Many times I have been asked, if given the chance to live in USA, whether I’d choose New York or California. I would choose neither, but if I must choose, I would never got to California. We often associate California with Hollywood, as people will always wrongfully associate blond women with low intellect. The second is a stereotype, while mine is some inexplicable fear that something too glamorous is usually fake. Probably I’m wrong, but I will try to prove my point by telling you a story.
She was born in April, 1933 to a wealthy family. Her father died when she was only three. Being an only child, she grew up more or less in seclusion and concentrated on her violin, viola and piano lessons through which she expressed her highly artistic nature. Her walls were covered in pictures of beautiful actresses, famous and loved. She wanted so much to be an actress from a very young age. Going to school was like a walk in the park for her. With an IQ of almost 170, she was extremely clever and also so very sweet. Oh, she was gorgeous. Her body developed rather early and she was keenly interested in boys, too. The sexual life of the brunette started early and at the age of 15 she got pregnant, married her first husband at the age of 16 and a half and had her first baby girl.
For a while it was all a bliss, although the marriage was somewhat of an arrangement. Her drive to become an actress resurfaced. She knew what filmmakers wanted for their movies at the beginning of the 50s – blond bombshells with large breasts. And, boy, she had them. Real and… well, unreal. All she had to do was to bleach hair, have a few meeting with film producers and she was in the movies. It takes a lot of intelligence and unrelenting drive to succeed to play the dumb beautiful blond girl in comedies which men attended just to see a pair of big boobs.
You’ve heard the story. It’s probably the story of many American actresses at the time and even today. But from here on it can only be the story of Jayne Mansfield. In the span of her very short career, she played in 27 movies, not all of them comedies, some rather serious roles, she even got a star in the Hall of Fame, but to most people she would always be one of the top five pin-up girls of all time. The girl with a sweet voice, innocent eyes, exquisite figure and the pair of breasts even Sophia Loren envied. Behind all that, no one new how intelligent she was. Her thirst for life and genuine fun remain hidden even at the times when her life became public property. She knew: the only way to success was through publicity and giving the audience what they wanted from her – little brain and a voluptuous figure, of which they wanted to see more and more.
Hollywood wanted her, all movie companies were fighting to take her and exploit everything she had. That was the time she met her first and probably only true love – Mickey Hargitay, a Hungarian- American actor. Oh, those were happy years of marital bliss. Jayne was striding forward, winning the hearts of women and making men’s heads spin, while being a mother of four children born to Mickey and her first daughter whose father Jayne had long forgotten and vice versa.
In her youth, in the time before Hollywood, Jayne had won hundreds of contest – Miss… literally everything. Only one title she did not accept because “it didn’t sound quite right” and it was Miss… well, some cheese or something. Before the glory, she used to do all sorts of odd jobs – selling books door to door, selling popcorn in cinemas, working as a nude model for the University of Texas where she studied drama, teaching ball dancing, which she was so good at, giving violin lessons, working as a photo model, shooting for Playboy. In fact that was the time when her first husband filed for custody over their first daughter – unfit mother, you see. He lost the battle over the child. In the year 2000, Playboy issued a special edition “Centerfolds of a Century” and Jayne Mansfield was there among the most remarkable women ever shown on the covers of the magazine.
But all that was behind her. With her career having taken off, Jayne now lived in a pink family estate, had a heart-shaped swimming pool, she was surrounded by her adorable children and Mickey who lived long after her with a broken heart and not a day going by without remembering her great personality. She was a loving and devoted mother. But the show had to go on. Publicity at any cost, appearance everywhere, playing the stupid sex bomb, hoping for someone to see her real talent. They didn’t and she didn’t give up. Journalists were always welcome to her home, she would show them round the estate, she would cook for the cameras (she was an amazing cook), she would sing (and she had a divine voice) and would struggle with all she had to be taken seriously. But, as critics nowadays say over and over again, for all those producers she was a joke. The movie directors would constantly make ugly jokes about her breasts assuming she wouldn’t get she was laughed at. But she held on to what she had and speaking five languages fluently was not a quality movie producers were interested in.
The rivalry with Marilyn Monroe is a topic that would take too long to discuss. Jayne was accused of copying Monroe’s style, but the truth is that from time perspective, they were both victims of a machine which ground them down and killed them. They even shared the beds of same influential politicians, they were both passed down from one to the next and they fought their small fights with all copying mechanisms at hand. Mickey does not say why the marriage was over, but critics assume it was because of Jayne’s constant absence from home, taking jobs wherever they were offered and he probably got sick of looking after five children. Also the rumors of her beginning to sleep around and abusing substances can be proved.
