Bold, brash, and smart as a whip, Jayne Mansfield simply loved to push the limits of decency. Making great use of her buxom figure, Mansfield was not only a rabidly popular actress, but also one of the most vivacious and visible sex symbols of her age—until it all ended in one of the most shocking tragedies Hollywood had ever seen.
Jayne Mansfield Facts
1. She Was A Spoiled Brat
Jayne Mansfield was born Vera Jane Palmer on April 19, 1933 in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. She was the beloved only child of Herbert and Vera Palmer, a well off and influential couple. In other words, little Jayne was spoiled rotten, and her parents told her the world could be hers if she wanted it. But before that happened, unimaginable tragedy struck.
2. She Suffered A Massive Tragedy
When Mansfield was just three years old, her father Herbert suffered a fatal heart attack. In the blink of an eye, the young girl’s life changed around her: Her mother remarried soon after and moved the family to Texas. Still, if Mansfield’s horrific romantic decisions as an adult were anything to go by, this loss of her biological father had huge consequences.
3. She Was A Popular Girl
As Mansfield grew up, it was clear to pretty much anyone who got within a three-foot radius of her that she was a mega looker. She’d developed early, and was already settling into her famous curves. Unsurprisingly then, she was one of the most popular girls in her high school, and had men and women alike obsessed with her. Except this wasn’t a good thing.
4. She Liked Older Men
On Christmas Eve, 1949, a 16-year-old Jayne met the strapping, slightly older Paul Mansfield at a high school party. Both of them were popular, both of them were beautiful, and both of them were immediately drawn to each other. Before long, the pair got hot and heavy…but as it turned out, they were also both very young and dumb.
5. She Was A Teenage Bride
When Jayne Mansfield moved, she moved fast. Less than a year after they met, she and Paul married, tying the knot in May, 1950 when she was just 17 years old. But at the altar, she was hiding a dark secret. The teenaged beauty was already three months pregnant on her wedding day. She gave birth to a daughter, little Jayne Marie, six months later. Not the best way to start a marriage, and Jayne found that out the hard way.
6. She Defied Her Husband
Now that they were official, Paul expected Jayne to settle down and start becoming a domestic mother hen. But his wife had other ideas: A natural-born performer since she was in diapers, Jayne always harbored dreams of stardom. Luckily, Jayne was nothing if not persuasive, and in 1954 she somehow convinced Paul to pick up and move to Los Angeles to start her career. And what a start it was.
7. She Was Literally TOO Attractive
Mansfield’s figure was so curvaceous, it was an actual liability. When she started out in Hollywood, she landed a gig in a General Electric commercial that had women in swimsuits lounging around a pool. But she soon received a mortifying blow. The producers kicked her off the assignment because her chest was too big—indecently so. Sadly, much worse was around the corner.
8. Studios Rejected Her In An Embarrassing Way
Mansfield’s incredible face and ridiculous body got her in a lot of studio doors in the early years, but most of her very first meetings ended with crushing disappointment. Although one producer recognized her “obvious talent” in these screen tests, both Paramount and Warner Brothers kicked her out on her butt with no film roles to show for it. Until, that is, Jayne got an ingenious idea.
9. She Wasn’t A Natural Blonde
Today, Mansfield is famous as one of the biggest blonde bombshells in Hollywood history, but casual fans don’t know the truth. She was actually a natural brunette. No, really. After her disastrous meetings around Hollywood, Mansfield realized that blondes really do have more fun, and peroxided the heck out of her tresses. Well, it worked…but not in the way Mansfield might have intended.
10. She Had A Naughty Photoshoot
In February 1955, Mansfield got a scandalous claim to fame: She appeared as Playboy magazine’s playgirl of the month, launching thousands of teenage fantasies in the process. Suddenly, “Jayne Mansfield” was the name on everybody’s lips, and all those studio heads that rejected her thought twice. With an origin story like this, is it any wonder Mansfield’s life got so insane?
