The Wild Wild World of Jayne
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:"
- Yes, think sexy, that is
important. It makes you walk, talk and be sexier.
- Dress sexy -- not obvious, but
- Create sexy incidents and
conversations. Again not obvious but subtle.
- Be careful who you are with and
where. They are your frame.
- Never hurry.
- Work towards good health.
- Stay away from competition
that's too rugged.
- Learn all you can about the
subject of being attractive.
- Use artificial devices if
- 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
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
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.
Charles W. Brown, Jr
NR - Not Rated.
This film has not