Hello, lovelies, and welcome back to my channel. Today, we’re going to be talking about Jayne Mansfield. Known for her scandalous and purposeful wardrobe malfunctions, this actress turned singer and nightclub entertainer set the bar for publicity stunts and helped draw popularize the blonde, curvy bombshell as America’s beauty standard.
Before she was Jayne Mansfield, she was Vera Jayne Palmer. Born on April 19, 1933, her family was well-off and influential in the wealthy Bryn Mawr neighbourhood. At three years old, tragedy struck when her father suffered a fatal heart attack, leaving Jayne and her mother heartbroken. A few years later, her mother remarried and moved with her daughter to Texas.
Jayne wanted to be an actor even when she was a child, saying she wanted to be like Shirley Temple. Her addiction to attention arose in high school, where her curves and striking looks lead her to enter local beauty pageants. The numerous titles she won included Miss Photoflash, Miss Magnesium Lamp, and Miss Fire Prevention Week.
Even if it seemed like she was trying to rack up the names, she had standards: Miss Roquefort Cheese and Miss Prime Rib were also rejected because they “just didn’t sound right.”
On Christmas Eve in 1949, Jayne fell deeply and madly in love with Paul Mansfield at a high school party. Although she was 16 and Paul was already 20, they had a whirlwind romance that ended with a white wedding while Jayne was three months pregnant. Six months after their marriage, she gave birth to her first daughter, Jayne Marie Mansfield.
However, it became clear that her relationship with Paul wasn’t all it was cut out to be. After professing her interest in acting, he vehemently tried to shut it down. Paul wanted her to stay at home with their young daughter and be a doting housewife, leaving little room for her own ambitions and wants. However, after lots of discussions, he agreed to let her explore her acting ambitions, and the family moved to Los Angeles from Texas in 1954 so she could enroll in acting classes at UCLA.
Jayne hit the ground running–or at least, almost. She landed a job as a model in a General Electric commercial, where she and other young women would lounge around a pool in their bathing suits. But, to her disbelief, her body was considered ‘too obscene’ because of her large breasts and curvaceous body. And this pattern would repeat itself: she would get her hopes up as she landed auditions with Paramount Pictures and Warner Brothers, but she was always let down as they turned her away.
One director at Paramount commented on her ‘obvious talent’ and had her try out twice, but he inevitably passed on her. From these constant let-downs, she realized she had to alter her appearance radically and changed her natural brunette tresses to her signature peroxide blonde to play up the ideal blonde bombshell.
Finally, Jayne landed the job that would jump her career into stardom by staging the first of many publicity stunts. In January of 1955, she arrived at a pool party in a red bikini that was two sizes too small and dove into the pool while members of the media waited with their cameras ready. Predictably, her flimsy top went flying off, and the flashes went off with it. This drew the attention of Warner Brothers and Playboy magazine, and both approached her with job offers.
In February 1955, only a month after the ‘wardrobe malfunction’, Jayne was named Playboy’s Playmate of the Month, earning a spot on their cover and a centrefold spread. Magazine sales soared, and Jayne Mansfield’s popularity skyrocketed. Her success with Playboy leads to her posing in their calendar, coyly covering her chest with her hands. The publicity earned her a seven-year contract with Warner Brothers.
But the Playboy magazine spread wasn’t a wholly positive experience. Her marriage with Paul had quickly disintegrated due to his dissatisfaction with her unwillingness to stay at home. He cited mental cruelty for filing the divorce in 1957, along with her numerous extramarital affairs that she didn’t hide. During the divorce proceedings, he sued for full custody of their daughter, Jayne Marie, stating that his wife wasn’t a fit mother due to her nude modeling. Interestingly, he didn’t have problems with it earlier in their relationship when she modeled nude for an art class at the local college. He eventually lost the court battle, and Jayne was awarded full custody of their daughter after the finalization of their divorce in 1958.
During her contract with Warner Brothers, she was also a successful Broadway actress. Her portrayal of Rita Marlowe in the stage drama Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? was a thinly-veiled jab at Marilyn Monroe, with a breathy voice and “dumb blonde” persona. But she was still eventually dropped by Warner Brothers after only two film roles, one that was insignificant and the other that had the release date delayed for two years.
The following year, in 1956, she was signed to Twentieth Century-Fox for a six-year contract. The company saw her as a successor to Marilyn Monroe, who had become increasingly more and more difficult to work with, and as a way to make the blonde bombshell return. They marketed Mansfield as “Marilyn Monroe king-sized”, and despite the big shoes to fill, Jayne soon established herself as the company’s “main sex-symbol” actress.
While visiting the Latin Quarter nightclub in NYC on May 13, 1956–only ten days after signing her new contract–Jayne would meet her second husband, Mickey Hargitay. He had been performing as a chorus line member in a show of Mae West’s, a prominent stage and film actress. A bodybuilder and actor, he had won the Mister Universe contest only the year before. The interest resulted in a row between Mae West and Jayne, which ended in Hargitay fighting with another man in the chorus line and getting beaten up. But that didn’t put a damper on the duo’s relationship, and on November 6, 1957, Hargitay proposed with a whopping 10-carat diamond ring.
Their wedding was extravagant and the talk of the town, just as Mansfield wanted: she wore a pale pink wedding gown made with over 30 yards of pink tulle and sparkling sequins, and the glass Wayfarers Chapel they wed in was perfect for the paparazzi and the public that came to view the wedding.
Not only that, but their wedding day was just days after her divorce with Paul Mansfield had been finalized, sparking even more scandalized gossip. But as Jayne was quickly learning, publicity was publicity, and she ate all of it up.
