Jayne Mansfield was killed instantly on 29 June 1967. Though many rumors followed, including head decapitation and occultism, what people thought was her head was Mansfield’s wig.
Though horrific, almost unimaginable, Jayne’s death was an accident.
Despite all odds, the tragic accident on Route 90 east of New Orleans, Louisiana, that took the lives of three adults and a dog spared Mansfield’s three children.
The car, 1966 Buick Electra that killed Mansfield, her boyfriend, Sam Brody, and driver Ronnie Harrison are on display at Dearly Departed Tours and Museum.
Before we go deeper into the gruesome death of former Playmate and Marilyn Monroe’s rival, let’s start from the beginning. And for Jayne Mansfield, there was only going to be one road in life: the road to fame.
The Early Life Of Jayne Mansfield And Her Big Break
Naturally blessed with killer curves, Jayne Mansfield represented the ultimate fantasy of every red-blooded man. But, apart from being the perfectly shaped blonde, Mansfield embraced her sexuality and having an IQ of 163 came in handy while trying to stand out among Hollywood’s beauties.
Mansfield was married and divorced three times and had five children. Though she was only 34 when she was in the fatal car crash, up until that point, she had it all, including ups and downs.
Young Jayne married Paul Mansfield when she was 17. Six months later, on November 8, 1950, they welcomed their first child, Jayne Marie Mansfield.
Paul believed that motherhood would make his wife give up her fantasy of becoming a superstar. Eventually, he gave her an ultimatum: their marriage or fame. Jayne chose stardom.
During her first marriage, Jayne actively worked on her acting skills. In 1955, she was Playmate of the Month, and due to her nude photos, Paul requested sole custody over their daughter. He actually claimed that she was an unfit mother due to her Playboy photos.
To this day, Mansfield is the ideal Playmate, and she was featured in several limited editions, including CenterfoldsoftheCentury.
A year after bedazzling Hugh Hefner, Jayne had what she wanted: a big, six-year contract with Twentieth Century-Fox. Her job was to “replace” Marilyn Monroe, the studio’s troubled superstar.
The actress, singer, model, and violinist soon had the world under her feet.
The Jayne Mansfield Years
Between 1956 and 1958, Jayne Mansfield proved to be a box office hit, with serious acting chops.
Mansfield worked on Broadway, made hits, including The Girl Can’t Help It, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? and won a Golden Globe for her role in The Wayward Bus.
The ditzy blonde look was working nicely for fame-hungry Jayne. But she didn’t shy away from dramatic roles, and it was easy to see why the world fell in love with the striking beauty.
She opened her door to the public and found a new love in Mickey Hargitay, an actor and former Mr. Universe. Mansfield and Hargitay married in 1958 and had two boys, Mickey Hargitay Jr. Zoltan Hargitay and a daughter, Mariska Hargitay.
Mariska is a small screen legend, thanks to her role in Law & Order.
8-year-old Mickey Jr. and 6-year-old Zoltan, alongside three-year-old Mariska, were in the car that killed their mother.
Speaking about her famed mother, the actress said:
“My mother was this amazing, beautiful, glamorous sex symbol—but people didn’t know that she played the violin and had a 160 IQ and had five kids and loved dogs.”
“She was just so ahead of her time. She was an inspiration, she had this appetite for life, and I think I share that with her.”
Though Mariska doesn’t remember the accident, since she was very young and asleep, her pain follows her everywhere:
“I feel like it ultimately made me into the person I am today. I understand the journey of life, I had to go through what I did to be here.”
As for our Jayne Mansfield story, once you reach the top, the only way to go is down. And after 1958, Jayne’s career was never the same.
Pregnancies And European Affair
As the new decade was approaching, Jayne Mansfield’s career was going downhill.
Fox dropped Jayne due to her reported “repeated pregnancies,” and her affairs, gossips regarding her drinking, did not help.
Jayne signed a contract to work in Europe, in English and Italian movies. Many projects got lost, and some never made it to the States due to nudity.
She had one minor hit, Promises! Promises! and it was thanks to a lucrative decision to be the first mainstream American actress to appear nude in a starring role,
Mansfield’s career as it was will never recover until her untimely death.
But, it was not just Hollywood that was on the line. Mansfield and Hargitay worked together often, and it did not help that Mansfield had a well-known affair with Enrico Bomba, the Italian producer, in 1962. In the same year, her marriage to Hargitay was over.
Upon discovering she was pregnant with Mariska, the couple played it cool until her birth in 1964. The children continued to live with Jayne despite the court’s decision to give custody to Hargitay.
