Jayne Mansfield certainly left her mark on Hollywood before being taken away from the world far too soon. The actress knew she was destined for stardom since she was just a little girl and was willing to do whatever it took to make it in the cut-throat entertainment industry. It didn’t take her long to figure out that sex sells, and the bombshell started showing off her stunning figure to make a name for herself… and it worked. In fact, she was the first American actress to ever appear nude in a movie.
Mansfield quickly turned herself into a sex symbol, and people failed to see her as anything else. She was extremely intelligent and had raw talent, but that was overshadowed by her skimpy outfits and tabloid stories. What’s interesting is that after three husbands and five children, this woman remained a gorgeous sex symbol. You’ll never guess which Law & Order star is Mansfield’s daughter. This is the incredible life of Jayne Mansfield before her untimely death.
Blonde vs. Blonde
With the nickname “The Cleavage Queen,” it doesn’t come as a surprise that Jayne Mansfield was the first starlet to be featured nude in a big American sound film. Promises… Promises! Came out in 1962 and showed the actress in her birthday suit. Of course, it was also banned in certain cities in America.
Mansfield’s career was notoriously fueled by a rivalry with a fellow bombshell, the iconic Marilyn Monroe. Both starlets were often typecast as ditzy blondes with voluptuous bodies. Fox studios tried to get Monroe to come back and finish her contract by calling Jayne Mansfield a “Marilyn Monroe king-sized.” Yikes! It’s sad to see the studios pin women against each other and encourage the rivalry between them.
Ahhh! Naked Woman!
The clever Mansfield was the definition of “wardrobe malfunction.” Her (nip) slip-ups always happened at the perfect time for cameras to snap pictures. The most infamous instance took place in 1955 when Mansfield went to a pool party wearing a very revealing red bikini. As soon as she jumped into the pool, her top predictably fell off.
Mansfield’s scandal was just getting started after filming Promises…Promises! In an attempt to promote the seductive film, she stripped again, this time for Playboy magazine. As you can imagine, the spread came with its share of consequences. The public was outraged; it was so explicit that Hugh Hefner was even arrested (for the first and only time).
A Starlet Is Born
On April 19, 1933, Vera Jane Palmer was welcomed into the world in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. She was the adored only child of Herbert and Vera Palmer. No, that Jane is not a typo. The star’s legal middle name is Jane, but for some reason, her parents added a “y” to it sometime after 1940, when she was still a young girl.
On Christmas Eve 1949, teenaged Jayne went to a holiday party where she met Paul Mansfield, a good-looking man about three years older than she was. The two stunners were popular in their class, and it seemed like a match made in high school heaven.
When the future sex-symbol was at the tender age of three, a horrific tragedy struck. Jayne Mansfield’s father, Herbert William Palmer, suffered a heart attack and died. Her mother remarried three years later, and they moved from New Jersey to Texas. Jayne took on the last name Peers because of her loving stepdad, Harry Lawrence Peers.
Before becoming a movie star, Mansfield participated in several beauty contests and competitions. She won titles, such as Miss Magnesium Lao and Miss Fire Prevention Week. Yet, the aspiring actress turned down the chance to earn the titles of Miss Roquefort Cheese and Miss Prime Rib. Phew! At least she had her standards.
Even from a young age, Jayne was no stranger to scandal. The 17-year old future star walked down the aisle with Paul Mansfield on May 6, 1950. But as she was standing at the altar, she was hiding a shocking secret. She was three months pregnant. Six months later, in November 1950, she and Paul welcomed their first daughter into the world.
As a national sex symbol, Mansfield was known for her extra-marital affairs, and she reportedly had some juicy names in her little black book, including American royals Robert and John F. Kennedy. Mansfield had five kids with three different husbands throughout her short life.
