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Inside the Pink Palace of Jayne Mansfield
by Molly Lambert
One of the funniest things about the internet is that no matter how much better it gets, how much more intellectual or culturally valuable, its primary use will always be pornography. I think of the web as an encyclopedia with a dirty magazine shoved inside.
We may get some hits for poetry but our top search term every single day for awhile was Jayne Mansfield. Which leads me to believe that the majority of the internet is dirty old men whose last cultural masturbatory touchstone is Jayne Mansfield. I also imagine that they are using a library computer to search for naked pics of Jayne, and that their bathrobes are flapping open.
With all the focus on Lindsay Lohan’s terrible embarrassing decision to display her freckled mams in New York magazine, she recalls not so much Marilyn Monroe as Mansfield, who became more well known for her publicity stunts than her acting. Jayne may have originated the photographed purposeful nipple slip, though it’s hard to tell where such an ancient trope began.
Marilyn Monroe based her own Gold Digging Blonde screen persona on her favorite actress, Jean Harlow, with aspects of their mutual hero Mae West. Madonna based herself on all of them, and Anna Nicole Smith was the embarrassing drunk girl who eats all the cake at the party.
Jean Harlow, foreshadowing Christina Hendricks
Jayne with Groucho Marx (as George Schmidlap) in WSSRH
Jayne made two great films with Frank Tashlin, a former Warner Brothers animator who branched out into directing films. The Girl Can’t Help It and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? channel the manic sight-gag heavy energy of Looney Tunes into live action. And Jayne Mansfield is a human cartoon, a caricature of voluptuousness to make even Sophia Loren jealous.
Mansfield was a Playmate of the Month in Playboy, in February 1955 (preceded by Bettie Page and succeeded by Marilyn Waltz). Mansfield won several beauty contests while living in Texas, including Miss Photoflash, Miss Magnesium Lamp, and Miss Fire Prevention. The one title she turned down was Miss Roquefort Cheese, because it “just didn’t sound right.”
Frequent references have been made to her very high intelligence quotient. Mansfield advertised her I.Q. as 163, spoke five languages, and was a classically trained pianist and violinist, but such intellectual abilities were inconsequential to her career. Mansfield admitted her public didn’t care about her brains. “They’re more interested in 40-21-35,” she said
Jayne married bodybuilder Mickey Hargitay, and they had a daughter, Mariska Hargitay, who stars as on Law & Order: SVU as the totally awesome Detective Olivia Benson. Mariska founded a foundation for sexually abused women and has her own perfume called XO, M.
In 1963 Mansfield became the first mainstream American actress to appear in the nude with a starring role in the film Promises! Promises! Photographs of a naked Mansfield on the set were published in Playboy
In one notorious set of images Mansfield stares at one of her breasts, as does her male secretary and a hair stylist, then grasps it in one hand and lifts it high. The sold-out issue resulted in an obscenity charge for Hugh Hefner which was later dropped.
By the late 1950s, Mansfield began to generate a great deal of negative publicity due to her repeatedly successful attempts to expose her breasts in carefully staged public “accidents.” Her bosom was so much a part of her public persona that talk-show host Jack Paar once welcomed the actress to The Tonight Show by saying, “Here they are, Jayne Mansfield.”
Early in her career, the prominence of her breasts was considered problematic, leading her to be cut from her first professional assignment, an advertising campaign for General Electric, which depicted several young women in bathing suits relaxing around a pool.
Throughout her career, Mansfield was compared to the reigning sex symbol of the period, Marilyn Monroe. Of this comparison, she said, “I don’t know why you people like to compare me to Marilyn or that girl, what’s her name, Kim Novak. Cleavage, of course, helped me a lot to get where I am. I don’t know how they got there.”
Marilyn Monroe as vamp Theda Bara, for Richard Avedon
Jayne Mansfield’s reliance on the racy publicity that had set her path to fame would also prove to be her downfall. Fox did not renew its contract with her in 1962. Even with her film roles drying up she was widely considered to be Monroe’s primary rival in a crowded field of contenders including Mamie Van Doren (whom Mansfield considered her professional nemesis).
Jayne Mansfield being Classy.
Mamie Van Doren is alive (!!) and has a sexy blog (!!!!).
In 2008, at age 77, Van Doren and her husband, Thomas, maintain her popular and controversial web site. Here she sells autographed “nipple prints” and homemade short films starring herself, such as ‘A Girl and Her Banana.’
Classy classy Scarlett J. Boobsalot
Jayne’s ridiculous figure made inevitably her a cartoon of a cartoon, despite her considerable intellect and acting skills. She accepted it and became the living embodiment of the kind of intense pink girliness Julia Allison aspires to, with a similar emphasis on spectacular racks. “I don’t know how they got there!”
Sophia Loren. NSFW. I’m straight but I can’t stop staring. So hot!
Jayne’s Heart Shaped Headstone with the engraving “We Live To Love you More Each Day”
Siouxsie & the Banshees wrote a song called Kiss Them For Me about the death of Jayne Mansfield. It alludes to the Cary Grant flop co-starring Jayne as a ditzy bimbo in her last real role. The Siouxsie song is awesomely spooky. The video makes reference to Jayne’s heart shaped pool at her Pink Palace.
Apparently Jayne’s wig flew off when she was killed, leading to the speculation she’d been beheaded. Two of her kids, including a three year old Mariska, were asleep in the backseat during the accident. Mariska got a zig-zag scar on one side of her head.
Jean Harlow with Anita Loos. Loos is such an ur-Diablo Cody!
I’ve read Anita Loos’s autobiography, A Girl Like I, and it’s hilarious. Loos wrote the 1925 novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which was adapted in several forms. Loos wrote the screenplay for The Women and all kinds of sparklingly witty scripts and prose full of astute observations about gender and class.
Loos totally paved the way for heroes of mine like Amy Heckerling and Nora Ephron. But doesn’t she sort of look like Diablo? The emo haircut? The bottle jokingly poised above the starlet’s head? And gentlemen do prefer redheads, as Jean Harlow and Christina Hendricks show.
Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording.
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