The Wild Wild World of Jayne Mansfield
feature by Gregory Avery, 30 November 2001

"Hi. I'm Jayne Mansfield," says the breathy voice on the soundtrack.

She first appears descending the Spanish Steps, in Rome, her hair a cascade of candy-spun blond, her ample yet lithe-moving figure clad in a simple black dress, with low-heeled shoes on her feet. She moves like someone who knows how to comport themselves like a movie star, and as if it seems the most natural thing for her to do. She stops to smell some mimosa blossoms, and picks one for herself. She smiles, and men around her clasp their hands together, shake their heads, or just expire flat out on the pavement then and there.

It is appropriate that this should be Jayne Mansfield's first appearance in The Wild Wild World of Jayne Mansfield: Jayne's career flourished in the 'fifties and 'sixties under the gaze of public attention, and Jayne in turn loved to be adored. The documentary, released in 1968, is receiving its first theatrical showing in years on Nov. 30, in New York City.

For those whose recollections only go back as far as Britney Spears, Jayne Mansfield first came to prominence and acclaim playing Rita Marlowe, the seemingly ditzy but actually shrewd movie star and sex goddess, in George Axelrod's Broadway comedy, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? Jayne's performance landed her on the cover of Life magazine, and Hollywood soon came calling, a fortuitous opportunity since Jayne had set her sights on Hollywood stardom from the beginning. She would reprise her stage performance in the 1957 film of Axelrod's play, but not before appearing in Frank Tashlin's deliriously surreal The Girl Can't Help It (1956), where her wiggly hips and hourglass figure shatter men's eyeglasses and cause milk to erupt from bottles they hold in their hands as she passes by.

While still in New York, Jayne met Mickey Hargitay, a Hungarian-born body builder who was one of several musclemen then appearing in Mae West's stage revue. Jayne and Mickey would marry, and have three children, two sons, Miklos and Zoltan, and a daughter, Mariska (who would go on to have an acting career in her own right). Mickey purchased a house in Hollywood and made it over to please Jayne. The "Pink Palace" (pink being Jayne's favorite color) featured a heart-shaped bathtub, a living room fireplace hand-crafted from unfinished stone, and two pink cars, a Cadillac and a Corvette, parked alongside an Eldorado in the garage. A rival studio tried to lure Jayne away from her contract with Twentieth Century-Fox by giving her a three-years supply of pink champagne, to bathe in. (Note: do not try this at home, unless you water the alcohol content way, way down).

While Jayne proved her dramatic ability in a film version of John Steinbeck's novel, The Wayward Bus, made in between Girl Can't Help It and Rock Hunter, her comedic talent, and cheerful self-parody, are probably more readily appreciable now than they were when the films first came out. Nobody has been able to match Jayne Mansfield's ability to express pure, unadulterated delight. In Kiss Them for Me (1957), she abandons Cary Grant to the glacial Suzy Parker in favor of a chief petty officer played in the film by Nathaniel Frey, and you can see why: realizing they were meant to be together, they cling-tight and express their happiness and devotion to each other in a non-verbal, but aural, way that, for a moment, lifts the film to near-rhapsodic heights.

Jayne had a great love of animals, and was often seen in public accompanied by one or two of her pet chihuahuas. She was also fervent about publicity and self-promotion, which she felt was absolutely integral to becoming, and remaining, a star. The list of titles that she won at various pageants and competitions early in her career is numerous ("Miss Nylon Sweater," "Miss Geiger Counter," "Miss Fourth of July"). The crowd of 100 guests who attended her and Mickey's wedding ceremony was amply filled out with publicists, press agents, and photographers. There was the time in Rome when Jayne danced so vigorously at a nightclub that the top of her evening dress fell down (paparazzi were conveniently at hand to take pictures); there was also the time when Jayne upstaged a noticeably chagrined Sophia Loren by showing up at a public event wearing the lowest-cut gown in Hollywood history (immortalized on the cover of Kenneth Anger's book Hollywood Babylon). When Jayne and Mickey were stranded at sea after a serious boat mishap, many dismissed the incident as a publicity stunt. (It was not.)

