Blonde bombshell and celebrated actress Jayne Mansfield is killed instantly on June 29, 1967, when the car in which she is riding strikes the rear of a trailer truck on U.S. Route 90 east of New Orleans, Louisiana.
Mansfield had been on her way to New Orleans from Biloxi, Mississippi, where she had been performing a standing engagement at a local nightclub; she had a television appearance scheduled the following day. Ronald B. Harrison, a driver for the Gus Stevens Dinner Club, was driving Mansfield and her lawyer and companion, Samuel S. Brody, along with three of Mansfield’s children with her ex-husband Mickey Hargitay, in Stevens’ 1966 Buick Electra. On a dark stretch of road, just as the truck was approaching a machine emitting a thick white fog used to spray mosquitoes (which may have obscured it from Harrison’s view), the Electra hit the trailer-truck from behind. Mansfield, Harrison and Brody were all killed in the accident. Eight-year-old Mickey, six-year-old Zoltan and three-year-old Marie, or Mariska, had apparently been sleeping on the rear seat; they were injured but survived.
Born Vera Jayne Palmer in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, Mansfield arrived in Hollywood as a young wife and mother (to daughter Jayne Marie) in 1954, determined to become an actress. From the beginning, she wasn’t afraid to make the most of her assets, particularly her curvaceous figure, flowing platinum blonde hair and dazzling smile. Cast in the Broadway comedy Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, she turned heads as a voluptuous, dumb blonde movie star; in one famous scene she appeared in nothing but a white towel. She famously appeared nude in the 1963 comedy Promises! Promises!, and stills from the set appeared in Playboy magazine, but her best performance was generally believed to have been in 1957’s The Wayward Bus, based on the John Steinbeck novel and costarring Joan Collins. While her screen career amounted to about a dozen less-than-memorable films, off screen she played the movie star role to perfection, and became one of the most visible glamour girls of the era.
Jayne Mansfield Car Crash
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'Mansfield 66/67' explores the 'satanic curse' behind actress Jayne Mansfield's death in a freak car accident
Jayne Mansfield's death in a car accident in 1967 did not happen under suspicious circumstances. However, that did not stop the satan's curse theory from coming out.
Jayne Mansfield (Source : Getty Images)
Marilyn Monroe was the original 'blonde bombshell.' Emblematic of the era's attitudes towards sexuality, Monroe remains one of Hollywood's most popular sex symbols even six decades after her death. However, there was another actress who was just as vivacious, feisty, and talented and came to be known as 'the working man's Marilyn Monroe': Jayne Mansfield.
While Mansfield attracted a lot of controversies onscreen, as well as off it, her untimely death in 1967 at the tender age of 34 had the industry reeling. Despite the fact that her acting career was on a downward spiral at the time and some ill-advised decisions had attracted swathes of negative publicity, her passing in that freak car accident was still tragic a life taken too soon.
Mansfield died on the spot after suffering significant head trauma, and it was accepted that the accident was the cause of her passing. Except, that is, amongst a small but significant portion of the public who were of the belief that her death was the result of a satanic curse placed upon her and her married lawyer boyfriend Samuel S. Brody by Anton LaVey. Lavey, a former boyfriend/love interest of Mansfield and famously the founder of the Church of Satan and LaVeyan Satanism, had gotten into a heated spat with Brody which culminated in him cursing the lawyer to die in an accident.
Because the actress' life and numerous publicity stunts had visibly blurred the line between reality and fiction, that theory never got off the rumor mills and is still cited by some today. Intrigued, P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes - who are known for their previous documentaries 'Hit So Hard,' Room 237,' and 'Dear Mom, Love Cher' - explored the theory in 'Mansfield 66/67,' which released on the 50th anniversary year of Mansfield's death in 2017.
While the documentary does provide a brief overview of the actress' career and her constant courting of controversy, it primarily focuses on her relationship with the charismatic LaVey. LaVey, described as 'the most iconic figure in Satanic milieu,' had managed to sweep her off her feet with his mantra of 'if you're going to be a sinner, be the best sinner on the block,' to which she felt like she related like no other.