First World Problems
Supposedly, Paul was a jealous and controlling husband. The newlyweds enrolled in university and took acting classes, but nothing was enough for him. Things quickly took a turn for the worse. Paul would never let Jayne out of his sight, and things didn’t get better when she secretly signed up for the Miss California pageant contest. As soon as Paul found out, he forced her to drop out.
The media started attacking Mansfield as a “poor little rich girl” in the 1950s. But, if we are being honest, it was kind of her fault. Her husband at the time ran out of money, and Mansfield revealed that things got so bad that she couldn’t even buy furniture. She definitely needed to cut back on spoiling her daughter, as well as sleep on her mansion floor.
The Next Shirley Temple
Since childhood, Mansfield has wanted to be a Hollywood actress. Her biggest inspiration was the iconic and adorable Shirley Temple. Temple was also known as “America’s Sweetheart” and was the most famous actress of the 1930s. While she was a teenager, Mansfield learned how to dance, play the piano, viola, and violin, skills that are necessary when trying to pursue a career in the cut-throat entertainment industry.
Mansfield was naturally a brunette, despite her signature platinum blonde hair that shot her to stardom. Jayne had huge dreams and was willing to do anything to achieve them. Part of that was as we mentioned, stripping down and showing off her body. It’s a pretty sure way to launch a career (need I mentioned Kim Kardashian?).
This House Is a Zoo
Ever since she was a little girl, Mansfield loved animals. Before her career kicked off, she had a menagerie in her small Los Angeles apartment. Her at-home petting zoo included three cats, four dogs, and a rabbit.
It doesn’t come as a shock that Jayne’s marriage to Paul Mansfield came crumbling down. For starters, Paul wasn’t the most supportive husband when it came to his wife’s dreams and ambitions of becoming a Hollywood star, but that wasn’t the worst of it. Their union was plagued with infidelity, affairs, and Paul hated all the animals she kept around the house. They finally split up in 1958. The only thing she kept from her marriage was her famous last name.
In some ways, Mansfield’s divorce was even more dramatic than her toxic marriage. It took three years for the divorce to be finalized, and when he filed his documents, Paul claimed “mental cruelty.” The two also had a huge custody battle over their daughter Jayne Marie. He ultimately dropped out of their lives entirely after losing the suit.
In 1956, while Mansfield was still entangled in her first divorce, she met hunky bodybuilder Mickey Hargitay at a nightclub. Not only was he a bodybuilder, but he had just won the title of Mr. Universe a year earlier, and Mansfield noticed the attractive man while he was performing in Mae West’s chorus line. Apparently, as soon as they locked eyes, she knew he was the one.
Meeting her Prince
If there was one person who didn’t appreciate Mansfield’s crush on Hargitay, it was Mae West. The Hollywood darling was jealous of Mansfield’s advances on her employee, and a legendary catfight broke out. Later that evening, the two blondes fought, and it didn’t end well. Fellow chorus member Mr. California beat up Hargitay and got himself arrested. Well, that escalated quickly—quite a story for the grandchildren.
Mansfield and Hargitay tied the knot in 1958, as soon as her divorce was finalized. But they didn’t have the fairy tale ending they were hoping for. Despite having a popular career in entertainment together, Mansfield was known for her high profile-affairs while married to Hargitay, one being notable producer Enrico Bomba.
Bringing Glitz to the Club
The main aspect of Mansfield’s career was working at night clubs. Starting in 1958, the actress embarked on a new performance direction and headed to Las Vegas, where entertained men with steamy striptease and burlesque acts. People started to describe her performances as “Jayne Mansfield and a few sequins,” because of her sheer, extra shiny wardrobe.
Mansfield made her debut feature film appearance in the 1955 drama Female Jungle. For her role, she got the equivalent of $1,000 buckaroos. But she still had to work her way up the Hollywood ladder to really make it in the industry. In fact, after wrapping up the film, she returned to her full-time job at the movie theater selling popcorn.
