Born Vera Jayne Palmer on April 19, 1933 in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Jayne Mansfield would become one of Hollywood’s brightest and outrageous celebrities in the 1950’s. Jayne’s desire to become a huge success led her to pulling some of the most bizarre publicity stunts, including “stranding” herself on a deserted island. She was the epitome of 1950’s extravagance and decadence. Bigger than life, she was a caricature of blonde stereotype starlets of the era. Little did Tinseltown know, she would be one of the biggest phenomenon during the 1950’s.
She is today, 31 years after her death, one of the brightest shining stars, next to Marilyn Monroe. Curiously enough, Jayne only had two genuinely successful films and one Broadway hit. The rest of her resume is fleshed out by a long string of unsuccessful flops paired with an unending campaign of self-promotion.
She reveled in her position in Hollywood and basked in every experience it had to offer, from the crass and crazy to the glamourous and glitzy. Few other starlets who reached their pinnacle of stardom embraced it like Jayne. She never considered her fame a burden like most. Jayne Mansfield is one of the most remembered icons of 1950’s culture today.
Jayne’s Early Years
She was the only child of Herbert and Vera Palmer and grew up in a pampered household. Herbert was a very successful lawyer, who had political aspirations. Herbert died of a fatal heart attack when Jayne was only three. Her mother met and married a man by the name of Harry Peers within a year of Herbert’s death, and they moved from Phillipsburg, NJ to Harry’s home in Dallas.
Her early years were fondly remembered as her family being fairly well off, having what normal kids have while growing up. Until she discovered movie fan magazines. From then on she wanted to become an actress. Her mother, while supportive of Jayne, had no idea how ferocious Jayne’s aspirations were.
On May 6, 1950 at the age of seventeen, Jayne married Paul Mansfield after learning she was pregnant. She referred to Paul as being the most handsome boy in her crowd at school, and having the most gorgeous eyes. She graduated from high school and gave birth to Jayne Marie Mansfield on November 8, 1950.
That fall Paul entered college, and shortly after the birth of Jayne Marie she joined him. They rented a small apartment off campus, and because the couple were not able to afford a baby sitter Jayne would bring her daughter with her to her classes. She worked a grueling schedule, working at a receptionist at an Austin Dance studio from 7 – 11 every night, sold books and family photo albums door to door to help pay her way, modeled and slept on four hours a night.
The next summer, Paul went off for his ROTC training while Jayne ventured west to Los Angeles to enroll in UCLA to take special dramatic courses. While there she reached the finals of the Miss Southern California of 1951 contest. Paul, back home read accounts of the event and sent Jayne a disapproving letter, and she resigned from the competition. She headed back east to Dallas. Jayne at this time, began to blossom into her own persona, and Paul did not like what he saw.
Paul was drafted early in 1952, and Jayne joined him is Augusta, Georgia. During this time, she was awarded with the Miss Photoflash award. She provided much entertainment for the drill teams, and much dismay for their wives, on the base as she practiced ballet exercises on the front lawn and showed up at the base swimming pool in velvet bikinis. She also participated in some shows on the base.
Jayne Makes Her Debut
Soon after Paul was sent to Korea, Jayne headed west once again to Dallas. She took classes including drama at Southern Methodist University and earned a living by modeling. She also occasionally posed nude for the universities women’s art classes and it was also at this time she had at least one session with a Dallas photographer posing nude. Her thespian debut occurred on September 21, 1951 in the Austin Civic Theatre’s production of Ten Nights in a Barroom.
She struck up a friendship with Baruch Lumbet, father of Sydney Lumbet. He suggested Jayne take acting courses at the Dallas Institute of Performing Arts. When she confessed she couldn’t even afford a babysitter, let alone acting classes, he took pity on the girl and gave her free classes. This led to a role in the local production Death of a Salesman. Milton Lewis, head of talent at Paramount Studios came to a performance, and told Lumbet, “Let me know when she’s ready to come to Hollywood.”
In 1954 Paul returned to Korea and grudgingly agreed to pack up the family Buick and head west to Hollywood so Jayne could follow her lifelong dream of stardom. Later she would recall upon crossing the California border, she got out of the car, kissed the ground and proclaimed, “I am home!”
