April 19, 1933 – Jayne Mansfield
“You gotta have a body.”
Jayne Mansfield was already a Gay Icon when she died tragically in 1967. She was married three times, had five children, made 29 films and was an international star, all before she left this world at just 34-years-old.
Mansfield was an actor, singer, and stage performer who had an enormous impact on popular culture despite her limited success in Hollywood. Although most people have never seen her in a film, Mansfield is still one of the most recognizable icons of the mid-20th century.
Mansfield, Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell were the bad girls, with Doris Day, Debbie Reynolds and Natalie Wood as the good girls. Billy Graham wrote:
“This country knows more about Jayne Mansfield’s statistics than the Second Commandment.”
Although Mansfield’s film career didn’t last long, she did have a few box-office hits and she won a Theatre World Award and a Golden Globe. Her biggest success was playing the fictional actor Rita Marlowe, in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? on Broadway in 1955–1956 and in the 1957 Hollywood film version. Her wardrobe, mostly a bath-towel, caused a sensation.
Audiences appreciated her unique gifts in The Girl Can’t Help It (1956), The Wayward Bus (1957), and Too Hot To Handle (1960). In Promises! Promises! (1963), not to be confused with the Burt Bacharach musical five years later, Mansfield became the first major American female star to have a nude starring role in a Hollywood motion picture.
Mansfield was born Vera Jayne Palmer, and took her professional name from her first husband, P.R. representative Paul Mansfield. In 1956, Mansfield met her second husband, Mickey Hargitay, at the Latin Quarter where he was performing in Mae West‘s club act. Hargitay was a bodybuilder who was Mr. Universe in 1955.
Mansfield’s publicity antics live on in popular culture. There is that famous 1957 photograph of Sophia Loren staring at Mansfield’s chest at Romanoff’s, the place to be seen on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Mansfield was grabbing all attention from Loren during a dinner party in the great Italian star’s honor. The picture shows Loren raising a contemptuous eyebrow at the American star who was sitting between Loren and her dinner companion, Clifton Webb. Mansfield had leaned over the table, allowing her breasts to spill over her low neckline exposing one nipple. The photo inspired other photographs too. In 1993, Anna Nicole Smith paid homage to the picture, posing as Mansfield for a Guess Jeans campaign.
Mansfield appeared at a press event promoting the film Underwater! (1955) starring Jane Russell, purposefully wore a too-small red bikini. When she dove into the pool for photographers, her top came off, creating a buzz in the media. The same year, her dress fell down to her waist twice in a single evening, once at a movie party, and later at a nightclub, while photographers just happened to be crowded around her. In February 1958, she went topless at a Mardi Gras party in Rio de Janeiro. She was caught on camera as she shimmied out of her polka-dot dress in a Rome nightclub in June 1962.
The meeting between Mansfield and Anton LaVey, the founder and high priest of the Church of Satan, is still being written about today. Mansfield 66/67 (2017) is about the last two years of her life, and the rumors swirling that her untimely death was caused by a curse, after her alleged romantic dalliance with LaVey. Check out this post from World of Wonder writer Trey Speegle from last year.
In June 1967, Mansfield was in Biloxi, Mississippi, performing in her club act. After two appearances on the evening of June 28, Mansfield, her boyfriend Sam Brody, their driver, and three of her children: Miklós, Zoltán and Mariska Hargitay, left Biloxi for New Orleans, where Mansfield had a show the next day. Their Buick crashed at high speed into the rear of a tractor-trailer that had slowed behind a truck spraying insecticide. The three adults in the front seat died instantly. The children were asleep in the rear seat, and only had minor injuries.
The urban legend that she was decapitated is untrue. It started when police photographs of a crashed car with its top virtually sheared off, and what resembled a blonde-haired head tangled in the car’s smashed windshield was published. However, it was the wig Mansfield was wearing.
Still, the rumor has stuck. In the film To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995), Miss Vida Boheme (Patrick Swayze) remarks while trying out a vintage yellow convertible: “I feel like Miss Jayne Mansfield in this car!” Noxeema Jackson (Wesley Snipes) answers: “Uh oh, Jayne Mansfield, not a good auto reference.”