No Dumb Blonde
Even though she was seen a bubbly, ditzy, bleach blonde, sex-symbol, she did have real talent. Of course, the persona she put on got way more attention than her acting chops. However, in 1957, after her performance in The Girl Can’t Help It, Mansfield won a Golden Globe Award for “Most Promising Newcomer.”
Don’t let her reputation as an air-headed actress fool you. Mansfield had a remarkably high IQ and spoke five different languages fluently. She was even dubbed “the smartest dumb blonde.” However, she frequently complained about how nobody cared about her intelligence, stating, “They’re more interested in 40-21-35” – her chest, waist, and hip measurements.
Let’s Not Be Friends
Just like her first marriage, Mansfield’s second attempt at love also ended in heartbreak. She and Hargitay even went down to Juarez, Mexico, to speed up the dramatic and bitter divorce. In a cruel move, Mansfield brought her new lover along, the crooner Nelson Sardelli. But that wasn’t even the worst part.
To get more money in the split, Mansfield accused Hargitay of kidnapping her children. Mansfield later publicly apologized to her ex-husband about all the pain and stress she put him through. I don’t agree with her actions, but at least she realized what she did was wrong and said sorry for her mistakes.
Mansfield began her career entertaining audiences on stage before making the jump to the big screen. She was a true Broadway baby and a talented singer. In fact, she usually sang the soundtracks of her movies. The starlet famously turned down the role of the beautiful Ginger Grant on Gilligan’s Island. She was sick of being typecast as the hot, ditzy babe.
Even though Mansfield garnered much attention thanks to her wardrobe malfunctions, the public quickly got sick of her antics. She was all over the tabloids, and her attempts became less believable and made her look desperate. Even her agent admitted that during this time, “she became a freak.”
Tarzan and Jayne
Mansfield and Hargitay toured together as the ultimate celebrity couple. While on the road, they became famous for their Tarzan and Jane act, wearing their iconic matching leopard print bathing suits. The press referred to the actress as “the girl in the leopard print bikini,” and she certainly stirred up a scandal, her specialty. The show-woman went to parties, took extravagant shopping trips, and strolled down Hollywood Boulevard in her usual revealing outfits.
The starlet was known for living life like she was in one of her movies. She even wore a costume from her role in The Girl Can’t Help It when she married Hargitay.
The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far
Jayne Mansfield was clearly a star, born to entertain audiences. Her good looks mixed with her natural talent really made her perfect for such a competitive industry. It doesn’t come as a surprise that she passed down her Hollywood genes to her children. And one of them is one of the most beloved police officers on screen.
Mariska Hargitay is a popular actress, known for her iconic role as Olivia Benson on the hit series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. What you may not have known about the talented television cop is that she is Jayne Mansfield’s daughter. Given her last name is Hargitay, you might have guessed that by now. But I had no clue until I researched Mansfield.
The Green-Eyed Monster
While shooting the movie Hercules, Mansfield got herself tangled in a ruthless feud. However, this one doesn’t really seem to be her fault. Moira Orfei, her Italian co-star, felt like she should have gotten the lead role instead of Mansfield, so she plotted her vicious revenge. She started off by acting cold and cruel towards Mansfield on set and then took it one step further.
Instead of being happy with the role she got, she wanted Mansfield to suffer. After making things uncomfortable at work, Orfei somehow got the bombshell removed from all Italian promotional materials, all because she got the starring role on The Loves of Hercules. Wow… somebody’s jealous.
Third Time’s Not the Charm
Mansfield got married for the third time in 1964 when Italian director Matt Cimber popped the question. Sadly, this was her most tragic relationship of all. Cimber directed her towards trashier films. At that point, Mansfield was abusing alcohol, and as in her previous marriages, she was involved in desperate affairs.
It didn’t help when she admitted that the only man she was ever happy with was her former fling Nelson Sardelli. Needless to say, it didn’t take long for their marriage to dissolve, and, by 1966, they split up. Ironically, the actress started dating her divorce attorney shortly after, but we’ll get to that soon.