She showed up in Hollywood, with no friends and without an agent. Without wasting any time, she called up Paramount Studios and said, “I want to be an actress. I have modeled and won many beauty contests. What do I do?” Enter the talent department. On April 30 she met with Milton Lewis, and had a screen test for Joan of Arc. She reported after the test the man who saw it said she was a good actress, but her figure was too distracting for him, and if it was distracting for him, it would be for everyone else. A few days later she then tested for The Seven Year Itch, which led to nowhere.
Paul anxious to get done with this little experiment and head back to Dallas, gave her the ultimatum. Her marriage or her career. She sent Paul back to Dallas without question. He tried to gain custody of Jayne Marie with the position that his wife’s nude photos were hardly suitable for a fit mother. His motion was denied. The newly freed Jayne became a habitual party crasher, and at this time took on an on again off again relationship with Steve Cochran, an actor who lived across the road. (Steve allegedly had an affairs with Joan Crawford, Mamie Van Doren and Mae West.)
Her first television appearance was for Lux Video Theater in the live broadcast of The Angel Went AWOL on October 21, 1954. The story goes, she was hired by the producer, after she painstakingly sat in his office for three days. Finally she scribbled a note to him, and had it delivered. The card read simply “40-22-34”. With measurements like that on her 5-foot-5-1/2 117-pound frame apparently was impressive to the producer. The note got her hired in the head spinning time of 30 seconds!
With her television appearance under her belt, she was offered a minor role in the production Hangover, which was re-titled The Female Jungle. This role led to nothing, and she returned to the theater where she worked selling popcorn. Upon seeing The Female Jungle for the first time in New York, she recalled her eyes filling with tears and she said, “I loved seeing me up there on the screen. I was filled with a chill. I had finally made it and wanted to stay there. ‘I love you Jayne Mansfield,” I told my image. ‘I’ll work hard for you! Nothing or no one could ever make me let you down.'”
Jayne Makes A “Big Splash”…Literally
In 1954 she employed Jim Byron as her press agent. Jim, filled with outrageous ideas, and Jayne willing to do anything, proved to be a formidable match. In a ghost written biographical article by Jayne she said, “I’d worry about becoming famous first, then an actress.”
Jayne and Byron carefully devised a plan for Jayne to make an appearance at Howard Hughes press junket for the Jane Russell film Underwater. Miss Russell was not at this event, and the press was certainly prowling for something to shoot. Enter Jayne, in a skintight red lame one piece suit (incorrectly depicted in The Jayne Mansfield Story starring Loni Anderson), sunbathing by the pool fell into the pool, breaking her suit strap (a carefully devised plan). The blonde “came up bouncing” and the press scrambled for the best angle. This “splash” showed up in Variety on January 12, 1955, and proved her to be “worth her weight in cheesecake”. This Underwater appearance also became a breakthrough for her, as the blonde was deluged with phone calls within the next couple of days.
A bidding war broke out between Howard Hughes and and Hal Willis of Warner Brothers. Jayne broke the war with a contract signed to Warner’s. It was a less than lucrative deal, however, she made it, and she proved a very important lesson, publicity does pay off.
Also because of Jayne’s big plunge, organizations all across the country were falling off their chairs to bestow her with beauty titles. Byron and Mansfield were more than happy to oblige them, and used these awards as her stepping stone throughout 1955. Some of the titles Jayne held:
Miss Nylon Sweater
Miss Electric Switch
Miss Geiger Counter
Miss 100% Pure Maple Syrup
Miss 4th of July
Miss Fire Prevention
This is only a short portion of the list of her “titles”.
Jayne’s roles at Warner’s were not very good, and she was disappointed with her association. Warner’s saw her as a cheap, sexy starlet with more chutzpah than taste or talent. She didn’t dissuade them of this notion, rather, she busied herself with pin up photo sessions. She was loaned out to make Burglar, and it was during that filming she learned that Warner’s dropped her contract.
Jayne was anguished with Warner’s dropping her, but in light of her situation another offer would come along, and would prove to be her ticket to success. George Axelrod was holding tryouts on Broadway for his new production of Hunter (renamed to Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter). He had originally written the part for Mamie Van Doren who turned it down. Jayne was not thrilled with the prospect of being in New York. She considered it to be “Iceland” as Hollywood was “IT”. Her advertisers had to beg her to take the offer.
Jayne immediately fell into the part. Saying of her character Rita Marlowe, “She is brassy and extroverted, refreshing and direct and not entirely oblivious of her bombshell of a body. The role gives me a chance to act on stage the way I would like to behave offstage.”
