★ Pictured here in the 1950s, American actress Jayne Mansfield was born on this day in 1933. A major sex symbol in the 1950s and early 1960s, she was as famous for her personal life as for her professional career, and at the height of her fame she was the world’s most photographed Hollywood celebrity.
Born Vera Jayne Palmer in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, she was the only child of Herbert William Palmer and Vera Jeffrey. After her father’s death in 1936, Jayne and her mother moved to Dallas, Texas in 1939. Educated at Southern Methodist University and the University of Texas at Austin, she also studied acting under Baruch Lumet (father of director, Sidney Lumet) and worked in a variety of jobs, before eventually moving to Los Angeles in 1954 with her first husband, Paul Mansfield. Having won several beauty contests, she was asked to pose nude for the February 1955 issue of Playboy magazine. Within a week of her Playboy appearance, Mansfield garnered further press attention by dropping her bikini-top at a press junket for the Jane Russell film ‘Underwater!’ (1955).
Rapidly propelled to fame by studios keen to find ‘the next Marilyn Monroe’, Mansfield was cast in various roles which capitalized upon her sex-appeal, including several box-office hits such as ‘Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?’ (1957), ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’ (1956), and ‘The Wayward Bus’ (1957). Famous for her large bust, she actively courted the press with a series of ‘wardrobe malfunctions’, and also engaged in a relentless media blitz which quickly made her a household name. Adopting pink as her ‘signature colour’, Mansfield married second husband, Mickey Hargitay, at an all-pink wedding in 1958, and even went so far as to live in an entirely pink house which she dubbed “The Pink Palace”. Typecast as a ‘dumb blonde’ and suffering from a negative public backlash due to her penchant for headline-grabbing publicity stunts, her career declined rapidly after 1959, as she found herself sidelined from major Hollywood movie productions.
In the following years, Mansfield continued to take roles in smaller, low-budget films and television shows, but her career increasingly revolved around touring nightclub acts, personal appearances at a variety of events, and theatre work (including a well-received 1964 production of ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’, and a poorly-reviewed 1965 production called ‘Rabbit Habit’ which was directed by her third husband, Matt Cimber). On 28th June 1967, while travelling between two such engagements, Mansfield was killed when the Buick she was in crashed into the back of a tractor-trailer on US Highway 90 near Slidell, Louisiana. Along with the two other adults in the car (her attorney and companion, Sam Brody, and driver Ronnie Harrison), she was killed instantly after suffering severe head injuries – but was not decapitated, contrary to reports at the time. A mother of five, three of her children had been asleep in the back seat (her eldest and youngest were elsewhere), but all survived with only minor injuries. She was buried at Fairview Cemetery in Pen Argyl, Pennsylvania on 3rd July 1967.
A staple of Hollywood celebrity magazines throughout her career, Jayne Mansfield’s tragic death at the age of just 34 provided a shocking final headline. With her curvaceous figure, breathy voice, platinum hair and revealing outfits, she was one of Golden Age Hollywood’s original ‘blonde bombshells’, and remains one of the most famous icons of 1950s popular culture.