Infamously, after hearing about Marilyn Monroe’s death, Jayne said:
“Maybe I’ll be next.”
But, before her death, Jayne suffered another personal blow: her son Zoltan almost lost his life. A “tame” lion severely mauled young Zoltan Hargitay at the Jungleland Zoo. Though Zoltan survived, the negative publicity closed the park and any hope for Mansfield’s comeback.
Jayne Mansfield Vs. Marilyn Monroe
Two blonde bombshells are now part of pop culture. But, back in the 50s, the two were bitter rivals.
The two legends shared more than just the image. They also had a mutual and extremely powerful lover in common. According to Lawrence Quirk, Jayne and Marilyn both had flings with JFK.
Monroe made her feelings rather clear:
“All she does is imitate me — but her imitations are an insult to her as well as to myself.”
“I know it’s supposed to be flattering to be imitated, but she does it so grossly, so vulgarly — I wish I had some legal means to sue her.”
Hinting about her affair with Kennedy, Mansfield said:
“I’ll bet Marilyn’s pissed as all get out!”
Generations grew up trying to figure out who was sexier, Marilyn or Jayne. Ultimately, the two women were very different. Monroe was darker, fragile, and it led her to death in 1962.
Unlike Monroe, Jayne was flashy, in tune with her hyper-sexual image. Her Pink Palace was on display for reporters just like her numerous affairs and, finally, her death.
In many ways, Jayne Mansfield was the first reality star. She was nobody’s fool, and unlike Monroe, men had little power over Mansfield, despite her three failed marriages.
After Mansfield could not replace Monroe in the 1964 movie Kiss Me, Stupid, a romantic comedy with Dean Martin, Kim Novak took over.
Jayne Mansfield’s Death
Five years after Monroe’s suicide, Jayne Mansfield died in a horrific car crash.
Mansfield was performing in a club in Biloxi just hours before her death. She was supposed to appear on TV in New Orleans the next day.
Ronald B. Harrison, a driver for the Gus Stevens Dinner Club, Mansfield and her lawyer and lover, Samuel S. Brody, as well as Jayne’s children and a dog, were in Stevens’ 1966 Buick Electra.
At around 2 am, on June 29, 1967, the Electra hit the trailer truck from behind. Harrison did not see the truck because a machine emitting a thick white fog used to spray mosquitoes was nearby.
Jayne and Harrison were in the front seats, while Brody was in the back. All three adults were killed instantly. Jayne’s children with Hargitay were injured, but they all survived.
Her youngest, Tony Cimber, was with his dad, Matt Cimber. Matt was Jayne’s third and final husband, and their marriage lasted only a year, ending in 1966.
Despite that it was all rather heartbreaking but straightforward, stories about the beheading started thanks to the first police report. It said:
“…the upper portion of this white female’s head was severed.”
But it was Jayne’s wig on the pavement. However, it is much more Hollywood and gruesome to say that the sex symbol was beheaded.
That’s how the story of Jayne Mansfield’s beheading found its way among scandals and even in a movie, Crash.
According to equally juicy gossip, Jayne had to die because of her affair with Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey. LaVey cursed her boyfriend, and apparently, Jayne had to disappear, as well.
Hollywood’s “smartest dumb blonde” was unique in numerous ways. Jayne spoke five languages, played several instruments, and knew how to work the press and the audience.
Her baby voice combined with a stunning hourglass figure, her walk, and screen presence combined is not something we will likely see ever again.
Many documentaries and dramatizations about her life and death are already out there for the world to see. In 2017, Mansfield 66/67 explored Jayne’s last two years and infamous relationship with LaVey.
She loved dogs, fame, and pink, apart from her five children. Despite being on this planet for only 34 years, Jayne left an extraordinary mark. The Pennsylvania-born brunette did not quite change the world, but she managed to achieve her dreams and goals, which counts for everything.
She also changed the law.
After the tragic accident, the inquiry concluded that it was avoidable. The car with Jayne and her companions had slipped under the trailer, shearing off the top and causing fatal head injuries.
Rear underride guards or the Mansfield bars are steel bars that hang from the tails of large trucks to prevent a passenger vehicle from going underneath in a rear crash. Though the federal regulations required underride bars since 1953, the death of a superstar caused the public’s outcry that put the bars in the spotlight.
Jayne Mansfield also lives on through her daughter, Mariska Hargitay, and her award-winning role of Olivia Benson.
More than anything, Mansfield is an inspiration, unapologetic about her ambitions, a woman who had it all.