Jayne Mansfield (born in 1933) was an American actress, singer, nightclub entertainer best known for her bombshell curves and film roles during the 1950s and 1960s.
A sex symbol while under contract at 20th Century Fox, Mansfield was known for her well-publicized personal life and publicity stunts. Her film career was short-lived, but she had several box-office successes and won a Theatre World Award and a Golden Globe Award.
Mansfield enjoyed success in the role of fictional actress Rita Marlowe in the Broadway play Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1955–1956), which she reprised in the film adaptation of the same name (1957).
Her other film roles include the musical comedy The Girl Can’t Help It (1956), the drama The Wayward Bus (1957), the neo-noir Too Hot to Handle (1960), and the sex comedy Promises! Promises! (1963); the latter established Mansfield as the first major American actress to perform in a nude scene in a post-silent era film.
Mansfield took her professional name from her first husband, public relations professional Paul Mansfield. She married three times, all of which ended in divorce, and had five children.
She was allegedly intimately involved with numerous men, including Robert and John F. Kennedy, her attorney Samuel S. Brody, and Las Vegas entertainer Nelson Sardelli.
She came to be known as the “Working Man’s Monroe”. She was one of Hollywood’s original blonde bombshells, and, although many people have never seen her movies, Mansfield remains one of the most recognizable icons of 1950s celebrity culture.
According to Hollywood historian and biographer James Parish, Mansfield’s hourglass figure (she claimed dimensions of 40–21–35), unique sashaying walk, breathy baby talk, and cleavage-revealing costumes made an enduring impact.
Hollywood historian Andrew Nelson said that she was seen as Hollywood’s gaudiest, boldest, D-cupped, B-grade actress from 1955 until the early 1960s.
Frequent references have been made to Mansfield’s very high IQ, which she claimed was 163. In addition to English, she spoke four other languages.
She learned French, Spanish, and German in high school, and in 1963 she studied Italian. Reputed to be Hollywood’s “smartest dumb blonde”, she later complained that the public did not care about her brains saying, “They’re more interested in 40–21–35 [a reference to her body measurements].”
Newspapers in the 1950s routinely published Mansfield’s body measurements, which once led evangelist Billy Graham to exclaim, “This country knows more about Jayne Mansfield’s statistics than the Second Commandment.”
Mansfield proclaimed a 41-inch bust line and a 22-inch waist when she made her Broadway debut in 1955, though some scholars dispute those figures. She was known as “the Cleavage Queen” and “the Queen of Sex and Bosom”.
It was said that her breasts fluctuated in size from her pregnancies and nursing her five children. Her smallest bust measurement was 40-D (102 cm), which was constant throughout the 1950s, and her largest was 46-DD (117 cm), measured by the press in 1967.
According to Playboy, her vital statistics were 40D-21-36 (102–53–91 cm) on her 5’6″ (1.68 m) frame.
It has been claimed that her bosom was a major force behind the development of 1950s brassieres, including the whirlpool bra, cuties, the shutter bra, the action bra, latex pads, cleavage-revealing designs, and uplifted outlines.
R. L. Rutsky and Bill Osgerby have claimed that it was Mansfield, along with Marilyn Monroe and Brigitte Bardot, who made the bikini popular.
Drawing on the Freudian concept of fetishism, British science-fiction writer and socio-cultural commentator, J. G. Ballard commented that Mae West’s, Mansfield’s, and Monroe’s breasts “loomed across the horizon of popular consciousness”.
According to Dave Kehr, as the 1960s approached, the anatomy that had made her a star turned her into a joke. In this decade, the female body ideal shifted to appreciate the slim waif-like features popularized by supermodel Twiggy, actress Audrey Hepburn, and others, demarcating the demise of the busty blonde bombshells.
In 1967, Mansfield’s life was cut short. After two appearances on the evening of June 28, Mansfield, Sam Brody (her attorney and companion), their driver Ronnie Harrison (age 20), and three of her children – Miklós, Zoltán, and Mariska – left Biloxi (Mississippi) after midnight in a 1966 Buick Electra 225. \
At about 2:25 a.m. on June 29, on U.S. Highway 90, 1 mile west of the Rigolets Bridge, the Buick crashed at high speed into the rear of a tractor-trailer that had slowed behind a truck spraying mosquito fogger.
The semi-trailer was shrouded by insecticide fog. The three adults in the front seat died instantly. The children, asleep in the rear seat, survived with minor injuries.
Reports that Mansfield was decapitated are untrue, although she suffered severe head trauma. This urban legend started with the appearance in police photographs of the crashed car with its top virtually sheared off, and what resembled a blonde-haired head tangled in the car’s smashed windshield.
However, Mansfield’s death certificate, which states her immediate cause of death to be “crushed skull with avulsion of cranium and brain,” rules this out.
The identity of the head-like shape has not been definitively determined, but it is debated to have been either a wig that Mansfield was wearing or carrying, the top portion of her real hair and scalp, or “something else entirely.”
After her death, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommended requiring an underride guard (a strong bar made of steel tubing) on all tractor-trailers; the trucking industry was slow to adopt this change. In America, the underride guard is sometimes known as a “Mansfield bar”.
(Photo credit: Pinterest / Wikimedia Commons).