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NAME: Jayne Mansfield
OCCUPATION: Film Actress, Theater Actress, Television Actress, Pin-up
BIRTH DATE: April 19, 1933
DEATH DATE: June 29, 1967
PLACE OF BIRTH: Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania
PLACE OF DEATH: U.S. Highway 90 near Slidell, Louisiana
ORIGINALLY: Vera Jayne Palmer
BEST KNOWN FOR: Jayne Mansfield was an American actress best known for her bombshell curves and roles in films during the 1950s and ’60s.
Jayne Mansfield was born Vera Jayne Palmer on April 19, 1933, in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Mansfield’s father, Herbert Palmer, was an attorney, and her mother, Vera Palmer, was a retired schoolteacher. Mansfield endured a childhood tragedy at the age of 3, when her father passed away from a heart attack at the age of 30. Her father’s death came as a complete shock; he had attended a routine physical the very morning of his death and was proclaimed entirely healthy.
Reflecting back on the tragedy, Mansfield later said, “Something went out of my life… My earliest memories are the best. I always try to remember the good times when Daddy was alive.” Mansfield’s mother returned to teaching to support the family, and in 1939, with her daughter’s approval, she married an engineer named Harry Peers and they moved with him to Dallas, Texas.
In Dallas, Mansfield enjoyed a typical middle class upbringing. She was a caring and naïve child, and accounts of her youth are full of endearing anecdotes illustrating these traits. When Mansfield learned that a classmate of hers did not own a winter coat because her family had fallen upon hard times, she traded the girl her own coat for an old baby bottle. One day, her Sunday school teacher told Mansfield that God was always with her, and that night she fell out of bed several times “making room for God.”
Mansfield was also a natural born performer. She took voice, dance and violin lessons and would frequently stand out in her driveway playing her violin for passersby on the sidewalk. Mansfield’s obsession with Hollywood stars was born at the age of 13, when she and her mother took a vacation to Los Angeles and she got the autographs of radio stars Dennis Day and Harold Peary at a Hollywood restaurant. Upon returning to their table, she declared to her mother, “one day some other young girl is going to make her way across this room and ask for my autograph.”
Jayne Mansfield was 16 years old when she met a boy named Paul Mansfield at a Christmas party and immediately fell in love. They married just months later, in May of 1950, a few weeks before Mansfield graduated from Highland Park High School in Dallas. Later that year, she gave birth to a daughter, Jayne Marie Mansfield.
While her husband served in the Korean War, Mansfield studied drama at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and appeared in local plays, including a production of Death of a Salesman with the Knox Street Players. In 1954, after Paul Mansfield returned from the war, Mansfield convinced him to move with her to Los Angeles so she could pursue her dream of becoming a movie star.
Mansfield’s first years in Hollywood brought mostly disappointment. She had several unsuccessful auditions for Paramount and Warner Bros. and had to take work selling candy at a movie theater. She also sought out modeling work, but at her first professional photo shoot, an advertisement for General Electric, she was cropped out of the picture because she looked “too sexy” for 1954 audiences.
As she struggled to break into show business, her marriage suffered, and in 1955 she and Paul Mansfield split ways (she decided to keep his last name because she thought it sounded “illustrious”). That same year, she landed her first film roles, small parts in a trio of films: Female Jungle, Pete Kelly’s Blues and Illegal.
Mansfield proved to have an uncanny knack for self-marketing, and she took steps to distinguish herself from the many curvy blonde actresses attempting to make it big in Hollywood at the time. She made pink her trademark color — she wore pink, drove a pink car and bought a house decked out in pink that she dubbed “the pink palace.” Mansfield garnered her first nationwide publicity when, attending the premiere of Underwater in Florida, her top mysteriously fell off in sight of numerous journalists.
From then on, as one journalist put it, Mansfield “suffered so many on-stage strap and zipper mishaps that nudity was, for her, a professional hazard.” Shortly after the Underwater incident, she landed a role in the Broadway production and film adaptation of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter. Those performances finally established her as a star actress, and she went on to feature in such films as Kiss Them For Me (1957), The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw (1958) and It Takes a Thief (1960).
Nevertheless, many more people saw her photograph than her movies — in just nine months, from September 1956 to May 1957, Mansfield appeared in an astonishing 2,500 newspaper photographs.
After seeing her career fizzle out somewhat for the next several years, in 1963 Mansfield again made headlines after becoming the first American actress to appear nude in a major motion picture, Promises! Promises! While the film generated significant buzz, it failed to reignite her film career, and she made only a handful more films, including Panic Button (1964), The Fat Spy (1966) and Single Room Furnished (1967).
In the later years of her career, Mansfield also returned to Broadway with an acclaimed turn in Bus Stop and developed into a successful nightclub performer with an act that combined song, comedy and impromptu banter with the audience.
After her 1955 split from Paul Mansfield, Jayne Mansfield’s personal life followed a turbulent, dramatic and highly publicized course that often overshadowed her acting career. In 1958, she married the winner of the Mr. Universe Competition, Mickey Hargitay, and they had three children.
However, theirs was a tumultuous relationship, and in 1964 Mansfield married actor Matt Cimber in Mexico, even though she had not yet officially divorced Hargitay. Mansfield and Cimber had one child before also parting ways. For the rest of her life, Mansfield was involved in a rocky relationship with Sam Brody, the attorney she hired to assist with her divorce proceedings.
On June 29, 1967, Mansfield and Brody were driving home from a nightclub performance in Mississippi when they whipped around a dark curve and crashed into a slow-moving semi-truck, instantly killing both of them. Jayne Mansfield was only 34 years old and still in the prime of her career at the time of her shocking and tragic death.
With her beautiful blonde locks and Barbie-doll figure, Mansfield was second only to Marilyn Monroe among the blonde sex symbols of the 1950s. She was also an incredibly driven performer whose tireless performing schedule and talent for self-promotion allowed her to stand out among the many beauties who populate Hollywood to become one of the most memorable faces of an era. “I will never be satisfied,” she once said, summing up her relentless approach to her life and career. “Life is one constant search for betterment for me.”