Mansfield, Jayne (1933–1967)
Mansfield, Jayne (1933–1967)
American actress who was one of Hollywood's leading sex symbols during the late 1950s and early 1960s . Born Vera Jayne Palmer in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, on April 19, 1933; died near New Orleans, Louisiana, on June 29, 1967; daughter of Herbert Palmer (an attorney) and Vera Palmer; attended Parkland High School in Dallas, Texas, the University of Texas, the University of California at Los Angeles, and Southern Methodist University in Dallas; married Paul Mansfield, on May 6, 1950 (divorced 1956); married Mickey Hargitay (a bodybuilder), on January 13, 1958 (divorced 1964); married Matt Cimber (a film producer and director), in 1964 (separated 1966); children: (first marriage) Jayne Marie Mansfield (b. 1950); (second marriage) Miklos Hargitay (b. 1958), Zoltan Hargitay (b. 1960), and Mariska Hargitay (b. 1964); (third marriage): Anthony Richard Cimber (b. 1965).
The Female Jungle (1954); Pete Kelly's Blues (1955); Illegal (1955); The Burglar (1956); The Girl Can't Help It (1957); Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957); Kiss Them for Me (1957); The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw (1958); Too Hot to Handle (1960); The Loves of Hercules (1960); The George Raft Story (1961); Panic Button (1962); A Guide for the Married Man (1967).
Born Vera Jayne Palmer in the exclusive Philadelphia suburb of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, on April 19, 1933, Jayne Mansfield was the only child of Vera Palmer and Herbert Palmer, a successful attorney. She spent her early years in the small town of Phillipsburg in northwestern New Jersey, where her father was the law partner of Robert Meyner, later governor of the Garden State. When she was only three, her father suffered a massive heart attack and died. Three years later, Vera Palmer married Harry Peers, a successful mechanical engineer, and the family moved to Dallas, Texas. From all reports, Mansfield had an idyllic childhood, pampered by doting parents who encouraged her precocity. At an early age, she discovered movie fan magazines and resolved that she would star in motion pictures—preferably like Shirley Temple (Black) , who had long been one of her favorites. Vera encouraged her daughter's aspirations.
While attending Parkland High School in Dallas, Mansfield boasted a B-average. Then a brunette, she physically matured early and, by age 17, was amply endowed. On May 6, 1950, though she seldom dated, a pregnant Jayne married 20-year-old Paul Mansfield. That November, Jayne and her newborn daughter Jayne Marie joined Paul in Austin, where he was attending the University of Texas. Although Mansfield took a couple of classes, she spent most of her time working to support the family, employed as a receptionist at a dance school and as a door-to-door saleswoman. Because the Mansfields had no money for a babysitter, Jayne took her infant daughter with her to class and to work.
In 1951, Mansfield took the first serious steps toward her goal. Leaving her daughter with Vera, she enrolled at the University of California at Los Angeles. While there, she reached the finals of the Miss Southern California Pageant but dropped out when her husband expressed disapproval. In 1952, Paul was inducted into the U.S. Army and stationed at Camp Gordon, near Augusta, Georgia, where Jayne joined him. In a local beauty competition, she was named Miss Photoflash of 1952, only the first of many beauty titles she would eventually collect. She also picked up some acting experience at Camp Gordon, appearing in local productions of Anything Goes and Ten Nights in a Ballroom. After her husband was sent to Korea, Mansfield returned to Dallas where she attended classes at Southern Methodist University, earned money by modeling, and entered more beauty contests. She then came under the wing of Baruch Lumet, the father of film director Sidney Lumet. Founder and director of the Dallas Institute of Performing Arts, the elder Lumet saw some promise in Mansfield and agreed to give her free acting lessons. While studying under Lumet, she acted in a few local television productions and won a small part in a local presentation of Death of a Salesman, a role that brought her to
the attention of a Paramount executive, Milton Lewis. When Paul came back from Korea in 1954, he made good on an earlier promise to move to California so that Jayne could pursue a career in motion pictures.
Soon after their arrival in Southern California, Mansfield signed with an agent, Robert Schwartz, but work was not forthcoming. Paul found Jayne's quest for stardom more than he could tolerate and asked her to give up her career and return with him to Dallas. When she refused, he sued for divorce and sought custody of their daughter, citing a couple of Jayne's provocative pin-up posters; the court granted the divorce but turned down his custody petition.
