Jayne Mansfield

“When I’m 100, I’ll still be doing pin-ups.” –Jayne Mansfield

A blonde bombshell, performer, and sex symbol, Jayne Mansfield would garner much publicity during her lifetime and, tragically, upon her untimely death. Born Vera Jayne Palmer on April 19, 1933, in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, she was the only child of Herbert and Vera Palmer. Her early days were spent in Phillipsburg, New Jersey, until her father—a lawyer—passed away from a heart attack. Her mother then married a sales engineer named Harry Lawrence Peers, relocating the family to Dallas, Texas.

Early on, Jayne dreamed of becoming a Hollywood star. She attended Highland Park High School in Dallas, while also studying Spanish, German, violin, piano, viola, and dance.

By age 17, she married Paul Mansfield, giving birth to daughter Jayne Marie Mansfield six months later. Both Jayne and Paul then enrolled in Southern Methodist University to study acting. Jayne later moved to Los Angeles, California, to complete a summer semester of courses at UCLA. Though she entered and won the local round of the Miss California contest while there, she resigned when Paul found out.

She and Paul later moved to Austin, Texas, to continue studying acting at the University of Texas—Austin. While there, Jayne worked several jobs, including selling books, modeling, and working as a receptionist. When Paul served in the Army, Jayne and Paul resided at Camp Gordon in Georgia. After another stint in Dallas studying under Baruch Lumet, the Mansfields moved to Los Angeles. Though Jayne completed a screen test at Paramount, she also sold popcorn at the Stanley Warner Theatre, taught dance, sold candy, worked as a photographer at the Trails Restaurant (owned by actress and swimmer Esther Williams).

Over the years, Mansfield won various beauty contests. She and Paul also participated in various local theatre productions in the many towns they called home. After auditions at Paramount and Warner Bros., Jayne finally received her first acting assignment as part of the CBS Lux Video Theatre.

By 1955, Jayne made her initial appearance in Playboy. At this time, however, the Mansfields’ marriage was on the rocks. In the same year, they separated and divorced in 1956. As a result, Paul alleged that Jayne was an unfit mother and sought (but failed to receive) custody of her daughter, Jayne.

Jayne’s first film role would be as a supporting character in Female Jungle (1955). She later signed a contract with Warner Bros., mostly appearing in bit parts in varying film genres. Mansfield then signed with Twentieth Century-Fox while also appearing on stage for Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, fulfilling her first starring film role in The Girl Can’t Help It (1956). The film was a success and Mansfield became a competitor to Marilyn Monroe. Mansfield would also appear in the film version of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957), as well as Kiss Them for Me (1957), and The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw (1958).

In 1956, Mansfield met actor and bodybuilder Mickey Hargitay, who was in the chorus of Mae West’s show. They married in January of 1958, and had three children: Mariska, Zoltan, and Miklos. They divorced in 1964.

Gradually, her popularity declined and Mansfield appeared in low-budget films. Despite her film setbacks, Mansfield still received much publicity due to her personal life and stage performances, in addition to television appearances. She acted in stage versions of Macbeth, Anything Goes, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and Bus Stop, among other roles. Additionally, she appeared on The Red Skelton Hour, Kraft Mystery Theater, The Jackie Gleason Show, The Jack Benny Program, and more. Mansfield also had a nightclub act at the Tropicana and Dunes Hotels in Las Vegas, Nevada. 

Mansfield would marry one more time to Matt Cimber. They had one son, Tony, before divorcing in 1966.

Throughout her career, Mansfield maintained a voluptuous figure and platinum blonde hair. She was no stranger to publicity stunts and constantly identified pink as her signature color. She lived at the “Pink Palace” that Hargitay had built for her, in addition to riding in a pink Cadillac convertible—the only pink Cadillac in Hollywood at the time.

Tragedy struck in 1967 when Mansfield was leaving an engagement in Biloxi, Mississippi, with attorney and companion Sam Brody, driver Ronnie Harrison, and three of her children—Miklos, Zoltan, and Mariska. Their 1966 Buick Electra crashed into the rear of a tractor-trailer in Slidell, Louisiana—en route to New Orleans, Louisiana—causing the three adults in the front scene to die instantly. Though suffering minor injuries, the three children survived. After her death, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration required underride guards for tractor trailers, colloquially known as the “Mansfield bar.”

Mansfield passed away on June 29, 1967, at the age of 34. She was interred at Fairview Cemetery, southeast of Pen Argyl, Pennsylvania, beside her father. Since then, her mother has also been laid to rest in the family plot.

Today, there are various locations of relevance to Mansfield that remain. Southern Methodist University, the University of Texas at Austin, and UCLA remain higher education institutions.

Her alma mater, Highland Park High School, remains at 4220 Emerson Ave., Dallas, Texas.

Mansfield’s homes at 3329 Amherst Ave., University Park, Dallas, Texas; The Pink Palace at 10100 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, California; 4427 Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles, California; and 20G W. 9th St., Dallas, Texas, no longer stand.

Her crash site in Slidell, Louisiana, is marked. Initially, the marker was located in the wrong place and has since been relocated to the correct spot.

Mansfield remains interred at Fairview Cemetery in Pennsylvania. Mansfield also has a cenotaph at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.

Mansfield has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6328 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, California. Her daughter, Mariska, has a star located next to hers.

Today, Mansfield is best remembered for her style and filmography. Her cenotaph is also a stop on the Hollywood Forever Cemetery tour, highlighting her as a devoted mother.

About Annette Bochenek

Dr. Annette Bochenek of Chicago, Illinois, is an avid scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She manages the Hometowns to Hollywood blog, in which she writes about her trips exploring the legacies and hometowns of Golden Age stars. Annette also hosts the “Hometowns to Hollywood” film series throughout the Chicago area. She has been featured on Turner Classic Movies and is the president of TCM Backlot’s Chicago chapter. In addition to writing for TCM Backlot, she also writes for Classic Movie Hub, Silent Film Quarterly, Nostalgia Digest, and Chicago Art Deco Society Magazine.
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