In David Cronenberg‘s film Crash (1996), a male stunt driver dressed as Mansfield recreates her fatal accident, killing himself in the process. His partner, a fellow celebrity-crash aficionado, comes across the scene of the wreck and says: “You did the Jayne Mansfield crash without me?”
Her boobs were so much a part of her persona that talk-show host Jack Paar once introduced her on The Tonight Show saying:
“Here they are, Jayne Mansfield!”
The 1950s were a decade for worshiping big-breasted women, a phenomenon celebrated by Playboy Magazine with Mansfield and Monroe featured in the magazine, along with Anita Ekberg and Bettie Page. She was featured in 30 issues of Playboy. The magazine’s pictures of Mansfield began the phenom of large-breasted feminine ideal and men’s magazines with titles such as Rogue, Nugget and Dude. Mansfield made the cover of main stream magazines featured: Hollywood Studio Magazine, LIFE Magazine (April 23, 1956), and Look (March 1957).
Mansfield’ nude pics in the February 1955 issue of Playboy, launched her career and doubled the magazine’s circulation. Playboy had begun in Hugh Hefner’s kitchen the year before. The first Mansfield issue of the magazine was banned, and publisher Hefner was arrested by the Chicago police, the only time in his life that Hef was ever arrested. Copies of the issue sold for as much as $10 each. After the first Mansfield issue, Playboy was scrutinized by the U.S Customs Department issue-by-issue until 1967, and they found 51 issues out of 51 objectionable.
In 1964, Mansfield was chosen to replace the recently deceased Monroe in Kiss Me, Stupid, with Dean Martin. She turned down the role because she was pregnant with daughter Mariska Hargitay and was replaced by Kim Novak.
She made a few more films, all duds, and continued to work on stage, including Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Bus Stop, co-starring her Hargitay.
When her film career dried up, Mansfield had her greatest successes in nightclubs. In 1958, she debuted her striptease revue The Tropicana Holiday at the Tropicana Las Vegas, co-starring Hargitay. She was paid $25,000 per week for her performance as Trixie Divoon in the show ($215,000 in 2018 dollars), while her contract with 20th Century Fox was still paying her $2,500 per week ($21,000 in 2018 dollars). She was insured by Lloyd’s Of London for $ one million in case Hargitay dropped her as he whirled her around for the show. In 1960, the Dunes Hotel produced Mansfield’s revue The House Of Love, staged by the great Jack Cole, for $35,000 a week ($291,000 in 2018 dollars), the highest in her career. She was a skilled classically trained pianist and violinist, and played as part of the act.
Her wardrobe for the shows at Tropicana and Dunes shows featured a gold mesh dress with sequins to cover her nipples and lady parts. The controversial dress was referred to as “Jayne Mansfield and a few sequins”.
Suddenly, she was busier than ever, with her act, recording albums, and making personal appearances at $10,000 a pop.
In November 1957, shortly before marrying Hargitay, Mansfield purchased a 40-room Mediterranean-style mansion, formerly owned by Rudy Vallée, at 10100 Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills. Vallée bought the house in the 1930s but, for one reason or another, never lived in it. It has 25 rooms, including eleven bathrooms. She paid $76,000 dollars for it; a fortune at the time. It is still there; I drove where it standing proudly pink on Super Bowl Sunday in 2015. It was torn down in 2016. It should have been landmarked and made a museum.
Mansfield had the house painted pink, with cupids surrounded by pink fluorescent lights, pink fur in the bathrooms, a pink heart-shaped bathtub, and a fountain spurting pink champagne; she then dubbed it the “Pink Palace”. Hargitay, a plumber and carpenter before bodybuilding, built the pink heart-shaped swimming pool. Mansfield would drive around Los Angeles in her pink Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible, the only pink Cadillac in Hollywood.
Hargitay was the only ex-husband to attend her funeral.
Loni Anderson plays Mansfield in the television movie The Jayne Mansfield Story (1980); Hargitay is played by Arnold Schwarzenegger.