Jayne Mansfield (April 19, 1933 – June 29, 1967) was an American actress working both on Broadway and in Hollywood. One of the leading blonde sex symbols of the 1950s, Mansfield, like Marilyn Monroe, was a Playboy Playmate of the Month, and appeared in the magazine several more times over the years. She won the Theatre World Award, Golden Globe and Golden Laurel. Mansfield starred in several popular Hollywood films that emphasized her platinum-blonde hair, hourglass figure and cleavage-revealing costumes.
Though Mansfield's career was short-lived, she had several box office successes. As the demand for blonde bombshells declined in the 1960s, Mansfield was relegated to low-budget melodramas and comedies, but remained a popular celebrity. In her later career she continued to attract large crowds in foreign countries, and in lucrative and successful nightclub tours. Mansfield died in an automobile accident at the age of 34.
Mansfield, of German and English ancestry, was the only child of Herbert William and Vera (nee Jeffrey) Palmer. Her birthname was Vera Jayne Palmer. A natural brunette, she was born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, but spent her early childhood in Phillipsburg, New Jersey. When she was three years old, her father, a lawyer who was in practice with future New Jersey governor Robert B. Meyner, died of a heart attack while driving a car with his wife and daughter. After his death, her mother worked as a school teacher. In 1939, when Vera Palmer remarried, the family moved to Dallas, Texas. Mansfield's desire to become an actress developed at an early age. After high school she studied drama and physics at Southern Methodist University.
In 1950, Vera Jayne Palmer married Paul Mansfield; thus becoming Jayne Mansfield. Her acting aspirations were temporarily put on hold with the birth of her first child, Jayne Marie Mansfield, on November 8, 1950 at the age of 17. She juggled motherhood and classes at the University of Texas at Austin, then spent a year at Camp Gordon, Georgia during her husband's service in the United States Army. She attended UCLA during the summer of 1953 then went back to Texas for fall quarter at Southern Methodist University. In Dallas she became a student of actor Baruch Lumet, father of director Sidney Lumet and founder of the Dallas Institute of the Performing Arts. On October 22, 1953, she first appeared on stage in a production of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman.
Mansfield won several beauty contests while living in Texas, including Miss Photoflash, Miss Magnesium Lamp, and Miss Fire Prevention. The one title she turned down was Miss Roquefort Cheese, because it "just didn't sound right." Frequent references have been made to her very high IQ, which she advertised as 163. She spoke five languages, and was a classically trained pianist and violinist. Mansfield admitted her public didn't care about her brains. "They're more interested in 40-21-35," she said.
Mansfield's husband at the time, Paul Mansfield, hoped the birth of their child would discourage her interest in acting. When it did not, he agreed to move to Los Angeles in late 1954 to help further her career. Between a variety of odd jobs, including a stint as a candy vendor at a movie theatre, Mansfield studied drama at UCLA. Her movie career began with bit parts at Warner Brothers. She was signed by the studio after one of its talent scouts discovered her in a production at the Pasadena Playhouse. Mansfield had small roles in Female Jungle (1954), and in Pete Kelly's Blues (1955) which starred Jack Webb.
In 1955, Paul Wendkos offered her the dramatic role of Gladden in The Burglar, his film adaptation of David Goodis' novel. The film was done in film noir style, and Mansfield appeared alongside Dan Duryea and Martha Vickers. The Burglar was released two years later when Mansfield's fame was at its peak. She was successful in this straight dramatic role, though most of her subsequent film appearances would be either comedic in nature or capitalize on her sex appeal. She made two more movies with Warner Brothers, one of which gave her a minor role as Angel O'Hara, opposite Edward G. Robinson, in Illegal (1955).
In 1955, she enjoyed a successful Broadway run acting in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?. Returning to Hollywood she starred in the film production of Frank Tashlin's The Girl Can't Help It (1956). This was Mansfield's first starring role featured her as an outrageously voluptuous but apparently tone-deaf girlfriend of a retired racketeer. The film features some early performances from Fats Domino, The Platters and Little Richard.
On May 3 1956, Mansfield signed a long-term contract with 20th Century Fox. She then played a straight dramatic role in The Wayward Bus in 1957. With her role in this film she attempted to move away from her "dumb blonde" image and establish herself as a serious actress. This film was adapted from John Steinbeck's novel, and the cast included Dan Dailey and Joan Collins. The film enjoyed reasonable success at the box office.
She won a Golden Globe in 1957 for New Star Of The Year - Actress, beating Carroll Baker and Natalie Wood, for her performance as a "wistful derelict" in The Wayward Bus. It was "generally conceded to have been her best acting," according to The New York Times, in a fitful career hampered by her flamboyant image, distinctive voice ("a soft-voiced coo punctuated with squeals"), voluptuous figure, and limited acting range.