The show opened on October 12, 1955 to rave reviews. About Jayne, not necessarily the play. “Sex on the rocks!” and “Broadway’s Biggest Towelful!” and one other tantalizing element that was pointed out by Axelrod himself, that Jayne would never deliver two shows alike.
Meanwhile Jayne launched her round-the-clock, no-holds-barred media onslaught on New York. New York was completely bowled over, and across the country, Hollywood was finally paying attention. Her publicity saturation reached the point where one New York daily posted a bulletin that there would be no more pictures published of Jayne until further notice.
She attended store and restaurant openings, regardless of their size, which would become a Mansfield specialty until the 1960’s. She was often paid in several hundred dollars and merchandise, which supplemented her Broadway income. Every appearance she made contributed to the theater’s regularly packed houses.
On May 26, 1956 she attended Mae Wests’ show, and it was there she met Mickey Hargitay, a member of the legendary Mae West “stable” of men. When Jayne was asked what she would like for dinner, she responded with “the beefsteak on the end” looking directly at Mickey. Mickey came over to Jayne’s table after dinner, and the next day accompanied her to Brooklyn for Jayne crowning of “Blossom Queen”. The notoriously possessive Mae would not take this lying down and held a press conference demanding that Mickey should make the statement that he and Jayne were together only for publicity purposes. Rather Mickey would make a proclamation of his love for Jayne. After a brief silence, one of Mae’s bodyguards would knock Hargitay off his chair with a surprise blow, and the reporters scrambled. True love reigned supreme, and Jayne had yet another publicity feather in her cap.
On To Fox!
Twentieth Century Fox began to take notice of the blonde dynamo, and while very interested in her possibilities, were wary of her one-woman publicity antics where bad taste was a valuable means to an end.
Fox bought the rights for Success and Jayne accepted a contract.
She made her first film for Fox in The Girl Can’t Help It released in 1956. Directed by the amazingly imaginative director Frank Tashlin, this film would prove to be a success with it’s visually rich humor and rock and roll sound track. It would be one of that years top 20 films, just slightly behind Marilyn Monroe’s Bus Stop
Her next film for Fox would be The Wayward Bus which also starred Joan Collins. Jayne hoped this film would establish her as a serious actress, but although it did not have the effect that Jayne had hoped for, it was a change of pace from the stereotypical blonde she personified.
In 1957, the eagerly anticipated release of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? proved to be well worth the wait. While many changes were made from the Broadway version to the big screen, it only made about half as much money as The Girl Can’t Help It. But it would prove to be a pop culture success. Tony Randall, her costar in Success said of Jayne that he preferred working with her over Marilyn Monroe. Commenting, “At least she tried to be a professional. She would show up and rehearse and work and shoot it. She had a sense of humor about her.” (For some other fabulous comments by Tony Randall by Jayne Mansfield, be sure to check out A & E’s presentation Love & Kisses: The Biography of Jayne Mansfield.)
There are two very interesting points about Jayne Mansfield. The final word on her spats with other starlets of the time always ended with the tape measure. Jayne was a 40, and so and so was only a 38…and so on. The other interesting fact about Jayne was that she had a self professed IQ of 163. One cannot doubt that that Jayne was a brilliant and shrewd woman in many respects, although her claims of this genius level IQ are not supported.
Gag product inventor Don Paynter approached Jayne with the making of curvy shaped Jayne Mansfield hot water bottles. Jayne, ever eager to promote, agreed, and they proved to be a great success.
Living the Lifestyle
Jayne was having the time of her life, her career was going well, she was having great success. The only thing she didn’t have was a husband and a fabulous place to live. Then Mickey surprised her with a 10 carat diamond ring. On January 13, 1958 was the beginning of Jayne and Mickey’s fairy tale marriage which would only last about 6 years. Fox, first unsupportive of their union, would be convinced by Jayne of their love, and helped make her wedding day a true event. Her dress was a tight pink lace bell bottomed dress fashioned at Fox, and attendance was limited to 100 “close friends”. These close friends were mostly reporters, photographers and press agents. After a Miami honeymoon, Jayne and Mickey reported to a six week engagement at the Las Vegas Tropicana.
