Vera Jayne Palmer visited Hollywood for the first time
when she was thirteen. After a tour of Twentieth Century
Fox Studios, she and her mother went to the Brown Derby
for lunch. Jayne spotted The Great Gildersleeve radio
stars Dennis Day and Harold Peary, and asked for their autographs.
"You know Mama," she said when she returned, "one
day some other young girl is going to make her way across
this room and ask for my autograph."
Jayne's desire to become a star was not ignited that day; the trip
only fanned flames that had always burned within her. Her parents,
Herbert and Vera, were witness to her enthusiastic performances
at an early age. When she was five, Jayne was singing for anyone
who would listen, including her gigantic collection of stuffed animals.
At seven, she would stand in her driveway and play the violin for
passers-by. Though her idols changed over the years - from Shirley
Temple to Gene Tierney, Hedy Lamarr, and
Jean Harlow - they were always movie stars.
A naïve and trusting child, Jayne's innocence often
resulted in touching anecdotes. Once, Jayne's Sunday school
teacher told the children that God was always with them.
That night, Jayne fell out of bed several times "making
room for God." When Jayne learned that a family living
down the street had fallen on hard times, she helped them
out in whatever way possible. Disturbed because their little
girl had no winter coat, Jayne traded her jacket to the
girl in exchange for an old baby bottle. Jayne's parents
were upset, but she never regretted the trade.
Though Jayne's kind heart enabled her to touch the lives
of many, it made her extremely vulnerable. When she was
three, her father died suddenly. That morning, at a physical,
he was declared healthy, but several hours later he had
a heart attack. Jayne, who had been a daddy's girl, was
stunned. "Something went out of my life," she
said. Years later, she remembered how she would sit on his
lap while he stroked her long curly hair. "My earliest
memories are the best. I always try to remember the good
times when Daddy was alive."
Fortunately, Vera was able to support the family by working
as a school teacher. Not long afterward, she met and married
Harry "Tex" Peers, and they decided to move from
Phillipsburg, New Jersey to Dallas. Jayne was fond of Harry,
a firm but loving man, and appreciated the discipline he
brought as they became a "family" again. Harry
also cultivated Jayne's love for barbecuing. Outgoing and
personable, Jayne would invite anyone to join their weekly
barbecues. Years later, on their custom-built double pink
marble-topped barbecue, she and husband Mickey Hargitay
cooked for the entire San Francisco Giants baseball team.
At a party on Christmas Eve, 1949, Jayne met Paul Mansfield.
Handsome and studious, Paul treated Jayne with genuine respect.
They fell in love, and were married on January 28. After
a difficult labor, Jayne Marie Mansfield was born on November
8, 1950. Well aware of his wife's Hollywood ambitions, Paul
thought becoming a mother would distract her. He was wrong.
Though she was thrilled with the birth of her daughter,
Jayne had not faltered in her dream to become a star. The
war in North Korea started, and Paul had to leave for Army
reserve duty. Before leaving, he relented and promised her
that when it was over, the family would move to Hollywood.
Two years later, the Mansfield family started out for California.
Paul would stay only four months. They divorced and he went
back to Dallas. Nonetheless, Jayne kept the name Mansfield
because she thought it sounded illustrious.
Jayne flourished in Hollywood. She took a job at a movie
theater but was soon accepting work as a model. Gene Lester,
a well-known photographer, recalled her first professional
shoot for General Electric. "Jayne was one of the girls
I used. She was way over to the left side of the picture.
General Electric notified me that they had to cut her out
of the picture because she looked too sexy for 1954 viewers."
Hollywood publicity agent Jim Byron saw her potential. "Jayne
had a star quality," he said. "She was very much like
a raw gem." During Christmas, they decided Jayne would visit
newspapers and provide the overworked reporters with cheer-in the
form of a spirited hug and kiss. Her appearances were a hit, and
Jayne's picture was in newspapers all over the country. For Byron's
next big event, he got Jayne a ticket to a press event in Florida
for the RKO Pictures release of Underwater, starring Jane
Russell. On the plane, she was seated next to Daily Variety reporter
Joe Schoenfeld. He found her so delightful that the following day
their conversation consumed his column. Later, in a red bikini,
it became obvious to everyone that she had control of the spotlight.
Headlines from that weekend announced, "Jayne Out-Points Jane."
That same year, after starring in the Broadway hit Will Success
Spoil Rock Hunter, the headlines read, "Jayne Signs Studio
Contract With Fox."