Mansfield reprised her role of Rita Marlowe in the 1957 movie version of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, co-starring Tony Randall and Joan Blondell. The Girl Can't Help It and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? were popular successes in their day and are considered classics. Her fourth starring role in a Hollywood film was Kiss Them for Me (1957) in which she received prominent billing alongside Cary Grant. However, in the film itself she is little more than comedy relief while Grant's character shows a preference for a sleek, demure redhead portrayed by fashion model Suzy Parker. Kiss Them for Me was a box office disappointment and would prove to be her final starring role in a mainstream Hollywood studio film. She was also offered a part opposite Jack Lemmon in Bell, Book and Candle but had to turn it down due to pregnancy.
Despite her monumental publicity and public popularity, good roles dried up for Mansfield after 1959. She nevertheless kept busy in a series of low-budget films, mostly in Europe.
Fox tried to cast Mansfield opposite Paul Newman in his ill-fated first attempt at comedy, Rally Round The Flag, Boys, but Mansfield's Wayward Bus co-star Joan Collins was selected for the role. In 1960 Fox lent her to appear in two independent gangster thrillers in England. These were Too Hot to Handle, which was directed by Terence Young and co-starred Karlheinz Böhm, and The Challenge, co-starring Anthony Quayle. Fox also lined up It Happened in Athens. This Olympic-themed movie was filmed in Greece and would not be released until 1962. Despite receiving top billing in It Happened in Athens, Mansfield was relegated to a colorful, scantily-clad supporting role.
In 1963, Tommy Noonan persuaded Mansfield to become the first mainstream American actress to appear nude with a starring role in the film Promises! Promises!. Photographs of a naked Mansfield on the set were published in Playboy. In one notorious set of images, Mansfield stares at one of her breasts, as does her male secretary and a hair stylist, then grasps it in one hand and lifts it high. The sold-out issue resulted in an obscenity charge for Hugh Hefner, which was later dropped. Promises! Promises! was banned in Cleveland, but it enjoyed box office success elsewhere. As a result of the film's success, Mansfield landed on the Top 10 list of Box Office Attractions for that year. The autobiographical book, Jayne Mansfield's Wild, Wild World, she wrote together with Mickey Hargitay, was published right after Promises! Promises! and contains 32 pages of black-and-white photographs from the film printed on glossy paper.
In 1963 Mansfield appeared in the low-budget West German movie Homesick for St. Pauli with Austrian-born schlager singer Freddy Quinn. She played Evelyne, a sexy American singer who is traveling to Hamburg by ship. She is followed by an Elvis-like American pop star played by Quinn. Mansfield sang two German songs in the movie, though her speaking voice was dubbed. She remained a highly visible personality despite her film career setbacks for her publicity antics and stage performances.
By 1962 Mansfield still commanded high prices as a live performer, though she openly yearned to establish a more sophisticated image. She announced that she wanted to study acting in New York, in apparent emulation of Marilyn Monroe's stint with the Actors' Studio. But her reliance on the racy publicity that had set her path to fame would also prove to be her downfall. Fox did not renew its contract with her in 1962.
By the late 1950s, Mansfield began to generate a great deal of negative publicity due to her repeated successful attempts to expose her breasts in carefully staged public "accidents". Her bosom was so much a part of her public persona that talk-show host Jack Paar once welcomed the actress to The Tonight Show by saying, "Here they are, Jayne Mansfield", a line that was written for Paar by Dick Cavett and became the title of her biography by Raymond Strait. Early in her career, the prominence of her breasts was considered problematic, leading her to be cut from her first professional assignment, an advertising campaign for General Electric, which depicted several young women in bathing suits relaxing around a pool.
Mansfield appeared in about 2,500 newspaper photographs between September 1956 and May 1957, and had about 122,000 lines of newspaper copy written about her during this time. Because of the successful media blitz, Mansfield was a household name.
Mansfield's most celebrated physical attributes would fluctuate in size due to her pregnancies and breast feeding five children. Her smallest measurement was 40D (which she was throughout the 50s), and largest at 46DD, when measured by the press in 1967. According to Playboy, her measurement was 40D-21-36 and her height was 5'6". According to her autopsy report, she was 5'8".
In April 1957, her bosom was the feature of a notorious publicity stunt intended to deflect attention from Sophia Loren during a dinner party in the Italian star's honor. Photographs of the encounter were published around the world. The most famous image showed Loren raising a contemptuous eyebrow at the American actress who, sitting between Loren and her dinner companion, Clifton Webb, had leaned over the table, allowing her breasts to spill over her low neckline and exposing one nipple.