'Mansfield 66/67,' makes it abundantly clear what to expect from it given how it ominously highlights the '666' portion of the title in the trailer and features commentaries from Kenneth Anger, John Waters, Mamie Van Doren, and a host of other experts across many disciplines as they explore whether the outlandish theory has any credence whatsoever.
It's a theory that arguably does not deserve to see the light of day but nonetheless piques interest because of the divisive figure that Mansfield proved to be in her lifetime. The actress was often in the news for all the wrong reasons, but only because she willed it.
Behind the wardrobe malfunctions, behind the 'n' number of affairs, and behind the publicity stunts was a fierce, smart and talented woman who failed to fulfill her initial promise and whose life was improbably cut short because of allegiance to a man who many now consider to be a charlatan of the highest order. 'Mansfield 66/67' attempts to answer the controversy surrounding the actress' death and delves into the deterioration of one of America's most promising stars.
Mansfield had been launched to fame along with Sheree North by 20th Century Fox as the successor to the reigning sex symbol of the period, Marilyn Monroe. Having gotten her start as one of the early Playboy playmates, she reached hysteric levels of superstardom with films such as 'The Girl Can't Help It,' 'The Wayward Bus,'and 'Too Hot to Handle.'
She also acquired a reputation for always wanting to be the center of attention, even if the said event was not necessarily about her, resulting in an incident that has now become a part of Hollywood folklore. The incident in question took place in April 1957, when she attempted deflect media attention away from Sophia Loren during a dinner party in the Italian star's honor. A photograph published and seen around the world showed Loren's gaze longingly falling on Mansfield's cleavage as it spilled over the low neckline of her dress.
Her striking hourglass figure - which she claimed was of the dimension 40-21-35 - was the envy of women around the around the country and had tabloids drooling. Her impact on pop culture today is undeniable, with her unique sashaying walk, breathy baby talk, and cleavage-revealing costumes which are some of the defining aspects of the era. As Hollywood historian Andrew Nelson put it, 'she was Hollywood's gaudiest, boldest, D-cupped, b-grade actress.'
The stories that populated the papers in those days were a product of the image that she had cultivated for herself in her endless quest for fame. Mansfield was sharper than she let on, earning her the nickname of 'smartest dumb blonde.' Peers and friends say she had a wicked sense of humor, impeccable comic timing, and was more of an intellectual than she let on.
She reportedly boasted an IQ of 163 and spoke five languages: English, French, Spanish, German, and Italian. She was also an outspoken anti-war advocate, heavily criticizing multiple administrations for their involvement in the Vietnam War. But the mold had long been cast. She could never quite manage to shake off her sex symbol persona.
Tabloids routinely published her body measurements, leading Mansfield to exasperatedly claim that the country cared more about her figure than her wits. The infamy of her publicity stunts had even reached the ears of popular evangelist Billy Graham, who exclaimed that the 'country knows more about Jayne Mansfield's statistics than the second amendment.' Her star shone bright, but it shone briefly.
It was a case of too much, too fast. At the time of the release of groundbreaking sexploitation film 'Promises!' in 1963 - where she became the first major American actress to have a nude starring role in a Hollywood motion picture - her career had already been on a steep decline. To cash in on her waning bankability, she turned to nightclubs, where she would perform and sing to supplement her declining income from movies.
This difficult period in her acting career was exacerbated by mounting problems in her personal life. She had developed a reputation for infidelity - not helped by the fact that she had been married and divorced three times and was allegedly intimately involved with numerous men, including Robert and John F. Kennedy, and Los Vegas entertainer Nelson Sardelli - and was in a bitter divorce and custody battle with her husband.
By the time that marriage, her third, with Italian-born film director Matt Climber, had disintegrated following rumors of infidelity in 1966, Mansfield was in a dark place. The actress had taken to abusing alcohol, was regularly in the news for getting involved in drunken brawls, and performing at cheap burlesque shows.
