Jayne Mansfield snagged her spot in the Hollywood pantheon by putting the voom in va va voom. Part of a long parade of blonde belles that followed Marilyn Monroe, Mansfield (often called the “Working Man’s Monroe”), was no dumb blonde. The Bryn Mawr-born actress was said to play the concert violin, possess a genius-level IQ, and be fluent in five languages. But it was her talent for self-promotion that made her one of the hottest sex symbols on the silver screen during the 1950s and early 1960s. Star of film and theater, the singer, playmate and entertainer would have been 83 today. Here are six facts about the legendary bombshell.
She was a master of wardrobe malfunctions.
One of the ways Mansfield grabbed headlines was by her frequent (and not always accidental) wardrobe malfunctions. Take for example the time she dove into a pool surrounded by photographers from around the country, only to emerge from the pool topless. Accident or not, her deep dive into notoriety clearly paid off: Warner Bros. and Playboy were soon hounding her with lucrative offers. In 1957, Mansfield famously did it again when she crashed a party that Paramount threw for up-and-coming Italian actor, Sophia Loren. Overflowing with blonde ambition, Mansfield took a seat next to the guest of honor and revealed a plunging neckline so revealing that even Sophia Loren couldn’t help but stare - a moment captured in this iconic photograph.
Her rocky marriages often made headlines.
In 1955, Jayne split from Paul Mansfield, whom she had married at the age of 16. Three years later, she married Mickey Hargitay, a Mr. Universe champion who she had met on the set of the Mae West Show. The couple had three children but their relationship grew rocky and they filed for divorce in 1963. The next year, Mansfield married director Matt Cimber, whom she had met while starring in the show Bus Stop. She and Cimber had one child before splitting up.
Her daughter Mariska followed in her footsteps.
Jayne Mansfield’s youngest child with Mickey Hargitay is actress Mariska Hargitay, best known as the star of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Mariska was only three when her mother passed away. In an interview with James Lipton, the actress revealed that she had to purchase her mother’s jewelry from collectors, including a charm bracelet inscribed with her name. She says the loss of her mother led her to believe in God.
After super stardom, her career fizzled in the mid 1960s.
After signing with Warner Bros. in 1955, Mansfield’s career caught fire with a hit Broadway show, and such films as Kiss Them For Me (1957), The Wayward Bus (1957), The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw (1958) and It Takes a Thief (1960). Throughout the 1950s, her image highlighted thousands of newspapers and magazines, including several issues of Playboy magazine. But in the 1960s, her career began to stall. Movie audiences tastes were changing. Gradually, Mansfield’s movie roles grew less challenging and she began to appear in overseas films.
She was the first American actress to appear nude in a major motion picture.
Desperate to rekindle her film career, Jayne Mansfield bared it all in Promises! Promises! (1963). Banned in cities around the country, the film featured numerous scenes of the actress in various states of undress, scenes repeated throughout the film in dream sequences. Although the movie titillated audiences, it fell flat among reviewers and failed to jump start Mansfield’s film career.
She died in a tragic accident.
At the age of 34, Jayne Mansfield died in a car accident while on her way to a TV interview. Mansfield was sitting beside her driver and Sam Brodey, a divorce attorney, which whom she had developed a romance. In the back seat were the three Hargitay children. After 2 a.m., her Buick Electra crashed into the back of a tractor trailer, killing the front passengers. The children, including Mariska, survived the crash.