A similar incident, resulting in the full exposure of both breasts, occurred during a film festival in West Berlin, when Mansfield was wearing a low-cut dress and her second husband, Mickey Hargitay, picked her up so she could bite a bunch of grapes hanging overhead at a party; the movement caused her breasts to erupt out of the dress. The photograph of that episode was a UPI sensation, appearing in newspapers and magazines with the word "censored" hiding the actress's exposed bosom.
The world media was quick to condemn Mansfield's stunts, and one editorial columnist wrote, "We are amused when Miss Mansfield strains to pull in her stomach to fill out her bikini better. But we get angry when career-seeking women, shady ladies, and certain starlets and actresses ... use every opportunity to display their anatomy unasked."
Throughout her career, Mansfield was compared to the reigning sex symbol of the period, Marilyn Monroe. Of this comparison, she said, "I don't know why you people [the press] like to compare me to Marilyn or that girl, what's her name, Kim Novak. Cleavage, of course, helped me a lot to get where I am. I don't know how they got there.
Even with her film roles drying up she was widely considered to be Monroe's primary rival in a crowded field of contenders that included Mamie Van Doren (whom Mansfield considered her professional nemesis), Diana Dors, Cleo Moore, Barbara Nichols, Joi Lansing, and Sheree North.
A popular misconception still believed to be true is that Mansfield was a supporter of the Church Of Satan and had an affair with Satanist leader Anton LaVey. In truth, Mansfield posed with LaVey for publicity photos, as did Sammy Davis, Jr. and Mia Farrow. While Mansfield was interested in the occult, she remained a Christian throughout her entire life. Mansfield's eldest daughter, Jayne Marie Mansfield, has dismissed her mother's involvement in the Church of Satan.
In October 1957, Mansfield went on a 16-country tour of Europe for 20th Century Fox. She also appeared in stage productions of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Bus Stop, which were well reviewed and co-starred Hargitay. Dissatisfied with her film roles, Mansfield and Hargitay headlined at the Dunes in Las Vegas in an act called The House of Love, for which the actress earned $35,000 a week. It proved to be such a hit that she extended her stay, and 20th Century Fox Records subsequently recorded the show for an album called Jayne Mansfield Busts Up Las Vegas, in 1962.
With her film career floundering, she still commanded a salary of $8,000-$25,000 per week for her nightclub act. She traveled all over the world with it. In 1967, the year she died, Mansfield's time was split between nightclub performances and the production of her last film, Single Room Furnished, a low-budget production directed by then-husband Matt Cimber.
In addition to singing in English and German in a number of films, in 1964, Mansfield released a novelty album called Jayne Mansfield: Shakespeare, Tchaikovsky & Me, on which she recited Shakespeare's sonnets and poems by Marlowe, Browning, Wordsworth, and others against a background of Tchaikovsky's music. The album cover depicted a bouffant-coiffed Mansfield with lips pursed and breasts barely covered by a fur stole, posing between busts of the Russian composer and the Bard of Avon.
The New York Times described the album as the actress reading "30-odd poems in a husky, urban, baby voice". The paper's reviewer went on to state that "Miss Mansfield is a lady with apparent charms, but reading poetry is not one of them.
Jimi Hendrix played bass and lead guitar for Mansfield in 1965 on two songs, "As The Clouds Drift By" and "Suey", released together on two sides. According to Hendrix historian Steven Roby (Black Gold: The Lost Archives Of Jimi Hendrix, Billboard Books) this collaboration happened because they shared the same manager.
Mansfield toured with Bob Hope for the USO and appeared on numerous television programs, including The Ed Sullivan Show and The Jack Benny Show (where she played the violin), The Steve Allen Show, Down You Go, The Match Game (one rare episode exists with her as a team captain), and The Jackie Gleason Show. Mansfield's television roles included appearances in Burke's Law and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. On returning from New York to Hollywood, she made several television appearances, including several spots as a featured guest star on game shows.
In 1962, Mansfield appeared with Brian Keith in ABC's Follow the Sun dramatic series in an acclaimed episode entitled "The Dumbest Blonde" in which her character "Scottie" is a beautiful blonde who feels insecure in the high society of her older boyfriend, played by Keith. The plot was based on the film of Born Yesterday.
Mansfield was married three times, divorced twice, and had five children. She reportedly also had affairs and sexual encounters with numerous individuals, including Claude Terrail (the owner of the Paris restaurant La Tour d'Argent), Robert F. Kennedy, John F Kennedy and the Brazilian billionaire Jorge Guinle. At the time of her death, Mansfield was accompanied by Sam Brody, her married divorce lawyer and lover at the time.