It was at this point that she ran into Anton Szandor LaVey, who many claimed was 'a born showman,' and who anthropologist Jean La Fontaine described as a 'colorful figure of personal magnetism.' She had only recently converted to Catholicism but still decided to pay a visit to LaVey's Church of Satan when she was in San Francisco for the 1966 Film Festival.
The rest, as they say, is history. Mansfield was in town with her then-boyfriend and personal lawyer Sam Brody, but that still did not stop her from becoming smitten with LaVey as fast as after their first meeting. LaVey's charm swept her off her feet, with the Satanist awarding her with a medallion and title of 'High Priestess of San Francisco's Church of Satan. The media covered the meeting and events surrounding it with vigor, soon identifying Mansfield herself as a Satanist, and rumors of her being romantically linked with LaVey inevitably began cropping up soon after.
LaVey had a propensity for the theatrical. He ritualistically shaved his head 'in the tradition of ancient executioners,' and would never appear in public out-of-costume, more often than not showing up in a demonic Halloween costume punctuated by two horns.
Monikered 'The Black Pope,' he also painted his San Francisco home jet black, groomed a pet lion, boasted of a crowd of topless women at his residence, and kept all the Satanic paraphernalia he would find on his person. As Vanity Fair put it, he was like a Hugh Hefner for proto-goth kids.
Despite what seemed like an obvious clash of personalities, the pair got along exceedingly well, and they were not afraid to flaunt it to the media. The general feeling at the time was that she was taking refuge from her mounting problems in her relationship with LaVey. He had gotten her in his spell, literally and figuratively.
She took solace in LaVey's 'spells,' which he proclaimed would bring her happiness and prosperity, but if some are to be believed, brought about her eventual death. Forgotten in the background was Brody, who felt scorned by Mansfield. He had undergone a bitter divorce with his wife after she had found out his '41st other woman,' Mansfield, and her subsequent fling with LaVey meant he was left hanging.
Brody (R) was reportedly jealous of LaVey (Source: Keystone/Getty Images)
In a jealous rage, Brody is said to have desecrated sacred Satanic talismans in LaVey's lair, prompting the Satanist to curse Brody with death in a car accident within a year. Following the curse, Brody and Mansfield survived no less than seven fender benders and near-fatal smash-ups before an eighth one finally saw their luck run out.
In 1967, Mansfield was in Biloxi, Mississippi, for an engagement, and after two appearances at an event was on her way to New Orleans with Brody, their driver Ron Harrison, and three of her children - Miklós, Zoltán, and Mariska in a 1966 Buick Electra 225. At approximately 2:25 am, the Buick crashed at high speed into the rear of a tractor-trailer.
The scene of the car crash where actress Jayne Mansfield, her lawyer boyfriend Samuel Brody and her driver Ronnie Harrison were killed near New Orleans, July 4, 1967. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
The tractor-trailer had slowed behind a truck spraying mosquito fogger shrouded in the insecticide's fog, and the crash immediately killed the three adults in the front seat. Appearances of police photographs which showed the crashed car fueled rumors that Mansfield had been decapitated. While this was untrue, a significant portion of her scalp and head had indeed been sheared off.
The gruesome nature of the death fed the conspiracy theories that the actress had fallen prey to LaVey's curses, and one of the most significant trend-setters of the era departed in one of the most unfashionable manner possible.
Genuine purveyors of the 'curse theory' are few and far between, lest it give the appearance of slagging off the actress' name and legacy, but Mansfield 66/67's unique take on the incident has been done with due diligence and at least pays a deserving homage to her sparkling career.
Mariska Hargitay Opens Up About the Tragic Car Accident That Killed Her Mother, Jayne Mansfield
Mariska Hargitay was in the 1967 car accident that tragically killed her mother, s- and ླྀs-era blonde bombshell Jayne Mansfield, as well as the 19-year-old driver, Ronald B. Harrison, and Mansfield's lawyer and then-boyfriend, Samuel S. Brody. So were Mansfield's other two children from her marriage to ex-husband and former Mr. Universe Mickey Hargitay.