Jayne was on her way to becoming a celebrity when she attended
a Mae West performance at the Latin Quarter.
After the show, Jayne was also on her way to falling in love-with
1956 Mr. Universe Mickey Hargitay, who was working as one of Mae's
musclemen in the show. As their relationship developed, Mae became
irate at the loss of Mickey's affections, and called a press conference
where she ordered him to denounce his relationship with Jayne. Her
plan backfired. Instead of reading the scripted statement, Mickey
said, "Jaynie and I are very much in love, and we have seriously
discussed marriage plans in the future." On January 13, 1958,
amid family, friends and a flurry of press in Palos Verde, California,
the pair married. Theirs was very much a storybook love, of which
Jayne later said, "We were into something so beautiful. Mickey
and I had a grasp of life that most people never know anything about."
Both Jayne and Mickey loved children, and were ecstatic each time
Jayne became pregnant. The couple had three children together, Micklos,
Zoltan and Mariska, whom they regularly brought on location for
performances. "We take our children everywhere we go,"
she said in a Star Weekly magazine interview. "I don't believe
in having them and then leaving them to someone else to bring up."
Meanwhile, Jayne's career had continued to prosper. In
1956 she starred in The
Girl Can't Help It, a successful film that satisfied
the public's demand for anything rock and roll related.
The musical talent of Little Richard, Gene Vincent and the
Blue Caps, Fats Domino, The Platters and Julie London accompanied
Jayne and her co-stars, Tom Ewell and Edmond O'Brien. When
she earned the lead in The Wayward Bus, based on
John Steinbeck's best-selling novel, Jayne captured the
persona of her character and the critics took notice. Next,
Jayne took her Broadway role as Rita Marlowe to the big
screen in the film version of Will
Success Spoil Rock Hunter? Once again, Rock Hunter
was a success, and so was Jayne. Fox then placed her in
Kiss Them For Me alongside Cary Grant, whom she found
to be "one of the most marvelous men I've ever met."
During this time she purchased a Mediterranean style mansion
on Sunset Boulevard. In keeping with her distinct decorative
taste, the mansion would soon become known as "The
Before she left to film The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw
in England, Jayne and her family spent four weeks in Las
Vegas. She had been asked to appear in nightly performance
at the Tropicana, where she sang, danced and joked with
the audience, and could not refuse the offer of $25,000
a week. Jayne loved being able to personally interact with
her fans, and the Tropicana loved the crowd she drew. Her
performance brought in a packed house every night. It was
the beginning of a long-standing, highly successful nightclub
career for Jayne. Several years later she returned to Las
Vegas, this time at the Dunes Hotel, where her weekly salary
was raised to $35,000. Though she began touring with her
act, Jayne's stage performances were not limited to nightclubs.
She renewed her involvement in the theater, most notably
in an acclaimed production of Bus Stop. "As
the chanteuse being abducted by the lonesome cowboy, Miss
Mansfield can hardly help stealing scenes," said a
critic. "But oft times the scenes are earned rather
than stolen it turns out the lady is endowed with a
comedic talent." She also dabbled in television, with
cameo appearances on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Jack
Benny Program, Burke's Law and The Steve Allen
Show. Ultimately, Jayne juggled a career that encompassed
almost every media facet. Unfortunately, as so often happens
in Hollywood, Jayne and Mickey's relationship had become
strained. They decided to divorce in August 1964, but always
remained good friends.
In 1967, Jayne's life was still moving at full speed. "I
will never be satisfied," she said in an interview.
"Life is one constant search for betterment for me."
Her time was split between a Southern nightclub tour and
the production of Single Room, Furnished, a drama
that would become her last film. Furnished was directed
by Matt Cimber, who Jayne met on the set of Bus Stop
and later married. On June 29, Jayne was riding in front
with Ronnie Harrison and lawyer Sam Brody on the way from
a Mississippi nightclub engagement. Her children, Mickey
Jr., Zoltan and Mariska sat in the back. As they rounded
a curve on a dark stretch of road, the car slammed into
a slowed semi. Though the children survived with minor injuries,
everyone sitting in the front was killed instantly.
The world was stunned. Jayne's personality was so vibrant,
her career so vivacious, that it was impossible to believe
she was gone. At 34, she had already earned a special place
in the hearts of millions, and with her death came a deep
void that will never be filled.
Jayne was laid to rest in the Hollywood Forever Memorial
Park in Hollywood, California.