Meanwhile, back in Hollywood, they also began to create Jayne’s fantasy home. A mansion on Sunset Boulevard which would be renamed The Pink Palace. The Pink Palace was a spectacle, and gave Jayne her chance to live out her girlhood fantasies and free reign to her outlandish image of how a movie star ought to live. Features of the Pink Palace included:
A heart shaped swimming pool that said “I Love You Jaynie” on the bottom in two foot high gold mosaic tiles.
A grand scaled Pink Mink living room.
Heart shaped bed and fireplace.
A Pink Cadillac (given to her by Mickey after the birth of their son Miklos).
A Pink Jaguar.
An Eldorado Cadillac.
A closet full of minks (white,pink and black).
Twice weekly baths in Pink Champagne.
The home was later owned by Ringo Star, Cass Elliot of the Mama’s and the Papa’s and then by Englebert Humperdinck. The Pink Palace was unceremoniously razed in November 2002.
During this period MGM wooed her with a Pink Jaguar, a Pink Cadillac, Pink rhinestone phones and a three year supply of Pink champagne to bathe in. She still remained under contract to Fox.
After one year off the screen Jayne returned with a film titled The Sherriff of Fractured Jaw while it didn’t make much of a splash in American theaters, it did not hurt her career. While filming this, she was also offered a role in a European film, The Loves of Hercules. She agreed to take the part if Mickey could play Hercules. Filming for Hercules took place early in 1960.
Although Jayne did not realize it for several years, this was the beginning to the end of a short lived film career in Hollywood. She would from here on make low-budget European films which did little to show off her comedic talents as much as her anatomy.
Fox’s treatment of their starlet was validated with her succession of box office flops, the crazy stunts and their doubts about her acting ability. However, considering that she had made them a considerable amount of money with several of her films, this treatment was really inexcusable. She requested a new contract, and her requests were unheard, but she still continued to work. While filming the Loves Of Hercules she was pregnant with her son Zoltan. Within days of giving birth, she went back to work on her film.
Fox continued to loan her out for low budget European films and while filming of Too Hot To Handle, she called Fox collect, to forward the money to the studio making the film. They had halted production on it, as they couldn’t even pay their actors. After this film, she hurriedly made two more European films, and high tallied it back to Hollywood.
In June of 1960 she was honored on This is Your Life, and even though she appeared in a bursting out of a playtex dress, she had the build up of a domesticated mother and wife. Jayne’s love for her children was without question, but as her career began to slide and her personal situations became shaky, often her children took backseat to her surmounting problems.
In December of 1960, she and Mickey went to Las Vegas to perform their act called “The House of Love”. She and Mickey proved to be such a hit, with Mickey swirling her around his head while she was dressed in scantily clad costumes, that Fox even released an album called Jayne Mansfield Busts Up Las Vegas in 1962.
It was shortly after this when she replaced her endlessly inventive publicity agent Jim Byron with Bill Shiffrin, who was to help her carve out a more sophisticated image for herself. The New Jayne decided she wanted to study acting in New York, a la Marilyn Monroe.
Curiously enough, the same year they released Jayne Mansfield Busts Up Las Vegas they also dropped her contract. In true Mansfield form, she said she was pleased by the decision, as she did, when Warner’s has dropped her seven years earlier. within a month of this announcement, Marilyn Monroe died, leaving Jayne even more in the public eye, as a possible successor. Jayne was under severe pressure, with the question of her status as s sex symbol, paired with surmounting marital problems. By 1963, Jayne decline was eminent. And she knew it too…but she also wondered if she could become a starlet again.
Taking it off
Jayne Mansfield was a step ahead of her time whe she decided to become one of the first big stars to take it all off for Playboy magazine. This coincided with her production of her film “Promises Promises.” Playboy shot behind the scenes nude shots of Jayne by the urging of her producer Tommy Noonan, and she agreed to do the pictorial without compensation. The magazine would go on to become the biggest seller for the magazine at that point in history. “The Nudest Jayne Mansfield” flew off the newspaper stands, with many copies selling for the steep price of $10.00 a piece. Hugh Hefner was arrested for obscenity for publishing the pictures. Even with all this publicity, “Promises Promises” was not the box office hit that she had hoped for, and by mid 1963 she hit the nightclub circuit.
In her nightclub act she performed a burlesque which toured throughout the U.S. There were some show tunes, a little stand up comedy and then capped the evening with a striptease routine. This was an extremely successful act everywhere it went, and often brought a standing ovation finale. Also during this time she appeared on television quite frequently. She appeared on Follow The Sun, two Alfred Hitchcock presents, Jack Parr, Red Skelton and Jack Benny. In 1964 she did a guest appearance on Burke’s Law.