11. She Had A Huge Rival
In 1956, Mansfield starred in the musical comedy The Girl Can’t Help It—yet her big break came with a disturbing ulterior motive. Everybody just wanted to find the next huge starlet to compete with Marilyn Monroe, and Mansfield was simply another rival blonde bombshell in a long line of them. In fact, Mansfield’s studio Twentieth-Century Fox even tastelessly promoted her as “Marilyn Monroe king-sized.” Oh, but it very much gets grosser than that.
12. Her Studio Used Her
See, Fox already had Marilyn Monroe under contract, and they weren’t just using Jayne Mansfield as counter-programming, they were using her as bait. Monroe was becoming increasingly difficult, and the studio executives hoped that pushing Mansfield as her competition would make Monroe come crawling back to them. Um, ew. Professionally, then, Mansfield was on thin ice…and her personal life was about to hit rock bottom.
13. Her Husband Was Controlling
As Jayne rose in stardom, her marriage to Paul Mansfield took a nosedive. For one, Paul was jealous and possessive from the get go. For example, when Jayne once entered the Miss California beauty contest in secret, Paul found out and forced her to drop out, unwilling to share her with the greedy eyes of the audience. In case you’re wondering, this didn’t get better.
14. She Was A Serial Cheater
To be just a little fair to Paul, Jayne wasn’t the easiest wife to have around—or the most faithful. With looks like hers, Jayne simply couldn’t limit herself to the attentions of one man, and the couple often fought about her many affairs. It also didn’t help that Paul was still annoyed that his wife had something called “ambition,” and just wanted her home all the time. Yeah, this is going to end well.
15. Her Ex Made A Horrific Accusation
By 1956, Jayne’s dysfunctional marriage was tearing at the seams, and she filed for divorce. That’s when her husband got a brutal revenge. In retaliation, Paul Mansfield sued for custody of their little girl Jayne Marie. The mega jerk even claimed that Jayne was an unfit mother, primarily because of her appearance in Playboy. Wow Paul, get over it, your ex-wife is hot. Luckily, Paul lost that battle. Then again, it wasn’t very long before Jayne got quite the revenge of her own.
16. She Fell In Love With Mr. Universe
While Jayne was still in the middle of her divorce with Paul, she met bodybuilder Mickey Hargitay at a nightclub. However, Hargitay wasn’t just any bodybuilder. He’d actually just won Mr. Universe the year before, and he was performing in Mae West‘s chorus line when Mansfield spotted him at the club. From the moment they locked eyes, it was balls-to-the-wall drama.
17. She Got Into An Iconic Cat Fight
Mansfield went gaga at first sight for Hargitay, but one person was no fan of her crush: Mae West herself. The jealous star was enraged at Mansfield’s advances on her Adonis-like employee—and it caused a legendary cat fight. That same night, the two blondes quarrelled, and the spat ended with fellow chorus member Mr. California beating Hargitay up. No, seriously. Well, that’s one way to do a meet-cute. The thing is, when it comes to Jayne and Mickey, that’s just the beginning.
18. Her Wedding Was Extravagant
Mansfield was developing quite the taste for stardom, so when Hargitay proposed to her with a whopping 10-carat ring in 1957, she made sure their wedding was the talk of tinsel town. Not only did she marry the bodybuilder scant days after her divorce from Paul was finalized, she also wore the same blinged-out wedding dress she’d worn as a costume for her film The Girl Can’t Help It. Oh, Jayne.
19. She Had Expensive Tastes
In the late 1950s, Jayne Mansfield became her own worst enemy. At the time, Mickey Hargitay was running out of money, and Mansfield claimed—very loudly—in the press that she was a poor little rich girl. The starlet complained that things were so “bad,” she couldn’t buy anymore new furniture, and she also had to—gasp—sleep on the floor….of her mansion. The tabloids rushed to tear Mansfield apart for her tone deaf comments, and Mansfield seemed contrite for a brief moment. It wouldn’t last.
20. She Invented The “Wardrobe Malfunction”
Truth be told, Mansfield was getting a little too addicted to celebrity. She quickly became one of the first publicity machines in Hollywood, and would purposely set up opportunities to get her picture taken. The biggest trick in her book? The good old “wardrobe malfunction.” But these weren’t little slips, heck no—they were more scandalous than that.