"I felt -- and still do feel -- that it takes more than looks and figure for a girl to be sexy," Jayne wrote in 1963, listing "ten rules that will help a girl be physically attractive," aside from the mere maxim to "think sexy:"

  1. Yes, think sexy, that is important. It makes you walk, talk and be sexier.
  2. Dress sexy -- not obvious, but teasing.
  3. Create sexy incidents and conversations. Again not obvious but subtle.
  4. Be careful who you are with and where. They are your frame.
  5. Never hurry.
  6. Work towards good health.
  7. Stay away from competition that's too rugged.
  8. Learn all you can about the subject of being attractive.
  9. Use artificial devices if necessary.
  10. If you build a better man-trap you'll catch a better man."

The Wild Wild World of Jayne Mansfield opens in Rome, with Jayne walking down the Spanish Steps (during which we hear her complain about the pesky paparazzi, "the nightmare of Rome"), strolling down the Via Veneto (where she complains about being pinched on the behind by men), and tossing coins into the Trevi Fountain. Visiting the Colosseum, she recalls how Christians were tossed to lions in the arena, and how the spectators would then throw "wild orgies" afterwards because they'd become so excited by the spectacle.

Gazing upon statues made for the recent Olympic games conjures up the sight of Mickey, and of he and Jayne appearing in Gli Amori di Ercole (The Loves of Hercules) (1960), where he battled a large, mechanical three-headed dragon that breathed fire and roared. Finally, on her way out of Rome, she is chauffeured past a place where women ply their trade on the roadside for passing motorists, and Jayne worries about the poor wives of the men who are being neglected so they can stop and patronize prostitutes and haggle over the price.

Next stop, Cannes, where Jayne poses, wearing a bikini, in the "Marquis de Sade Fountain" (?!?!), and does the twist while Rocky Roberts and the Airdales sing and perform "The Bird." From there, by boat, to the island of Levant, where, outside the town of Heliopolis ("They used to say, 'See Naples and die'. Now it's, 'Cut loose in Heliopolis!'"), there is a celebrated nudist colony. Jayne almost goes naturalist, herself, but worries someone might be looking. (She's right: there's a peeping tom, right over there in the bushes).

In Paris, Jayne visits the salon of Fernand Aubry, whose staff use tape measures to position sunlamps over women who need to be "rejuvenated." (Before receiving her sunlamp treatment, some stuff is sprayed on Jayne's back which makes her grimace.) Restored to vitality, Jayne visits the Eiffel Tower (where she takes a ride on the back of a motorbike driven by, she says, a visiting "Hell's Angel" from California), stands atop the arc de triomphe (where she imagines seeing all sorts of lovers' rendezvous, below), and takes a boat ride down the Seine. She also visits a club frequented by cross-dressers, and does the twist, again, with a woman smartly dressed as a man.

At night, Jayne visits clubs on the Place Pigalle (a riot of colorful neon and huge electric signs, at the time), including Le Sexy, where her friend, Gloria, works as a stripper. We are told that most of the dancers performing at the clubs are English girls, because they have the best breast shape. (Earlier, we are shown the annual competition at the "Club Bust-Out," where girls from around the world are judged on whether they have the best "bust." The winner is from Sweden.) There are several fairly elaborate dance numbers, some of which are hard to comprehend, because the music and on-stage patter accompanying them was not recorded by the filmmakers. (This was filmed in a fairly inexpensive-looking way, with what looks like one camera and one set of hand-held lights.) Before going back to the States, Jayne visits a "club choreographer," and gets the idea to do a strip tease in her next film, in homage to the one Sophia Loren did in "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow." (Sophia might not have dug it, after that business with the photographers and Jayne's low-cut dress).

In New York City, we take a turn into an annual transvestite competition, which we are told is "highly illegal" (not exactly), and one of the judges can be seen wearing a suit, tie, and a mask. (The winner of the competition is an African-American.) Jayne makes much merriment over whether to call the contestants "girls" or "boys." (Honey, just as long as you don't call 'em anything less than fabulous.) There is also a brief interview with a tiny guy who is supposed to be a Jayne Mansfield impersonator (he has a blond wig on, at least), and who makes moués with his lips in between answers like, "No, I don't want children." and "That's the only thing in my life I'm waiting for -- 'til I can party like you."