She secretly married Paul Mansfield on January 28, 1950. The couple had a public wedding on May 10, 1950 and were divorced on January 8, 1958. During this marriage they had one child, Jayne Marie Mansfield. Two weeks before her mother's death, Jayne Marie, then 16, accused her mother's boyfriend, Sam Brody, of beating her. The girl's statement to officers of the West Los Angeles police department the following morning implicated her mother in encouraging the abuse, and days later, a juvenile-court judge awarded temporary custody of Jayne Marie to a great-uncle, W.W. Pigue.
Mansfield married Miklós Hargitay, an actor and bodybuilder, (publicly known as Mickey Hargitay, who won the Mr. Universe title in 1955) on January 13, 1958 at The Wayfarers Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. The unique glass chapel made public and press viewing of the wedding much easier. Jayne herself wore a transparent wedding gown, adding to the occasion's publicity aspect. The couple divorced in Juarez, Mexico in May 1963. The Mexican divorce was initially declared invalid in California, and the two reconciled in October 1963. After the birth of their third child, Mansfield sued for the Juarez divorce to be declared legal and won. The divorce was recognised in the United States on August 26, 1964. She had previously filed for divorce on May 4, 1962, but told reporters "I'm sure we will make it up. Their acrimonious divorce had the actress accusing Hargitay of kidnapping one of her children to force a more favorable financial settlement. During this marriage she had three children — Miklós Jeffrey Palmer Hargitay (born December 21, 1958), Zoltán Anthony Hargitay (born August 1, 1960), and Mariska Magdolina Hargitay (called Maria, born January 24, 1964), an actress best known for her role as Olivia Benson in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
In November 1957 (shortly before her marriage to Hargitay), Mansfield bought a 40-room Mediterranean-style mansion formerly owned by Rudy Vallee at 10100 Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills. Mansfield had the house painted pink, with cupids surrounded by pink fluorescent lights, pink furs in the bathrooms, a pink heart-shaped bathtub, and a fountain spurting pink champagne, and then dubbed it the Pink Palace. Hargitay, a plumber and carpenter before getting into bodybuilding, built a pink heart-shaped swimming pool. Mansfield decorated the Pink Palace by writing to furniture and building suppliers requesting free samples. She received over $150,000 worth of free merchandise while paying only $76,000 for the mansion itself (a large sum nonetheless when the average house cost under $7,500 at the time ).
Mansfield married Matt Cimber (alias Matteo Ottaviano, né Thomas Vitale Ottaviano) an Italian-born film director on September 24, 1964. The couple separated on July 11, 1965, and filed for divorce on July 20, 1966. Cimber was a director with whom the actress had become involved when he directed her in a widely praised stage production of Bus Stop in Yonkers, New York, which costarred Hargitay. Cimber took over managing her career during their marriage. With him she had one son, Antonio Raphael Ottaviano (alias Tony Cimber, born October 17, 1965).
She had a brief affair with Jan Cremer, a young Dutch writer who dedicated his 1965 autobiographical novel, I, Jan Cremer, to her. She also had a well-publicized relationship in 1963 with the singer Nelson Sardelli, whom she said she planned to marry once her divorce from Hargitay was finalized. Work on her last film, Single Room Furnished, was suspended as her marriage to director Matt Cimber began to collapse in the wake of Mansfield's alcohol abuse, open infidelities, and her claim to Cimber that she had only ever been happy with her former lover, Nelson Sardelli.
While in Biloxi, Mississippi, for an engagement at the Gus Stevens Supper Club, Mansfield stayed at the Cabana Courtyard Apartments, which were near the site of the supper club. After a June 28, 1967 evening engagement, Mansfield, Brody, and their driver, Ronnie Harrison, along with the actress's children Miklós, Zoltán, and Mariska, set out in Stevens' 1966 Buick Electra 225 for New Orleans, where Mansfield was to appear in an early morning television interview. Prior to leaving Biloxi, the party made a stop at the home of Rupert and Edna O'Neal, a local family that lived nearby. After a late dinner with the O'Neals, during which the last photographs ever taken of Ms. Mansfield were shot, the party set out on the trip to New Orleans. On June 29 at approximately 2:25 a.m., on U.S. Highway 90, the car crashed into the rear of a tractor-trailer that had slowed down because of a truck spraying mosquito fogger. The automobile struck the rear of the semi tractor and underrode it. Riding in the front seat, the adults were killed instantly; the children riding in the rear survived with minor injuries.