21. The Paparazzi “Caught” Her Undressed
One of the most notorious examples of Mansfield’s publicity stunts happened in 1955, when the starlet attended a pool party while wearing an itsy-bitsy red bikini that was two sizes too small. When she dove into the pool—in front of an entire line of photographers, natch—her top predictably blew off as she hit the water, and the flashes went a-flickering. Then again, Mansfield obviously knew exactly what she was doing…
22. She Took A Swipe At Marilyn Monroe
In 1957, Mansfield starred in the hit film Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, which is the flick she is still most famous for today. In the movie, Mansfield plays the breathy and demanding starlet Rita Marlowe—only this famous part hid a very catty meaning. In playing Rita, Mansfield was essentially just doing a thinly veiled impression of her main rival Marilyn Monroe. Meo-w. The bodacious Jayne Mansfield was finally at the height of her stardom. Tragically, though, that meant there was nowhere to go but down.
23. She Struggled To Be A Good Wife
Mansfield had found the beefy, brawny hunk of her dreams in Mickey Hargitay, but it was far from happily ever after. Although the pair became a camp power couple and had three children together, Jayne quickly got up to her old tricks again. Soon, she carelessly flaunted a series of high-profile affairs right in front of Mickey’s face…and they were doozies.
24. She Slept With A President
Mansfield’s little black book was the hottest ticket in town. According to many sources, Mansfield had affairs with the likes of Robert Kennedy and even his brother John F. Kennedy, who obviously had a thing for busty blondes. The nail in the coffin of Mansfield’s relationship to Hargitay, however, was her fling with the Las Vegas crooner Nelson Sardelli. It all led up to a divorce even more bitter and dramatic than her last.
25. She Tried To Make Her Ex Jealous
In May 1963, Mansfield was so desperate to divorce Hargitay, she insisted they go down to Juarez, Mexico to push through a quickie split. In a supremely cruel boss babe move, Jayne Mansfield also brought along her new lover Sardelli to the proceedings, just to dig the knife into Hargitay’s side a little more. Thing is, that that wasn’t even the worst part.
26. She Came Up With An Awful Plot
Jayne Mansfield could be disturbingly cunning when she wanted. In the wake of her split with Hargitay, the starlet wanted to take the bodybuilder for all he was worth. Her plan was terrifyingly spiteful. In a ploy to get more money in the divorce settlement, Mansfield accused Hargitay of kidnapping one of her kids, even though her claims were patently untrue. All I can say is YIKES.
27. She Was “A Freak”
Around this time, a strange and terrifying change started to take place in Jayne Mansfield. She had always been a publicity hound, but she now began to push it to the absolute limit. Where she once would “accidentally” let her gown slip off her braless shoulders, by 1962 she was wriggling out her entire dress in nightclubs. These antics made her wardrobe designer drop her as a client, and her own agent once sniped during this period, “She became a freak.” And they didn’t even know what was coming.
28. She Bared It All On Stage
In the late 1950s, Mansfield moved from film work to nightclub work—which she was mind-blowingly successful at. Her sultry late night revue earned her mountains of cold hard cash, and it’s not hard to see why. Her wardrobe at these shows was often very sheer and extra shiny, leading people to describe her performances as “Jayne Mansfield and a few sequins.” Still, there’s such a thing as too much of a good thing…
29. Her Career Took An Unsettling Turn
In 1964, Mansfield married Italian director Matt Cimber—and in many ways, it was her most tragic union of all. Hollywood no longer had as much need for busty blondes, so Cimber steered Mansfield into trashier and trashier films, dragging her cinematic reputation into the realm of the decidedly seedy. And with these exploitation films came explosive drama.
30. She Had A Sinister “First”
In 1963, Cimber and some greasy male producers convinced Mansfield to star in the upcoming Promises! Promises! skin flick. It was a deal Mansfield would likely come to regret: It contained a bare-all scene that made Mansfield the first mainstream Hollywood star to appear fully naked on film, and it got summarily banned all over the world. Girl, don’t listen to your husband!
