Jayne Mansfield Contemporaries Feature

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Over at Immortal Marilyn, which I contribute as a writer to, I have had my first article released on Jayne Mansfield. Here it is in full:

Jayne’s Life and Career

Vera Jayne Palmer was born on April 19, 1933, nearly seven years after Marilyn, in Pennsylvania. Jayne’s father died when she was only three while he was driving, an event witnessed by the little girl who was in the front seat, sitting in her mother’s lap. Jayne never got over seeing his death. Jayne recalled her father introducing her to Shirley Temple and wanted to be just like her childhood idol. When Jayne was six, her mother remarried and relocated to Texas with Jayne in tow. Jayne quickly proved herself to be an intellectual and would eventually become a concert violinist and could also play the viola and piano. She also wound up being able to speak four additional languages to English: Spanish, German, Italian, and French and could speak a little Hungarian.

By 1950, Jayne was married to Paul Mansfield with her first child, Jayne Marie, being born in November of that year. Jayne soon enrolled in college and would frequently take her daughter with her to class but her Hollywood dreams never died. In 1953 Jayne finally moved to Hollywood to pursue her dream of stardom. Jayne wanted to play ethnic roles but was told to dye her dark brown hair blonde in order to get signed. In early 1955, short a husband, she was signed to Warner Brothers but was dropped by June and went to film the independent production The Burglar in Pennsylvania. Jayne’s agent advised her to try out for George Axelrod’s new Broadway bound play Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter. Reluctant but willing, Jayne went in a bikini covered by a mink coat. She was instantly given the role.

ayne skyrocketed to fame in October. Critics praised her acting ability and Hollywood soon came knocking. After the dust settled, Twentieth Century Fox won out for signing Jayne in 1956, buying out Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter for $150,000 and signing Jayne for $2,500/week. Fox and newspaper columnists billed her, at this point, as the “Rich man’s Marilyn Monroe.” Jayne soon began making The Girl Can’t Help It, a technicolor “Rock and Roll” musical with Tom Ewell, Julie London, Little Richard, and Abby Lincoln. Right after filming commenced, Jayne started John Steinbeck’sThe Wayward Bus before filming Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter in 1957. All were successful with the public and Jayne looked to be the next Marilyn.

Jayne’s mistake was marrying Mickey Hargitay in 1958. Fox wanted a single blonde bombshell, not another married one. Jayne was cast in The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw, her last “A” list starring production. While filming, Jayne discovered she was pregnant, the second of her five children. Jayne was given the career death sentence of being in European and independent productions in between nightclub acts in Las Vegas and pregnancies throughout the late 1950’s and 1960’s. By the time Jayne passed away on June 29, 1967, she was reduced to b-list movies and subpar nightclub performances.

Marilyn Connections

“Marilyn and I are entirely different. We’ve really never been in competition. I admire Marilyn and she’s told me she admires me.”

Besides being blonde and having exceptional figures, Marilyn and Jayne were very, very different. Jayne came from an upper-middle class background and had a stable home life. Jayne admired Marilyn but never aspired to be the next Marilyn, she wanted to be known for her own persona. Sadly, she was told the exact same thing as Marilyn had been told seven years before and she embraced the dumb blonde image with much more gusto that Marilyn. Jayne was confident in her 163 IQ and that the “dumb blonde” was a persona, although she did want to do more dramas as well, versus Marilyn thinking that people actually thought that was her.

Jayne and Marilyn took some of the same pre-fame steps. Both were signed to Emmeline Snively’s Blue Book Modeling Agency and both posed for Earl Moran. In fact, when recounting all the women he had drawn through the years, Moran remembered Jayne and Marilyn having two of the most exceptional figures and both being standouts. Photographers were also commonly shared amongst the two women. Jayne posed for Marilyn’s friend and frequent collaborator, Milton Greene in 1955 at his studio. Jayne and Marilyn both also posed for Bruno Bernard, Phillipe Halsman, Frank Powolny, and a host of other 1950’s and 1960’s photographers.

Jayne and Marilyn were spotted with four of the same men at different times in their lives. Marilyn dated Nick Ray, on and off, from 1950-1952, before meeting Joe DiMaggio. Jayne dated Nick Ray, on and off, from 1956-1957, before settling down with Mickey Hargitay. Ray even gifted Jayne a black baby bunny that she had to feed with a baby bottle. While in New York, Jayne was spotted dancing with Joe DiMaggio at El Morocco. Jayne and Marilyn were both spotted with George Jessell, Jayne in 1956 and Marilyn in 1948. The final male they had in common, albeit not romantically for either, was James Haspiel who followed Jayne almost as much as he followed Marilyn.

Jayne and Marilyn had other male connections as well, in the form of co-stars. Tom Ewell was the romantic lead for both, starring with Marilyn in The Seven Year Itch and Jayne in The Girl Can’t Help It.  Dan Dailey was Jayne’s love interest in The Wayward Bus yet played the father of Marilyn’s love interest in There’s No Business Like Show Business three years before. Tony Randall starred with Jayne in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter before starring in Let’s Make Love. Groucho Marks starred in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter as well and had been with Marilyn in Love Happy nearly nine years before. Probably the most well known collaboration is Jayne with Tommy Noonan in Promises, Promises. Noonan had starred with Marilyn exactly ten years before in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

One of the lesser known connections is Something’s Got To Give. Originally slated to begin filming in 1961, Jayne was at first promised the role. When Marilyn came in and agreed to do it, Jayne was dropped. While Marilyn was supposed to be the first A-list American star to appear nude in a mainstream production after the installment of the Hayes Code in Something’s Got To Give, the title wound up going to Jayne in Promises, Promises.

ayne and Marilyn were photographed together once, at The Rose Tattoo premiere. Jayne was openly snubbed by Marilyn. The women didn’t really run in the same social circles but did meet one another a few times, including when Marilyn attended Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter in October of 1955. It’s likely that is when Marilyn told Jayne she admired her. Any other meetings were reported to be cold although Jayne would claim a somewhat civil but distant friendship before and after Marilyn’s death.

One of the more interesting similarities is that Jayne was in high demand like Marilyn was, but on the nightclub and appearance circuit. While Marilyn was in “A-list” productions her whole life, Jayne was commanding a much higher salary for nightclub performances. In 1961 Jayne was making $35,000/week in Vegas while Marilyn was only offered $5,500/week in 1962.

Jayne and Marilyn both suffered with prescription medication addiction issues. Jayne was put on diet pills by Fox to lose baby weight and soon was addicted while Marilyn was put on barbiturates and other medication to help her obtain sleep. Both women also have JFK rumors swirling around them although, like Marilyn, Jayne’s rumors are unfounded and have a dubious beginning.

In closing, Jayne is much more than a Marilyn wannabe or impersonator. To refer to her as such is the same as saying that Marilyn wanted to be Betty Grable or Betty Grable wanted to be Alice Faye. Both women were beautiful, blonde, and intelligent and deserve to be given the same respect that they weren’t offered in their lifetimes.

Finally, the clothes. Jayne was spotted in more than one Marilyn outfit through the years being both women frequently borrowed from the Fox Costume Department.

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