But Jayne's biggest surprise is when she gets back home to Los Angeles, where she discovers that, while she's been out of the country, the whole town has gone -- topless! Yes! There's a topless female ice-cream vendor; a topless female shoe-shine person, with a long line of waiting male customers; two topless female mechanics who work in a garage ("This is a full-service garage."). There's even a topless female window-washer. The ultimate occurs during a visit to the Blue Bunny, and a performance by the Ladybirds, a topless all-girl rock band who perform while wearing outfits that look like they were designed for the next episode of the Learning Channel's "Junkyard Wars." If that doesn't blow your mind, nothing will. But -- THAT'S NOT THE END OF THE MOVIE.

Scenery rushes by the camera. The sound of car brakes. "A bulletin has just been handed to me!..." Still photographs appear behind a filter of blazing red. All of a sudden, Jayne perishes. And...oh, my goodness, is that one of Jayne's dogs, up there? The film moves quickly on....

On the one hand, the filmmakers had a lot of gumption to end their film in such a way. On the other hand, it still staggers belief. We are given a tour of the "Pink Palace," which allows us to catch our breath. We see Mickey, along with his two young sons by Jayne, and we see home movie footage of the three of them with Jayne in happier times. The narrator says, "And so ended the wild, wild world of Jayne Mansfield...." The title, which had first been used as a come-on, now turns into a eulogy.

In real life, Jayne tried several new avenues for her career during the Sixties. She made several pop/rock recordings. After performing at the Tropicana in 1958, Jayne appeared in a specially-written musical revue at the Dunes, in Las Vegas, starting in 1960. "House of Love" featured Jayne and Mickey appearing on-stage, hosting a housewarming party for guests (played by impersonators) that included Louella Parsons ("I want an exclusive!"), Bette Davis ("Me Bette. You Jayne. That's an old Tarzan joke!"), Charles Laughton ("I remember someone once said 'Good things come in small packages'....They didn't know you, Jayne Mansfield!"), Noel Coward ("My dear, you could turn the marble statue of a saint into a r-r-r-raving maniac!"), and Tallulah Bankhead ("Egad! Why couldn't they've slipped me a Mickey like that?"). (The show has been immortalized on L.P. and CD, and it's rather ingratiating.) When the Whiskey-a-Go-Go opened on the Sunset Strip, in Hollywood, Jayne became a regular fixture, twisting away on the dance floor night after night with other patrons.

On television, Jayne made several, funny guest appearances on Jack Benny's program, and also did an impressive dramatic turn on an episode of the "Alfred Hitchcock Hour," "Blackout," opposite Tony Randall. She allegedly turned down a chance to appear as a regular cast member on a new television series, "Gilligan's Island," but television, at that time, was still seen as second-rate, and a step downwards for anyone who had established themselves in motion pictures.

Jayne's feature film career, though, was foundering. Her decision to appear topless in two scenes of Promises...Promises! (1963) made her the first name star to perform any sort of full frontal nudity on-screen, at that time. (She also allowed "Playboy" to take color behind-the-scenes photographs during the production. The issue they appeared in became one of the highest-selling in the magazine's history.) Her other films during this period ranged from the mediocre (It Happened in Athens, a chloroformed account of the revival of the Olympic games; The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw, a Western parody made in the U.K. with an uncomfortable Kenneth More) to otherwise (Primitive Love, made with the Italian comedy team Franco and Ciccio, and the cruddy thriller Dog Eat Dog). Her cameo in Tony Richardson's film, The Loved One, ended up, along with those by several other celebrities, on the cutting room floor.

Jayne and Mickey separated, though, legally, they never officially divorced. Jayne then fell in with Matt Cimber, who directed her playing three roles in the film Single Room Furnished. (Cimber would later direct Pia Zadora in her two "debut" 1981 films, Butterfly and Fake Out.) The film was designed as a low-budget showcase for Jayne's serious dramatic talents, and, so that the audience wouldn't fail to notice, Walter Winchell appeared on-camera to introduce the film, concluding his remarks with the emphatic pronouncement, "Jayne Mansfield can act!" Winchell's nationally syndicated newspaper column, along with his radio and TV programs, had long since folded by that time, so the "newsroom" in which he is seen to habituate in this introduction was actually a stage set.