31. She Only Ever Loved One Man
Almost as soon as it began, Mansfield’s third marriage to Matt Cimber fell apart—yet so few people know awful details of the split. Mansfield had been unfaithful as usual, but this time her flaws extended far past cheating. Depressive, she had started drinking herself to distraction, and morosely confessed to Cimber that she had only ever been happy with her former flame Nelson Sardelli. Mansfield and Cimber’s marriage officially ended in 1966. To many on the outside, it seemed like her life was spiralling out of control…and gaining speed.
32. She Hurt Her Own Daughter
After leaving Cimber, Mansfield began living with her attorney, Sam Brody. It devolved so quickly: She sunk into a life of alcohol and drunken fights, and was making most of her money through tawdry burlesque shows. During this time, her daughter Jayne Marie even accused Brody of physically abusing her while her mother encouraged him. Seriously, how could it get worse? *nervous laughter*
33. A Lion Attacked Her Son
On November 26, 1966, tragedy rammed right into Mansfield’s life. She and her children were visiting Jungleland USA in California when a lion savagely attacked her young son Zoltan, biting him in the neck. The attack was so severe that Zoltan underwent brain surgery and, rubbing salt in the wound, also contracted meningitis after the procedure. Thankfully, he eventually pulled through…but Mansfield would have precious little time left with her son.
34. She Made Her Last Appearance On Film
During December 1966, while her son Zoltan was still recovering from the horrific lion attack heard around the world, Mansfield filmed a steamy two-minute cameo appearance in the Walter Matthau raunchy comedy A Guide for the Married Man. As it happened, it would be the very last time that she acted in front of a film camera.
35. She Had An On-Set Battle
While shooting The Loves of Hercules, Mansfield got herself embroiled in a ruthless feud. Her Italian co-star Moira Orfei felt that she should have gotten the lead role instead of Mansfield—and she plotted a bitter retaliation. Not content to merely be cruel to Mansfield on set, Orfei went one step further and got the bombshell’s name removed from all Italian promotional materials.
36. She Made A Supremely Catty Remark
Although Marilyn Monroe was her early competition, Mansfield always considered fellow racy starlet Mamie Van Doren as her true Hollywood nemesis. So when she had to work with Van Doren in down-market film The Las Vegas Hillbillys, her gloves really came off. Mansfield refused to share scenes with Van Doren, sneering that she was just “the drive-in’s answer to Marilyn Monroe.”
37. She Had A Signature Color
A true girl’s girl, Mansfield was obsessed with the color pink. She dyed her poodle pink, drove around in a pink Cadillac, and she often drank pink champagne. Except, well, this was actually a cunning business move; Mansfield had chosen her “signature color” as a branding act. In fact, she’d initially chosen purple, before realizing it was too close to actress Kim Novak‘s trademark lavender. As Mansfield later crowed, “It must have been the right decision. I got more column space from pink than Kim Novak ever did from lavender.”
38. Her Legendary Feud Was Caught On Film
One of the most notorious pictures of Mansfield features a young Sophia Loren giving the actress some serious side-eye while Mansfield grins and poses for a picture in a (naturally) very low cut dress. People have wondered about the true meaning behind Loren’s look for years, and the Italian actress finally revealed the whole story. Delightfully, it’s exactly what you think. The party that evening was supposed to be Loren’s official welcoming into Hollywood, but Mansfield apparently sauntered in late, sat down beside her, and tried to steal the spotlight with her, er, assets. As Loren explains it, “[In the photo] I’m so frightened that everything in her dress is going to blow—BOOM!—and spill all over the table.”
39. Her Rival Respected Her
Despite any dislike that Loren might have had toward Mansfield for hijacking her big debut, she maintains there was never any long-lasting grudge between them. Indeed, for many years after Mansfield’s death, people repeatedly came up to Loren with the infamous photo and asked her to sign it. Out of respect, she refused every single time.
40. She Had A Trademark Look
When Mansfield was with Mickey Hargitay, they toured together as a celebrity couple and became famous for their iconic, matching leopard print bathing suits and their “Tarzan and Jane” act. The press even called Mansfield “the girl in the leopard-print bikini,” and she made sure to stir up scandal. Ever the show-woman, she took shopping trips, went to parties, and even strolled down Hollywood Boulevard in the barely-there getup.