While all three adults were thrown from the vehicle and died, Mariska, then three, asleep in the backseat, and her brothers, 8-year-old Mickey Jr. and 6-year-old Zoltan, survived.
Although the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit actress, 53, has said she doesn't remember the crash, the scar on the side of her head has served as a reminder. So have constant comparisons to her similarly gorgeous and whip-smart (her IQ was apparently 163) mom, which have followed Hargitay throughout her career. Now, more than 50 years after the accident, she opened up about losing her mother in an interview with People.
The actress told the publication:
"The way I've lived with loss is to lean into it. As the saying goes, the only way out is through. In my life, certainly I've tried to avoid pain, loss, feeling things. But I've learned instead to really lean into it, because sooner or later you have to pay the piper. . I'm not saying it's easy, and it certainly hasn't been for me. There's been a lot of darkness. But on the other side things can be so bright."
The car had been traveling from Biloxi, Mississippi, to New Orleans, where Mansfield was to appear on television. Ahead of them, a truck was spraying mosquitoes, emitting a thick white fog that may have obscured Harrison's vision, causing the collision at full speed.
The accident robbed Hargitay of the chance to get to know Mansfield, who was just 34 when she died and is most remembered for her roles in The Girl Can't Help It (1956), The Wayward Bus (1957), and Promises! Promises! (1963), as well as her dead on Marilyn Monroe impressions and publicity stunts.
"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 continued to People, tearing up. "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."
The mother and daughter also share an uncanny resemblance. "Someone once said about [remembering] my mother: 'All you have to do is look in the mirror,'" she added. "She's with me still."
But, as the actress said to Closer Weekly in August, those kinds of comparisons weren't always easy to hear. "In some ways, being the daughter of a Hollywood icon has been a burden," the publication quoted Hargitay as saying. "I used to hate constant references to my mom because I wanted to be known for myself. Losing my mother at such a young age is the scar of my soul."
The Emmy award-winning actress and Joyful Heart Foundation founder said something similar to Redbook in 2009, adding, "But 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."
Having kids (August, Amaya, and Andrew, whom she shares with husband Peter Hermann), she said, has helped her heal.
"Being a wife and mother is my life, and that gives me the most joy," Hargitay continued to Closer Weekly. "I understand [my mother] in a new way that gives me peace. Now I understand the love she had in her, and it makes me feel closer to her."
Blonde Bombshell Jayne Mansfield’s Death Car Owned and Displayed Dearly Departed Tours & Museum in Hollywood
Hollywood, CA (PRWEB) May 18, 2017
The body is still recognizable as a 1966 Buick Electra, but its sheared-off roof stands testament to the horrific crash that killed buxom movie star Jayne Mansfield in June 1967 but spared her children on the trip, including daughter and future actress Mariska Hargitay.
So on the 50th anniversary of the accident, Scott Michaels of Dearly Departed Tours and Museum thought it was just the Hollywood artifact to celebrate his company’s 13th anniversary and mark this month’s opening of Dearly Departed Tours and Museum’s larger location at 5901 Santa Monica Blvd. The new location replaces its smaller Sunset Boulevard storefront and is across from Hollywood Forever Cemetery where a cenotaph honors Mansfield’s memory.
Mansfield’s career was dominated by dumb blonde roles, including “The Girl Can’t Help It” and her Broadway success and hit movie, “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” Her appeal faded in the Sixties after Marilyn Monroe’s death in 1962. In the years leading to her death, she was primarily working in nightclubs and European films.
