn Monroe,” a scathing insult to fellow blonde Mamie Van Doren. The producers did as Mansfield asked, meaning the two leading ladies never filmed in the same scene at the same time.
Their characters did appear in the same scene once, but they filmed at different times, to be edited together later. It's unclear exactly why Mansfield was so down on Van Doren, though one possibility is she was upset about the slightly younger star maintaining her youthful body, while Mansfield had to rely on shapeless dresses in order to hide her weight gain after the birth of her fifth child.
A Bad Boyfriend
Around this time, in 1966, Mansfield was starting to fall apart. She was relying on substances more and more; she was getting into club brawls and had started performing at cheap burlesque shows. By July of 1966, Mansfield was living with her attorney-turned-boyfriend, Sam Brody.
To call it a toxic relationship is to ignore a lot. The couple got into physical fights, and Brody even mistreated Mansfield's eldest daughter, who was sixteen at the time. At the same time, Brody's wife, Beverly, filed for divorce.
Never Far From the Stage
The lady just couldn't keep away from the spotlight. Most likely, she didn't want to. In 1966 she was facing a lull in her career, which is something that plenty of performers, entertainers, and artists go through. She turned her attention back to the theater.
She took on several roles to keep her working and keep her in the public eye, including the production of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” After one performance, ex-husband Mickey Hargitay showed up backstage and presented her with a bouquet. Girl, you should have kept that one.
A Highly Visible Career
There's no doubt that Mansfield's tumultuous personal life, her wild publicity antics, and her refusal to stop working led to an affected career. While she had setbacks, there's no doubt that she remained one of the most famous and popular celebrities of the late fifties and sixties. In early 1967, Mansfield filmed what would sadly be her last role.
Gene Kelly directed the bedroom farce comedy, “Guide for the Married Man,” which also starred Inger Stevens, Walter Matthau, and Robert Morse. The opening credits even listed Mansfield as a technical director – she was pretty familiar with married men at that point.
A Day in June
During the summer of 1967, Mansfield and Brody took a trip to Biloxi, Mississippi, with her three children with Mickey Hargitay. She had arrangements to perform at a local nightclub, and on the evening of June 28th, Mansfield made two appearances at the Gus Stevens Supper Club.
But once she made those appearances, she was on the road again. She had to head to New Orleans for television appearances that were scheduled for the very next day. She might not be an A-list star, but Mansfield was still plenty busy.
As soon as she finished at the nightclub, she hit the road. A driver for the nightclub, Ronald B. Harrison, had the wheel. Brody and Mansfield slept in the front, while the children slept in the back. After a couple of hours on the road, Harrison reached a dark stretch of road. They approached a trailer-truck that was hauling a machine actively spraying pesticides to ward off mosquitoes.
The Buick Electra Harrison drove hit the trailer-truck from behind. Tragically, the three adults in the front seat died instantly, though thankfully, the children in the back all survived, receiving relatively minor injuries, though the mental torment must have been awful.
Gone Too Soon
Mansfield was only thirty-four years old when she passed away, which is almost incredible when you look at how much of a mark she left on the entertainment world. Even as late as the eighties, Mansfield was one of the biggest Hollywood icons. In 1980, CBS released “The Jayne Mansfield Story.”
It starred Loni Anderson in the title role, and Mickey Hargitay was played by fellow Mr. Universe Arnold Schwarzenegger. In 1988, archival footage was used to present Mansfield's story a second time in a television documentary. A 1999 A&E television series called “Dangerous Curves” showed a new generation of movie fans the famous star's life.
The Estate She Left Behind
As Mansfield had been working hard to keep her career going, she had been letting her estate fall into disrepair. It included the “Pink Palace,” a mansion she bought in 1957 and renovated to her liking, including covering in her favorite color. She had the entire place painted in pink and also added cupids surrounded by pink fluorescent lights, and she also refurbished the bathrooms with pink fur and a pink heart-shaped bathtub.
Mickey Hargitay was a plumber and carpenter before taking up bodybuilding, and when he was spending time as Mansfield's husband, he built another heart-shaped item, this time a swimming pool, for the backyard.
A Lady's Lasting Impact
Mansfield's Pink Palace was demolished in 2002. Mansfield also left behind five children, a large number of fans and followers, and a legacy that left a big impact on the world of entertainment. A natural brunette that paved the way for the popularity of blondes, Mansfield made waves with her striking figure and talent that no one could deny.
Despite everything that happened, her career was short, and she died too soon. Nobody is perfect, but nobody can deny that Mansfield's memory will live on for a long time.
What Could Have Been
All the way back in 1949, nearly twenty years before she died, Vera Jayne Palmer was just one year away from eloping with the then-twenty-year-old Paul Mansfield. It's possible to find pictures of the happy couple before they were parents, before Jayne became a blonde, and before there was any sort of fame in the family.
If this couple had stood the test of time, would Mansfield have passed away with her boyfriend in 1967? Hollywood produces lots of good things, but stable and strong relationships are not something it often pumps out. Mansfield's desire for fame and fortune made it difficult for her to stay tied to any one guy – her rampant infidelity certainly didn't help. Yet she still succeeded, making it big in her own unique and unforgettable way.