The Original Side-Eye
In one of the most infamous photos of Mansfield, she’s posing with her usual low-cut style outfit, and a young Sophia Loren is giving the blonde bombshell some serious side-eye. As you can imagine, many people wondered if the two were feuding and what that look was all about. Years later, the Italian actress finally revealed the entire story.
Thankfully, it’s not what you think… well, not exactly. The party that evening was meant to be Loren’s official “Welcome to Hollywood” celebration. But apparently, Mansfield strolled in late, sat down next to her, and tried to steal the spotlight with her voluptuous body that she wasn’t shy about hiding. Loren explained, “[In the photo] I’m so frightened that everything in her dress is going to blow – BOOM! – and I spill all over the table.”
Her True Hollywood Nemesis
Despite all the dislike that Loren might have felt towards Mansfield for stealing her big moment, she maintains that there was no long-last feud, grudge, or anything of the sort between them. For years after Mansfield passed away, people repeatedly came up to Loren with the notorious picture asking her to sign it. Out of respect for the late actress, she refused every time.
However, Mansfield was no stranger to Hollywood feuds. We mentioned her rivalry with Marilyn Monroe, but that was just the beginning. Mansfield considered another sexpot celeb, Mamie Van Doren, to be her true Hollywood nemesis. She even exclaimed that Van Doren was “the drive-in’s answer to Marilyn Monroe.” Yikes! I could feel the tension.
Leave Jayne Alone!
In December 1966, while Zoltan was still recovering from the lion bite, Mansfield shot a steamy two-minute cameo appearance in the Walter Matthau sex comedy entitled A Guide for the Married Man. Her guest appearance was the very last time Mansfield acted in front of a camera.
The press was so obsessed with Mansfield that they often published her measurements for their curious readers. An Evangelist named Billy Graham once commented on his disapproval: “This country knows more about Jayne Mansfield’s statistics than the Second Commandment.” Somebody really needed to give the girl a break. It reminds me of the suffocating treatment Britney Spears got, which led to her downfall.
By 1966, the actress was living with her divorce attorney, Sam Brody. Their relationship progressed as she sunk into a life of alcohol abuse and drunken fights. At this point, she was making most of her money through burlesque shows. Her daughter Jayne Marie accused Brody of physically abusing her, and her mom encouraged him. That’s horrific, but things were about to get worse.
On November 26, 1966, tragedy struck the family. She took her kids to Jungleland USA in California when a lion attacked her son Zoltan by biting him in the neck! The injury was so severe that Zoltan needed brain surgery. If things weren’t bad enough, he also contracted meningitis after the procedure. Luckily he pulled through. The family helped permanently close the theme park by suing them.
A Deal with the Devil
Rumor has it that the bombshell sex icon may have been involved in the devil’s party. In 1966, the starlet met with the notorious Anton LaVey, aka the head of the Church of Satan. As you can imagine, the rendezvous caused a media sensation, and it didn’t take long for outlets to report that Mansfield was a practicing Satanist. LaVey even honored the star with the title “High Priestess of San Francisco’s Church of Satan.” You know what they say, any publicity is good publicity… I guess.
Rumors have been going around for decades about celebrities being involved with Satanism as well as the Illuminati to brainwash the minds of their young audiences. Do you think there is any truth to this? Or is it just some crazy conspiracy theory?
Mansfield was a serious girly girl. She loved glitter, shopping, and was obsessed with the color pink! She dyed her poodle the color pink, drove a pink Cadillac, and drank pink champagne. But as a common Hollywood trend, not everything was how it seemed. This was actually a calculated business move: The Starlet picked her “signature color” as a way to brand herself. In fact, she originally chose purple, but she quickly realized it was too close to lavender, which was actress Kim Novak’s trademark.
