Monday, April 4, 2016

Jayne Mansfield: The Blonde Bombshell

Grave of Jayne Mansfield
Fairview Cemetery, Pen Argyl
I parked only yards away from the large, heart-shaped stone that – due to its size and shape – seemed out of place on the grounds of Fairview Cemetery. The cemetery, located just south of Pen Argyl on the Middletown Road, is the final resting place of a famous – or in the minds of some scandalous – celebrity.

I stepped out onto the well manicured garden of stone and started towards the stone, bringing with me a single rose. As I walked towards the stone, memories of my first visit flooded my mind. My first attempt to find Fairview Cemetery was an adventure in itself. I had become lost in the small town of Pen Argyl - despite twice stopping for directions – it was only due to a wrong turn I discovered the street I was looking for.

Pulling onto the grounds of Fairview Cemetery that day,  I but had no idea what her grave looked like or where it was located at in the cemetery. I knew I had come to pay my respects to her and had given myself extra time to search. Upon seeing the heart-shaped stone, I knew even before I walked over to it, that I had found the final resting place of Jayne Mansfield.

Jayne was one of Hollywood's original blonde bombshells, known for flaunting her sexuality, her wardrobe malfunctions, and her infamous Playboy spread (which resulted in Hugh Hefner being arrested for Jayne's nude pictures and the debate on whether those pictures were obscene or art).

Often referred to as "the poor man's Marilyn Monroe," Jayne was born Vera Jayne Palmer in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania on April 19, 1933, the only child of Vera and Hebert Palmer. Her father was a successful lawyer and moved the family to Philipsburg, New Jersey, where he practiced law. When Jayne was three years old, her father passed away due to a heart attack and the family moved to Pen Argyl.. Her mother would remarry and the family would move to Dallas, Texas.

In 1949, when Jayne was just sixteen years old, she met Paul Mansfield and they were married early the following year. By the end of the year, her first daughter was born.  Though the marriage would not last and despite being married two more times, she maintained Mansfield as her last name throughout her acting career.

In 1954, Jayne made a brief television appearance followed the next year as a cigar girl in Pete Kelly’s Blues.  The following February she would become one of the first centerfolds in Playboy, which would be the first of a number of issues that featured her,

In 1956, she would marry Mickey Hargitay. Mickey was a bodybuilder and had won the 1955 Mr. Universe competition. Their marriage would produce three more children for Jayne. Their youngest daughter, Mariska Hargitay, continues the acting path her mother started on and is known for her role Detective Olivia Benson on Law and Order: SVU.

Jayne’s break-out role would happen in 1957 when she portrayed Rita Marlowe in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? But her fame as an actress was short lived as Hollywood’s demand for the blonde bombshells faded.

A collector's card featuring Jayne Mansfield
The black box is a piece of fabric worn by her
Card is a part of my personal collection
Jayne would marry a third time – this time to Matt Climber, with whom she had one son. Under his….ahem…guidance her career bombed. In 1963, she became the first American actress to appear nude in a mainstream film (Promises…Promises!) due to his directing her career.

At this point, she had descended into alcohol abuse. Jayne had filed for a divorce and in the process had moved in with Sam Brody. She was still waiting for the divorce to be finalized when she took off on a cross-country journey performing in nightclubs, usually doing two shows a night almost every night.

On June 29, 1967, tragedy would strike. Jayne had made an appearance in Biloxi, Mississippi on June 28th and was headed to New Orleans, where she was scheduled to be on a radio show at noon on the 29th. Packed into the car with her were: Sam Brody (her boyfriend at the time), Ronnie Harrison (who was driving) and three of her five children. While traveling on U.S. Highway 90, their car entered a fog created by a insecticide truck spraying for mosquitoes. Behind the sprayer was a tractor trailer that had slowed to a near stop due to the conditions. Their car entered the fog and slammed into the rear of the semi while traveling at a speed of eighty miles an hour. The three adults in the front seat were killed instantly; the three children survived.

Almost immediately rumors that she had been decapitated started circulating throughout the news. Though the urban legend has been proven untrue, it still circulates today. The instant her name gets brought up in conversation, it is usually followed by, "She died when she was decapitated in that wreck (amazing most know she died in a wreck but know little if anything else about her death). Days before she was killed a picture of her was ripped and it had separated her head from her body so she was destined to die the same way." The urban legend is not true, though she did die from severe head trauma.

Probably the most bizarre version of her death is that her body was buried in Pen Argyl and that her head was buried in Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Again a false rumor, but it amazes me the amount of times I’ve read this.

Mickey drove to New Orleans to bring Jayne's body to Pen Argyl and had her buried in the same cemetery where her father had been buried years before and her mother would later be buried.

I placed my single pink rose (pink was her favorite color) among the other flowers and decorations that adorned her stone before knowing it was time to leave. As I started the vehicle, another car parked behind me. The young couple pointed towards Jayne's stone and started to walk over to the grave with a small bouquet of flowers. Jayne has not been forgotten. She may have burst upon the scene, and quickly faded from Hollywood, but she is far from being forgotten

A side note: In Hollywood Forever Cemetery there is a cenotaph (a memorial marker) for Jayne, which interestingly has her birth date wrong. I had the opportunity to visit the cemetery and a visit to Jayne’s marker was on my list of spots to visit while paying my respects to the celebrities interred in the cemetery. However, due to maintenance going on I was unable to visit it...I guess I'll have to return to Los Angeles one of these days...

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