During this time she also took over the lead roles of two road show productions of films made famous by Marilyn Monroe. “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and “Bus Stop.” In 1964 her divorce to Mickey became finalized. As happened so often in Jayne’s career, the lead man in her road show for Gentlemen became her new lover and fairly soon afterward her husband.
When the Beatles came to the U.S. and were asked which American celebrity they’d like to meet they cited Jayne Mansfield. Jayne hooked up with them at the Whiskey A-Go-Go. When she first met John, and saw his shag haircut she asked him if it was real. John quipped, while looking at her breasts, “Are those real?” Supposedly the meeting ended when George Harrison sloshed his glass of Scotch at an inebriated Jayne, and instead hit Mamie Van Doren square in the face.
Jayne and Matt Cimber married in 1964, and he became her new publicist. He attempted to get her into the “A” roles she had longed for again, and he set up many television appearances. Jayne turned down a contract for the television show “Gilligan’s Island” which was later taken by Tina Louise.
She opened in New York City’s Latin Quarter with a nightclub act, and even during one of the worst winters in the city, she played to packed houses every night. Filled with insecurities about her future, she poured herself into a Cimber role “Single Room Furnished,” which did not even get distributed in her lifetime. She recognized the position she was in, and although this was certainly not one of the best roles, she said, “it is a role that will make people sit up and take notice about what I can do.”
The Stars’ Light Dims
It was now 1966. Her marriage to Matt was on a rocky decline, and she filed for divorce. She toured South America for two months during the summer performing, and was trapped there, when she refused to pay exit charges for the money she had made while she was there. She contacted lawyer Sam Brody, an associate of Melvin Belli who had represented Jack Ruby. Sam Brody helped her skillfully sort out her finances, and that only seemed to be good reason to Jayne to start a wild affair with him. During their short and abusive relationship many tragedies would come to Jayne. Her son Zoltan was mauled by a lion on their visit to “Jungleland.” The press was actually kind to Jayne during her vigil to the hospital for Zoltan.
Jayne’s personal life was beginning to become more and more complicated. Her daughter Jayne Marie ran away from home and asked police from protection against Jayne and Brody. This resulted in a trial which caused many Mansfield fans to become concerned. Jayne supposedly became involved with the Church of Satan. Her longtime publicist, Raymond Strait denied all of Jayne’s “alleged” activites with The Church of Satan and its leader Anton LeVay. She had met LeVay at the San Francisco Film Festival and did not take him seriously at all. Jayne and Brody’s drinking, brawling and carousing would ultimately end a tour she was involved in in Britain, because of the black and blue marks on her legs made her unfit to wear the required short costumes on stage.
Mamie Van Doren who was also on the touring circuit was doing a show up in New York. Her show was held over, and she asked Jayne if she could fill in for her for the show in Mississippi, and then Mamie would take her next show. Jayne agreed. She performed at the Stevens Supper Club in Biloxi. On June 29, 1967 at 2:15 am after the show on a dark road between Biloxi and New Orleans, Jayne Mansfield was involved in a fatal car crash which killed not only her, but Sam Brody. Her three children who were also in the car, were safely cushioned in the back seat. Contrary to vicious rumors started by the press then, Jayne Mansfield was not decapitated in the accident. A large blonde bouffant wig which was on her head had flown off, and a reporter reported it was her head. This was verified by the New York Times who had contacted her undertaker, James Roberts who verified that yes her body was completely intact, head included. However, there was one area on her head where her scalp separated from her skull.
Jayne Mansfield’s legend of a starlet will always remain. Her sudden death only seemed to secure that. Her lavish lifestyle, epitomized the Hollywood fantasy and her spirit captured the Golden Age of Glamour. Her willingness to work for what she earned and her lighthearted approach to her own image makes her to this day one of the most Sparkling Stars of the Silver Screen.
Jayne, we miss you and we will always love you.
Written in 1997 by Dawn Marie, Bombshells.Com. Sources include the IMDB biography of Jayne Mansfield and from the biography of Jayne Mansfield featured in Rhino’s VaVa Voom! Bombshells, Pinups, Sexpots and Glamour Girls by Steve Sullivan 1995