Jayne Mansfield lived an enormous life in just 34 years. Today, she is most well known by people for the infamous photo of Sophia Loren glaring at Jayne’s robust cleavage while Jayne is smiling joyously. She is perhaps best known for these types of “stunts,” she was well known for publicity stunts in the 1950s that elevated her status, and she became extremely well known during the time. Sadly, Jayne also had to live in the shadow of Marilyn Monroe, which did affect her, ultimately driving her towards alcoholism and drug abuse. Jayne was never given “big roles” to act in, because large studios viewed Jayne as a type of “insurance” to back up Marilyn, though Jayne did win a Golden Globe.
Jayne was incredibly talented and also incredibly underrated. Both Marilyn and Jayne were originally brunettes who were dyed platinum blonde and turned into film studio bombshells and fulfilled the “dumb blonde” archetype, which they were anything but. They also shared in the history of being two of the first Playboy Playmates alongside Bettie Page, which was revolutionary for the sexually oppressed 1950s. These were clever women, and in Jayne’s case, she orchestrated reality TV style publicity stunts before reality TV existed, as written about in The Hollywood Reporter by Erik Liberman in 2017. He writes how Jayne was the first version of a reality persona. She also carried around a chihuahua, as Paris Hilton is known for doing.
Jayne Mansfield was born Vera Jayne Palmer in Pennsylvania on April 19, 1933. Jayne was married and divorced three times and had five children. Her great love was likely with her second husband, Mickey Hargitay. She had her daughter, Mariska Hargitay, the well known actress, with Mickey. Mariska followed in her mother’s footsteps. Mickey clearly loved Jayne endlessly and put up with a lot of stunts that she pulled, which were not always family oriented; he stayed with her even when she was taking risks with sharing her sexuality.
Jayne led a complex life: she pursued fame despite knowing that she was in the shadows of Marilyn. Jayne was also known for relationships with both JFK and RFK. She was certainly a woman who was ahead of her time in how she managed her life. Jayne had an ambitious vision for the star that she wanted to be and she made strategic decisions that impacted this vision. Jayne’s home in Los Angeles was even infamously dubbed the “Pink Palace” for having a pink theme and being painted pink. The grandeur that she lived in reflected the glamorous vision that she had for her life. Jayne’s life would end too early in tragedy.
Jayne performed in Mississippi during her last days in 1967, where she passed tragically in a car accident late in the night with her companion at the time, her lawyer, Sam Brody as they were going to New Orleans for another show. The vehicle Jayne was in crashed into the rear end of a tractor trailer that was behind a truck that had suddenly slowed down because it was spraying mosquito spray. Jayne’s children survived with minor injuries in the back seat.
After Jayne’s tragic passing, policy was passed to recommend that tractor trailers use an underride guard, though the trucking industry was slow to adopt the change. It’s sometimes referred to as the Mansfield Bar due to Jayne’s passing. Mickey, in despair, ended up marrying the flight attendant who accompanied him when he flew from Los Angeles to New Orleans after Jayne’s tragic passing in 1967. Mickey’s love for Jayne was so evident in how he allowed her to pursue her dreams. Jayne’s legacy is her ambition and her love.