Mansfield landed a part on television by camping out in the office of the casting agent for three consecutive days. It has been written, though perhaps apocryphally, that while still waiting to see the agent she scribbled "36–22–34" on a card and had it delivered to the show's producer. Supposedly, she was hired the same day. Although she then added a handful of small acting roles to her resume, her career was not successfully launched until early 1955. By that time, an appearance in Hugh Hefner's fledgling Playboy had increased her profile in Hollywood considerably. Howard Hughes ordered his executives at RKO Studios to sign Mansfield, which set off a bidding war with Warner Bros. In the end, she signed a six-month contract with Warner's for a mere $250 a week. Her first film was Illegal, and she also appeared in the television series "Casablanca." Unhappy with her roles at Warner's, Mansfield prevailed upon studio executives to allow her to appear in an independent film project, The Burglar, for which she was paid $5,000. While filming, she received word that the studio had terminated her contract.
Shortly after, Mansfield was signed to do George Axelrod's Broadway show Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? Although reviews for the play were lukewarm at best, critics raved about her performance. Mansfield was suddenly a hot ticket in New York, leading to guest appearances on a number of television game shows, including "What's My Line" and "Down You Go," as well as a couple of 90-minute specials. While making a guest appearance on a Mae West show, she met Mickey Hargitay, Mr. Universe 1955, who was one of the musclemen in West's entourage: Mansfield claimed it was love at first sight. Offered an attractive contract by 20th Century-Fox, which had also bought the rights to Rock Hunter, Mansfield left Broadway after more than 450 performances and headed back to Hollywood. The GirlCan't Help It, her first film for Fox, was a box-office smash, rated among the top 20 films of that year. She next re-created her Broadway role in Fox's film version of Rock Hunter. Although it did not equal the success of The Girl Can't Help It, the film did well enough and eventually became something of a cult favorite.
Against the wishes of Fox, Mansfield married Hargitay on January 13, 1958. After their honeymoon, the newlyweds starred together in a nightclub act at the Tropicana in Las Vegas for six weeks. Before long, Mansfield and Hargitay welcomed the arrival of their first child, a son they named Miklos. About a year later, while they were both working on the film The Loves of Hercules, Mansfield became pregnant with their second son, Zoltan.
Mansfield's career peaked soon thereafter. In the wake of America's sexual revolution, her brand of sex appeal went out of style, and her inability to shape her image to the emerging sexual maturity resulted in parody; rather than copy for the Hollywood trade magazines, her life became fodder for the tabloids. Fox used her less and less and loaned her out to other studios for B (or lesser) movies. Even the offers from outside studios were becoming less frequent, leading Mansfield to appear more often on the nightclub circuit in Las Vegas, sometimes with Hargitay in tow. As her professional fortunes plummeted, so did her personal life, and reports of an imminent divorce from Hargitay ran rampant. In July 1963, Fox announced that it would not renew her contract. In January of the following year, she gave birth to daughter Mariska but soon made good on her threats to divorce Hargitay. Not long after, Mansfield married producer-director Matt Cimber, a match even she soon recognized as ill-considered. Pregnant and unhappy, Mansfield remained the trouper, acting in stage shows that she and her husband produced. They needed the income, but the shows were poorly received, and Mansfield, who had poured in her own money to cover production expenses, ended up further behind financially.
Anxious to terminate her marriage to Cimber, Mansfield separated from him and hired attorney Sam Brody to provide counsel. Shortly thereafter, she landed a role in A Guide for the Married Man, her first major film since 1961. Although still heavily burdened with debt, she managed to move back into her Hollywood mansion. To pay the bills, however, she found it necessary to stay on the road, playing engagements throughout the country. On the evening of June 28, 1967, after an appearance at a Biloxi, Mississippi, nightclub, Mansfield, Brody, and three of her children piled into a car to be driven to New Orleans, where Mansfield was to appear on a talk show the next day. Early on the morning of June 29, 1967, the car in which they were riding ran into the back of a mosquito-control truck. The three children escaped serious injury, but Mansfield and Brody died gruesomely. It was a tabloid ending to a life lived largely in the tabloids.
Agan, Patrick. The Decline and Fall of the Love Goddesses. CA: Pinnacle Books, 1979.
Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. NY: Harper-Collins, 1994.
Don Amerman , freelance writer, Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania
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