In another genius branding attempt, Mansfield and her husband Mickey Hargitay created their very own custom made “Pink Palace.” The actress pimped out the mansion with pink cupids, rugs, and bathtub. She even installed a fountain flowing with pink champagne and had a pink heart-shaped swimming pool. Needless to say, the walls were also painted pink.
It Takes Two
Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe almost single-handedly started the “breast fetish” in America, thanks to their hourglass figures. Before them, beauty standards were leaning towards slimmer and straighter women. I mean, Mansfield’s chest was so popular that one time, talk-show host Jack Parr introduced her onto The Tonight Show by saying, “Here they are, Jayne Mansfield.”
Back then, it wasn’t as common for women to show off their bodies, so the fact that she did helped Mansfield gain fame while simultaneously getting ripped apart by the tabloids and labeled as a “sex symbol.” The same was true with Monroe. Thankfully, times have changed, and women are now encouraged to show off their bodies.
Leaving a Scar
In the early hours of June 29, 1967, Mansfield suffered the last tragedy of her short life. The actress, Sam Brody (her boyfriend), a hired driver, and three of her children: Miklos, Zoltan, and Mariska. They were headed towards New Orleans, Louisiana. At 2:25 a.m., they got into a terrible accident. Their Buick crashed into the back of a tractor-trailer and instantly killed all three adults in the front seat.
Luckily, the kids in the back had some minor injuries (and a lot of trauma) but survived. Mansfield was just 34 years old. Mariska was just three years old at the time of the accident and thankfully doesn’t remember it at all. However, she does have a zig-zag scar on the side of her head from the collision.
When news broke about Mansfield’s horrific and tragic death, rumors immediately started flying. Media outlets reported that the blonde bombshell was decapitated in the car crash. They pointed out that pictures of the wreck showed her iconic blonde hair pressed into the windshield. But it turned out that Mansfield died due to typical head trauma, and the blonde against the windshield was just a wig.
After her shocking and devastating death, the actress’s wrecked car became a morbid fascination. One of her superfans bought the Buick that Mansfield died in, and preserved it perfectly in his garage for years. Apparently, the car still had bloodstains on the seats from the fateful 1967 night. In 1999, the vehicle was eventually sold for $8000 in an auction.
When Mansfield moved to Austin with her family in 1951, she studied drama at the University of Texas while working part-time, posing as a nude art model. She also worked as a door-to-door saleswoman and a dance studio receptionist. In 1955, when her marriage was falling apart, she tried to break into show-biz, and she split up with Paul later that year.
She made her debut as a movie star in films like Pete Kelly’s Blues, Hells on Frisco Bay, and Illegal. She continued to follow her dreams and wasn’t going to let any man tell her how to live her life. She had big dreams, and her persistence and determination helped her get there, not a man.
Too Hot to Handle
Despite her fame and recognition, Mansfield didn’t have it easy in Hollywood. She often struggled to break into the business and landing roles. The reason was simply that she was seen as “too sexy” for some viewers. In fact, she was cropped out of a General Electric advertisement of women in bathing suits because her sex appeal was considered inappropriate for a 1954 audience.
This seems to be a little unfair. She wasn’t dressed any more seductively than the other swimsuit models in the ad campaign. The only difference is that Mansfield had a stigma associated with her, and unfortunately, it haunted her throughout her career, as well as her life.
Passing on her Legacy
As we mentioned, the amazing and talented Mariska Hargitay is Mansfield’s daughter, and she certainly inherited her mom’s acting chops. Even though she was just a three-year-old toddler at the time of the accident, she still has some memories of her mother that she continues to cherish.
When a loved one dies, wearing a piece of their jewelry helps you feel like a part of them is with you. After my grandpa died, I haven’t taken his necklace off my neck. I feel like he is protecting me when I wear it. Sadly, Mariska didn’t get that comfort. Many of her mother’s belongings were sent to auction after she died. Mariska had to buy back her mom’s jewelry from collectors, including a bracelet with her name engraved in it.