The tragic end to the sex symbol’s life came along a deserted Mississippi road when the car in which she was riding plowed underneath a large slow-moving truck. The Buick’s roof was ripped away, and Mansfield, her boyfriend, Sam Brody, and driver Ronnie Harrison were killed. The three of her children in the back seat survived. Mansfield saved her kids when at an impromptu stop at a diner she moved the three of her children with her to the rear seat of the Electra to sleep. Contrary to rumor, Mansfield was not decapitated, but the upper portion of her skull was cut. Michaels prefers the term, "decaptivated."
The vehicle was locked away for several years because of a lawsuit, then on display in South Florida for about a decade. After that, the gray sedan changed owners several times by collectors who wanted this unique piece of history, yet had no idea what to do with it.
“I approached the man for years if he wished to sell the car and finally he did,” Michaels said. It took awhile to scrape together the funds, move it cross-country and store the car in a garage for a year. Finally a storefront big enough to display it came available. “It all fell together,” he said, “and now we’re directly across from Hollywood Forever Cemetery!”
Michaels is well-known in the “death biz,” as he calls it, appearing as expert commentary on E!’s “20 Most Gruesome Hollywood Murders,” “Ghost Adventures,” “20/20” and his own show on the E! network, “Hollywood Death Trip.” His Dearly Departed Tour has been voted “Best in LA” by the LA Weekly and Los Angeles Magazine and is featured in “1000 Things to Do Before You Die” and an award-winner on Tripadvisor.com.
In addition to its highly rated Dearly Departed Tours, Michaels offers his guests a museum of unique Hollywood memorabilia with a decided death tie-in, including stones from the fireplace in which the Manson family killed Sharon Tate, risqué comedian Mae West’s dentures, Rocky Horror Picture Show original set models, displays and a featured costume (Michaels wrote “the movie’s bible, “Rocky Horror from Concept to Cult,” and calls many cast members friends.
Many of the museum artifacts come from Michaels’ decades of collecting odd Hollywood memorabilia, including an architectural column from the long-shuttered Perinos and Karen Carpenter’s bathroom sink. “Jayne Mansfield’s death car fit right in the mix, and we like to honor her complete and total joy in being a movie star,” Michaels said. He also has the iron front gates from Mansfield’s famous Pink Palace, her palatial home on Sunset Blvd.
“To me it’s less about gruesome and much more about Hollywood history,” Michaels said, adding the movie star’s death is saving other people’s lives today and maintains her notoriety. Commercial trucks must now have protection that prohibits cars from going underneath them, as Jayne’s did. The device is nicknamed "The Mansfield Bar".
Mariska Hargitay opens up about her mother Jayne Mansfield's death
It took many years for Mariska Hargitay to heal from her tragic past.
At age 3, the “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” star lost her mother, actress Jayne Mansfield, in a 1967 car accident that also killed Mansfield's driver Ronnie Harrison and lawyer Sam Brody.
Mansfield's three children with husband, actor and 1955 Mr. Universe Mickey Hargitay, survived the crash. The popular pinup, who was often compared to fellow blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe, was 34 when she was killed instantly.
“In some ways, being the daughter of a Hollywood icon has been a burden,” the now-53-year-old admitted to Closer Weekly. “I used to hate constant references to my mom because I wanted to be known for myself. Losing my mother at such a young age is the scar of my soul.”
Hargitay has found success in Hollywood as an actress, and she doesn’t physically resemble her famous mother, which may have saved her from unwanted comparisons throughout her career. However, she inherited one recognizable trait from her mom, according to her half-brother.
“Mariska was a goofball — a fun, silly, sweet girl,” her half-brother Tony Cimber told the magazine. “She was always very positive and laughing. She’s got the funniest laugh you’ve ever heard, and she’s had it for her entire life.”
Hargitay added she’s been told her laugh resembles her late mother’s.
She also admitted motherhood has changed her life.
Back in 2012, PEOPLE Magazine reported Hargitay and her husband, actor Peter Hermann, adopted a baby boy and girl. The couple also share a biological son.
“Being a wife and mother is my life, and that gives me the most joy,” she said. “I understand [my mother] in a new way that gives me peace. Now I understand the love she had in her, and it makes me feel closer to her.”