41. She Owned Strange Animals
Mansfield was perfectly turned out at all times, but she didn’t mind getting down and dirty, either. The actress had an obsession with animals of all kinds, and owned a virtual menagerie of pets. Although Chihuahuas were her favorite and she always owned several, at one point she also had a Great Dane, three cats, a rabbit, and a poodle.
42. She Had A Little-Known Talent
In case you haven’t noticed, Mansfield was no air-headed blonde, despite her reputation. Her IQ was notably high, she was fluent in no fewer than five different languages, and many called her “the smartest dumb blonde.” However, she often complained that the public didn’t care about her intellect, saying, “They’re more interested in 40–21–35″—her chest, waist, and hip measurements.
43. She Was A Satanist
Mansfield may have looked like an angel, but her private tastes were demonic. In 1966, Mansfield met with the infamous Anton LaVey, the head of the Church of Satan. The rendez-vous caused a media sensation, and soon outlets claimed that Mansfield was a practicing Satanist. LaVey even awarded Mansfield the title “High Priestess of San Francisco’s Church of Satan.” And still, this story gets weirder…
44. She Slept With The Devil
Although many people wondered at the time if Mansfield’s interest in LaVey and his church was just another publicity stunt, his daughter made a much more scandalous claim. Karla LaVey not only asserted that Mansfield was indeed a true-blue, practicing Satanist, she also confessed—and this one’s confirmed, folks—that Anton LaVey and Mansfield had a bedroom relationship to boot. Dang, our girl was freaky.
45. She Got Into A Devastating Crash
In the early morning hours of June 29, 1967, the last tragedy of Mansfield’s short life occurred. She was on her way to New Orleans with her driver, her attorney, and her children Miklos, Zoltan, and little Mariska. At 2:25 am, their Buick slammed into the back of a tractor-trailer that had been covered in a thick fog of insecticide. When the mist cleared, the truth was unbearable.
46. She Met A Tragic End
When the Buick hit the trailer, all three adults in the front seat perished instantly; Mansfield herself was tragically only 34 years old at the time. The wreckage was so devastating, it took officers and first responders an excruciatingly long time to understand what had really happened, and what Mansfield’s final moments were like. Unfortunately, the answer to that is: Horrific.
47. People Thought She Was Decapitated
When news broke of Mansfield’s violent death, wild rumors started flying. In particular, many people began to whisper that the force of the crash had decapitated the starlet. One of the biggest confirmations for this came from a real photograph of the scene, which seemed to show her signature blonde hair pressed into the windshield of the wreckage. The truth, however, was much different.
48. Her Autopsy Revealed A Sad Truth
When Mansfield’s official autopsy came out, it announced that she had perished from a “crushed skull” instead of decapitation. So what was that blonde hair doing on the windshield of the sheared-off car? Gruesomely enough, it was actually part of Mansfield’s wig, which got ejected out in the chaos of the collision. Nonetheless, the urban legend about her decapitation still persists—as if her end wasn’t tragic enough.
49. Her Children Barely Survived
Perhaps the only glimmer of light in all this darkness was that all of Mansfield’s children miraculously survived the horrific crash. Still, they didn’t escape unscathed. Mariska Hargitay, who now plays the popular character Olivia Benson on Law and Order: SVU, carries a zig-zag scar on the side of her head to this day. Nonetheless, she has no memory of her mother’s last minutes on earth, or the crash itself.
50. Traces Of Her Final Moments Still Exist
After her death, Mansfield’s Buick became an object of macabre fascination. One of her superfans bought the car and kept it perfectly preserved in his garage for years; reportedly, the vehicle even still had bloodstains on the seats from that fateful night. While it’s doubtful that even our glitzy, attention-seeking Jayne would enjoy this tribute, it seems like some people are into that. The car sold for $8,000 at a 1999 auction.
51. Her Chest Was Infamous
Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe’s hourglass figures almost single-handedly started the “breast fetish” in America; tastes before them leant toward slimmer and straighter women. In fact, Mansfield’s chest was so popular in the public consciousness, talk show host Jack Parr once introduced her onto The Tonight Show by saying, “Here they are, Jayne Mansfield.”