Why she did it? The 50s were over, people’s tastes were changing, the audience wanted something new and different, the blond girl fandoms seemed to give up with Marilyn’s death (suicide or homicide, we shall never know). With no rivalry Jayne was expected to get to the top alone, but age was a factor and people’s demands, too. It was too late for Jayne to erase the image she had created for them – the sexy pin-up girl, who happened to have five children too. In 1966, after divorcing Mickey, she married Mat Cimber, who promised her a serious career in movies. And she fell for it, she wanted so badly to be recognized as a serious actress, all that acting the stupid bimbo to pay off. It was a short marriage accompanied by loads of scandals and Jayne was pressed to show more of her body for less and less money. She was the actress who did something unheard of so far – she appeared in the nude for the first time ever in the history of movies in “Promises, Promises”. Later she went on revealing more and more in her live shows in cheap bars before drunk men, deep in the county – wherever they offered money and Mat’s only help was assisting her in getting the part in the 1966 drama “Single Room Furnished”. It was Jayne’s last movie and the year of its release was the second and last year of her second marriage. After that she is rumored to have had a relationship with her lawyer, and with Anton LaVey, the high priest of the Church of Satan. Naturally, people built up on that relationship and still associate it with the events that happened soon after she distanced from him.
Apart from the 27 movies she played in, in the beginning of the 50s, a decade earlier, she was the Broadway greatest asset. She appeared in 450 shows between 1955 and 1956 and her role as Rita Marlowe (a sexy blond a la Marilyn Monroe) she appeared in just a white towel around her body and that piece of clothing became iconic. She was awarded the Theatre World Award (Promising Personality) for her performance in 1956, as well as a Golden Globe Award (New Star of the year, Actress) in 1957. Brooks Atkinson of the New York Times described her as „a platinum-pated movie siren with the wavy contours of Marilyn Monroe“
Las Vegas was yet another place, where she was more than welcome. In 1958 the Tropicana Las Vegas launched Mansfield’s striptease revue The Tropicana Holiday (produced by Monte Proser, co-starring Mickey Hargitay) under a four-week contract that was extended to eight. The opening night raised $20,000 for March of Dimes ($177,000 in nowadays dollars). She received $25,000 per week for her performance as Trixie Divoon in the show ($222,000 nowadays), while her contract with 20th Century Fox was paying her $2,500 per week. In 1960 she returned to Las Vegas and earned even more.
But shortly after that, she had to face a reality check. Her iconic dress covering the nipples and her private parts was no longer small enough. Also, her last pregnancy was not too kind to her figure.
In addition to all the problems she was having in her private life, her acceptance as an entertainer and nothing more, hurt and her copying mechanisms were pretty much the same as those her now dead rival Monroe used to indulge in.
Yes, now she was a real joke in the eyes of the public – after all she had opened her life to march in whenever they wanted and they felt welcome to continue, even though she was closing down the curtains more and more often. Yes, she was down the path to alcoholism and substance abuse, and yes, probably there was no turning back, but she still held on to her children. She was still so young, only 34, but so misused and overused. Trying to maintain her popularity she went to such lengths as pulling publicity stunts, like the one which still circulates in media. In April 1957, her breasts were the center of attention of all media and totally distracted from Sophia Loren, who was caught on camera gazing with envy at Jayne’s almost naked breasts at the dinner table and during an event held in Loren’s honor.
But back to 1967. After a show in Biloxi, Missiisippie, Jayne, Sam Brody and the driver seated at the front and three of her children at the back crashed in a tractor spraying against mosquitoes. The three sitting at the front were killed instantly. Jayne was almost decapitated. Her children survived. And then suddenly, Jayne was America’s most favorite girl again, they loved her, they still do. Her singles have been remastered, released so many times. Her TV performances – shown all the time, her grave visited by almost every tourist, although her funeral was small and the only present husband was Mickey, who still loved her so much and whom she had called an hour before she died, while they were at a petrol station.
I have no strength to go through all the details about the distribution of her money after her death, the lawsuits, the quarrels. You know what? I can prove my point stated at the beginning by mentioning one fact only – the smashed car was bought by a collector, who turned it into a tourist attraction and earned a fortune by selling the horrid death of a sex bomb to the same curious and cruel people who failed to see her as a person and never looked further than her tits.
Maybe Jayne was really tired of playing a role unfitted for her intelligence, but wasn’t weak enough to let them eat her alive. Instead, they ate her dead. That is Hollywood for you. That is people for you. No further recognition can serve as redemption and probably the only sincere one was offered by punk rock. “Kiss Them for Me” by Siouxsie and the Banshees in the top 40 American singles of all time.
Hollywood? Well, they set up a new award – the „Jayne Mansfield Award“ would be given to the actress with most exposure and publicity in the year. The first winner was Raquel Welch.
Jayne Mansfield was exceptional in every way – the way she had it all planned, the way it failed, the way she never took defeat, the way she died and the way she still lives in the hearts of the public which assisted her emotional assassination.
-By Geri Decheva