The actress and singer Jayne Mansfield (born Vera Jayne Palmer on April 19, 1933) was one of those quintessentially American pop-culture creations who helped define the country’s mood — blonde, playful, naive, sexy — in the middle part of the 20th century.
Despite her best efforts, however, and in spite of the fact that she was not only beautiful, but a talented actress and a musician, Jayne Mansfield found it hard to get solid film roles, and her screen career was spotty after the mid-1950s.
Mansfield was in her early 20s at the time and, while she was not yet a full-fledged movie star like Marilyn Monroe, she was clearly someone to watch.
LIFE Magazine wrote in 1956:
Though the thought has never crossed her pretty blond head, Jayne Mansfield is one of the most interesting sociological studies to be found anywhere in the U.S. this spring. She has the same come-hither-you-brute sort of voice and look as Marilyn Monroe. But the comparison, which a more seasoned actress would at least pretend to love, does not seem to please Miss Mansfield at all. “Marilyn is very attractive and all that,” she has said, “but she and I are entirely different. I can dye my hair and play a serious part.”
During this period Peter Stackpole made some intimate photos that were never published and that LIFE magazine presented on the remember of her 81th anniversary.
She was no dumb blonde. The Bryn Mawr-born actress was said to play the concert violin, had a genius-level IQ and was 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.
The queen of wardrobe malfunction
One of the ways Mansfield grabbed headlines was by her not so accidental wardrobe malfunctions. One time she dove into a pool surrounded by photographers only to emerge from the pool topless. Accident or not Playboy was 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 and sexy cleavage, Mansfield took a seat next to the guest of honor and revealed a plunging neckline.
The view was so hot that even Sophia Loren couldn’t help but stare – a moment captured in this historic photograph.
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 50s, her image highlighted thousands of newspapers and magazines, including several issues of Playboy magazine.
When things were changing during the 60s, her roles begin to stall and she started to appear in overseas films.
She was the first American actress to appear nude in a motion picture
Desperate to rekindle her position in the cinema field, Jayne Mansfield bared it all in Promises! Promises!
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.
Her first movie “The Girl Can’t Help It” was the base for The Beatles
Mansfield’s first movie for Fox was The Girl Can’t Help It, which featured the music of Fats Domino, Little Richard, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran.
The movie had a big influence on Paul McCartney, who’d seen the movie and learned to play Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock.”
Paul played the song for John Lennon, who then invited him to join his group The Quarrymen. The Quarrymen was formed by John Lennon in Liverpool in 1956, which eventually evolved into the Beatles in 1960.
The Mansfield Bar
Jayne Mansfield died June 29, 1967, in Mississippi on when the car in which she was riding rear-ended a tractor-trailer.
On a dark road between Biloxi and New Orleans, Jayne Mansfield was involved in a fatal car crash which killed not only her, but also Sam Brody. Her three children who were also in the car, but were safely cushioned in the back seat.
After her death, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration began requiring tractor trailers to have an underride guard, a safety feature which became known as the “Mansfield bar.”
Jayne Mansfield’s legend of a starlet will always remain. Her willingness to work for what she earned and her lighthearted approach to her own image makes her one of the most sparkling blondes of the Silver Screen era.
Do you know some interesting facts about her? Please feel free to add them in the comments below.