During the week of June 25, 1967, CBS-TV ran a four-part "news inquiry," over four nights, on the Warren Report. El Dorado, Satyajit Ray's The Big City, The Family Way (in which Hayley Mills gets married and, gasp! tries to have a baby), and Vittorio De Sica's Woman Times Seven, with Shirley MacLaine playing seven different roles, were premiering in theaters, along with a little film version of Jean Genet's Deathwatch, directed by Vic Morrow and starring Leonard Nimoy, Michael Forest and Paul Mazursky. Jerry Herman, whose musical, Mame, was still playing on Broadway with Angela Lansbury in the lead, announced that he was doing a musical stage adaptation of The Madwoman of Chaillot. Antonioni's Blow Up, whose U.S. ads emphasized Vanessa Redgrave's "topless" scene in the film, was going into wide release, as was You Only Live Twice, the film that was going to be Sean Connery's last appearance as James Bond. "The Far East Suite," a final series of musical pieces Duke Ellington had written with his late collaborator Billy Strayhorn, was due out in record stores. The Jefferson Airplane were performing to packed audiences at the Fillmore in San Francisco. Thornton Wilder's novel, The Eighth Day, was number one on the New York Times fiction best-seller list, with William Manchester's Death of a President, about the John F. Kennedy assassination, in the number 1 spot on the non-fiction list. Jerusalem's mayor Teddy Kollek and the Israeli Knesset annexed "Old Jerusalem," held by the Jordanians, unifying the city that week, a move denounced by U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson.

The night of June 29, Jayne had agreed to make an appearance at a supper club in Biloxi, Mississippi, substituting for Mamie Van Doren, who was originally scheduled to appear. She was due to appear the next day on an early-morning TV show in New Orleans. The club provided her with a car and driver to take her from Biloxi to New Orleans overnight. Traveling with Jayne was lawyer Bill Slocum, with whom Jayne had become involved after breaking up with Matt Cimber, and who, according to several accounts, did not treat Jayne or her children well. In the southern delta states at that time of year, municipal trucks would spray in areas where mosquitoes were known to proliferate during the humid summer months; the trucks' appearance on the roads would be announced in advance in the local papers or on TV The driver of Jayne's car did not see the truck lumbering ahead of them, trailing a thick cloud of pesticide, and the two vehicles collided, sheering off the top of the car Jayne was riding in. Jayne, her driver, and Slocum were killed; had Jayne's three children not been settled down on the floor of the back seat to sleep, they, too, would have perished in the accident. (The crumpled vehicle was later purchased by someone who put it on display for the next thirty years.)

The Jayne Mansfield who appeared in the "Hitchcock Hour" episode, "Blackout," with Tony Randall -- slim, mature, yet attractive, with short-cut auburn hair -- offers a glimpse of a Jayne Mansfield that might have been had she been taken in hand by an advisor or manager who would have acted in her best interests, and helped re-shaped her in a way that would also have brought out her best qualities as a performer and personality. At the conclusion of her stage show at the Dunes, Jayne asks Tallulah Bankhead (played, splendidly, by impersonator Arthur Trask) for a response to her "House of Love." "It's the living end. The only thing that could top it would be World War III, and that WILL be the living end!" replies Tallulah, adding, "Tell me...tell me honestly...are people still making 'love'?" "Of course, Tallulah," Jayne replies. "Everybody's making love, all over the world!" Forty years later, reality may be different, but Jayne's basic sentiment -- that it's love, above all, that keeps the world going 'round -- is one that will never go out of style or out of date.

Directed by:
Arthur Knight
Joel Holt
Charles W. Brown, Jr

Jayne Mansfield
Mickey Hargitay
Robert Jason

Written by:
Charles Ross

NR - Not Rated.
This film has not
been rated..






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