Rumors that Mansfield was decapitated are untrue, though she did suffer severe head trauma. This urban legend was spawned by the appearance in police photographs of a crashed automobile with its top virtually sheared off, and what resembles a blonde-haired head tangled in the car's smashed windshield. It is believed that this was either a wig that Mansfield was wearing or was her actual hair and scalp. The death certificate stated that the immediate cause of Mansfield's death was a "crushed skull with avulsion of cranium and brain. Following her death, the NHTSA began requiring an underride guard, a strong bar made of steel tubing, to be installed on all tractor-trailers. This bar is also known as a Mansfield bar.
Mansfield's funeral was held on July 3, in Pen Argyl, Pennsylvania. The ceremony was officiated by a Methodist minister, though Mansfield, who long tried to convert to Catholicism, had become interested in Judaism at the end of her life through her relationship with Sam Brody. She is interred in Fairview Cemetery, southeast of Pen Argyl. Her gravestone reads "We Live to Love You More Each Day". A memorial cenotaph, showing an incorrect birth year, was erected in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood, California. The cenotaph was placed by The Jayne Mansfield Fan Club and has the incorrect birth year because Mansfield herself tended to provide incorrect information about her age.
Shortly after Mansfield's funeral, Mickey Hargitay sued his former wife's estate for more than $275,000 to support the children, whom he and his third and last wife, Ellen Siano, would raise. Mansfield's youngest child, Tony, was raised by his father, Matt Cimber, whose divorce from the actress was pending when she was killed. In 1968, wrongful-death lawsuits were filed on behalf of Jayne Marie Mansfield and Matt Cimber, the former for $4.8 million and the latter for $2.7 million. The Pink Palace was sold and its subsequent owners have included Ringo Starr, Cass Elliot, and Engelbert Humperdinck. In 2002, Humperdinck sold it to developers, and the house was demolished in November of that year. Much of her estate is managed by CMG Worldwide, an intellectual property management company.
|1955||Hell on Frisco Bay||Mario's Dance Partner at Nightclub||Frank Tuttle|
|1955||Female Jungle||Candy Price||Bruno VeSota||Alternative title: The Hangover|
|1955||Pete Kelly's Blues||Cigarette Girl||Jack Webb|
|1955||Illegal||Angel O'Hara||Lewis Allen|
|1956||The Girl Can't Help It||Jerri Jordan||Frank Tashlin|
|1957||The Burglar||Gladden||Paul Wendkos|
|1957||The Wayward Bus||Camille Oakes||Victor Vicas|
|1957||Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?||Rita Marlowe||Frank Tashlin||Alternative title: Oh! For a Man! (UK)|
|1957||Kiss Them for Me||Alice Kratzner||Stanley Donen|
|1958||The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw||Kate||Raoul Walsh|
|1960||The Challenge||Billy||John Gilling||Alternative title: It Takes a Thief (US)|
|1960||Too Hot to Handle||Midnight Franklin||Terence Young||Alternative title: Playgirl After Dark (US)|
|1960||The Loves of Hercules||Queen Dianira/Hippolyta||Carlo Ludovico Bragaglia||Alternative titles Gli Amori di Ercole (Italy), Les Amours d'Hercule (France), Hercules vs. the Hydra (TV title)|
|1961||The George Raft Story||Lisa Lang||Joseph M. Newman||Alternative title: Spin of a Coin (UK)|
|1962||Lykke og krone||Documentary|
|1962||It Happened In Athens||Eleni Costa||Andrew Marton|
|1963||Heimweh nach St. Pauli||Evelyne||Werner Jacobs||Alternative title: Homesick for St. Pauli (US)|
|1963||Promises! Promises!||Sandy Brooks||King Donovan|
|1964||L'Amore Primitivo||Dr. Jane||Luigi Scattini||Alternative title: Primitive Love (US)|
|1964||Panic Button||Angela||George Sherman, Giuliano Carnimeo||Alternative title: Let's Go Bust (US)|
|1964||Dog Eat Dog||Darlene||Richard E. Cunha, Gustav Gavrin||Alternative titles: When Strangers Meet (UK), Einer frißt den anderen (West Germany), La morte vestita di dollari (Italy)|
|1965||The Loved One||Scenes deleted|
|1966||The Las Vegas Hillbillys||Tawny||Arthur C. Pierce||Alternative title: Country Music (US)|
|1966||The Fat Spy||Junior Wellington||Joseph Cates|
|1967||A Guide for the Married Man||Technical Adviser (Girl with Harold)||Gene Kelly|
|1968||The Wild, Wild World of Jayne Mansfield||Documentary|
|1968||Single Room Furnished||Johnnie/Mae/Eileen||Matt Cimber||Posthumous release|