One of the duo’s best-known performances was a strongman act, where Mickey would effortlessly twirl her around his waist, and she would sit on his shoulder, both in matching leopard-print outfits. Their Tarzan and Jane act was a hit, and Jayne ensured their act had enough gossip drummed up around it. She would casually walk down the street in her leopard print bikini, on one notable occasion even walking down Hollywood Boulevard.
Her and Hargitay drew public ire after bemoaning the “poverty” they lived in after Hargitay’s ex-wife asked for more money in child support. They claimed that they didn’t even have enough money to buy furniture and had to sleep on the floor of their million-dollar mansion.
But things started to go downhill again, and the two’s marriage fell apart. Wanting a quick divorce, Jayne convinced her husband to fly with her to Mexico to expedite the proceedings. But that didn’t stop her from rubbing salt in the wound: she arrived with her newest beau, jazz singer Nelson Sardelli. The divorce was finalized in Mexico in May of 1963. Still, the date was later changed it August 1964 because Jayne had discovered she was pregnant with Hargitay’s child only after the divorce, and she didn’t want to damage her reputation and career by being an unwed mother.
Jayne knew how to keep her name in the tabloid headlines and staged numerous “wardrobe malfunctions” in front of awaiting paparazzi: her dress fell down to her waist twice in one evening. She was topless at a Carnival party and entirely slipped out of her dress.
In April of 1957, she drew notoriety again from a publicity stunt at a party. The party had been a special welcoming to the American film scene for Sophia Loren, who had arrived from Italy. However, Jayne found a way to steal the show. Arriving late, she wore a skintight, low-cut dress and made sure to sit right next to Loren, drawing all the attention of the photographers. Her most infamous photo arose of this location, with her grinning brightly at the camera and Loren staring in disgruntled disbelief at her chest, where you could see a nipple.
Despite the distaste Sophia Loren had over the incident, the Italian actress claimed that she held no ill-will towards Jayne, and in fact, respected her. AfterJayne’s untimely and tragic death years later, Sophia Loren would refuse to sign copies of the infamous photo as a gesture of respect.
By the late 1950s and into the early ‘60s, her exhibitionist tendencies flew high. She was mind-blowingly successful at nightclub work, with her burlesque and striptease act making her ten times what 20th Century Fox was paying her per week. Her gold mesh dress with sequins to cover her private regions was referred to as “Jayne Mansfield and a few sequins” by the media. Her own publicist called her a ‘freak.’
During this time, she also flaunted her numerous affairs, many of them unhidden and with high-profile men. She even had relationships with both Robert F. Kennedy and his brother, John F. Kennedy, in 1960. Her affair with JFK predated his infamous alleged affair with Marilyn Monroe.
At the urgings of her third husband and his colleagues, Jayne agreed to star in Promises! Promises!, a ‘sex comedy,’ in 1963. The film contained three nude scenes, making Mansfield the first mainstream Hollywood star to appear fully naked on film, and was banned worldwide, including cities in the US.
Her cattiness with other blonde starlets extended to her costar, Mamie Van Doren (Universal Studio’s response to Marilyn Monroe), while they filmed Las Vegas Hillbillys in 1966. The two worked together on a movie, but Jayne vehemently refused to “share any screen time with the drive-in’s answer to Marilyn Monroe.” She, Mamie, and Marilyn Monroe were known as “The Three M’s of Hollywood,” and despite the industry casting Marilyn as Jayne’s rival, the woman saw Mamie as her number one competition.
The gossip didn’t just stop at her professional rivalries and ‘accidental’ wardrobe malfunctions: in 1966, she met with the founder of the Church of Satan, Anton LaVey. Taking a liking to her, he gave her a medallion and the title, “High Priestess of San Francisco’s Church of Satan.” Decades later, Anton LaVey’s daughter would confirm that Jayne was a practicing Satanist and had an affair with LaVey.
While driving to New Orleans, the unimaginable happened. Driving at two a.m., the entourage in her Buick hadn’t seen the road clearly in the dark, and when they entered a haze from pesticides, they didn’t think twice. But the mist had hidden a tractor-trailer, which had been slowly driving down the road. The three adults died on impact, while the three children survived with injuries. (Even after her death, the rumour mill wouldn’t let her go: it was said she was decapitated because of an image that showed blonde hair on the ground next to the car, when it was, in actuality, a wig that had flown from Jayne’s head).
But Jayne Mansfield’s name and notoriety lived on past her death. It’s rumoured that her curves were one of the major reasons why the shapes of bras changed in this time to become more revealing and uplifting. Her daughter, Mariska Hargitay, would become a famous actress in her own right. A fan even bought the wreckage of the car accident, and it sat in his garage for years so he could admire it. He wasn’t the only obsessed fan, and the car would sell for $8,000 at a 1999 auction, proving that Jayne Mansfield is a woman who will stand the test of time.
If you have any other scandalous Old Hollywood or vintage stars you’d like me to cover, please let me know in the comments below. I’ll see you guys again soon. Bye!Sources:
- https://www.factinate.com/people/facts-jayne-mansfield/ – “Titillating Facts About Jayne Mansfield, The Naughty Blonde”
- https://expressdigest.com/film-investigates-scandalous-life-and-dramatic-death-of-jayne-mansfield/ – “Film investigates scandalous life and dramatic death of Jayne Mansfield”
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jayne_Mansfield#First_marriage – Wikipedia article on Jayne Mansfield
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rtAoiiIqObU – “OLD HOLLYWOOD SCANDALS: Jayne Mansfield”