Mariska Hargitay, The Daughter Of A Hollywood Icon
Hargitay was born into a famous family. Her mother, Jayne Mansfield, was a sex symbol in the s and s. Her father, Mickey Hargitay, was a Hungarian-born actor and one-time Mr. Universe winner (Mr. Universe, now called Universe Championships, is an international bodybuilding competition).
“In some ways, being the daughter of a Hollywood icon has been a burden,” Hargitay told Closer Weekly. “I used to hate constant references to my mom because I wanted to be known for myself. Losing my mother at such a young age is the scar of my soul.”
Hargitay was actually in the car during the accident that killed her mother. The 3-year-old was asleep in the back seat of the car, which was heading to New Orleans. Their limousine smashed into the back of a truck, killing Mansfield. Hargitay ended up with a scar on her head, but no memory of the accident. And she also lost the chance to grow up with her mother.
“Sometimes I can’t believe I’m not a drug addict or an alcoholic, ” Hargitay said in a Good Housekeeping interview. “I would lapse into catastrophic thinking a lot, where I was just convinced that the worst thing would happen. But I worked hard to stop those patterns, because I realized, if you think something’s going to end badly, sweetheart, it will.”
In recent years, however, Hargitay began to understand her mother and embrace her memory more. This came from becoming a mom herself.
“Being a wife and mother is my life, and that gives me the most joy,” she said. “I understand [my mother] in a new way that gives me peace. Now I understand the love she had in her, and it makes me feel closer to her.”
Hargitay and her husband, Peter Hermann, have been married since 2004 and have three children together: 11-year-old August and 6-year-olds Amaya and Andrew.
Here she is with Hermann in a photo she shared on Instagram Aug. 4 with the caption: “Me and my guy… #TwoForTheRoad #TwoForTheSkies#ComeFlyWithMe #TravelCompanion”
Recently, the “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” star posted a special picture of her mom on social media.
The Instagram photo captures both actresses’ beauty and shows a real connection between them. What a lovely tribute to her mom!
Cheers to Hargitay for working through the loss of her mom in such a positive, honest way.
A Tragic And Sudden Ending
Unfortunately, Jayne Mansfield’s life was on track to follow in Marilyn Monroe’s footsteps, but not in a good way. In 1967, Mansfield, her live-in companion, Sam Brody, her driver and three of her five children had been traveling to New Orleans for a nightclub performance. Tragically, the driver was temporarily blinded by heavy fog from a machine spraying for mosquitoes and collided with a tractor-trailer, killing all three adults in the car. Fortunately, all three children survived the devastating accident.
The secret history of Jayne Mansfield’s bizarre connection to the Church of Satan
“We had known this story for a long time,” recalls filmmaker Todd Hughes, “that Jayne Mansfield had flirted with Satanism, or so we thought—and that she was decapitated in a car crash, which turns out not to be true.”
For Hughes and co-director P. David Ebersole, these long-circulating rumors served as jumping off points for their new documentary Mansfield 66/67. In the film, they examine the last two years of the Old Hollywood bombshell’s life by interlacing footage from films, interviews, and photo ops with press clippings and commentary from subversive director John Waters, experimental filmmaker Kenneth Anger, Warhol Factory star Mary Woronov, and Hitchcock actress Tippi Hendren, among others. It’s the myth that interests Hughes and Ebersole, rather than pinning down what actually transpired before Mansfield died in a fatal car crash at age 34.
Mansfield 66/67 tracks the bizarre and tragic events that occurred after the actress began associating with Anton LaVey, the high priest of the Church of Satan. After LaVey supposedly put a curse on Mansfield’s then-boyfriend, Sam Brody, her divorce attorney and de facto manager, a series of misfortunes beset them. Mansfield’s son Zoltan got mauled by a lion, and Brody was in a string of car accidents, with the couple and their driver dying in a horrific crash less than a year after meeting LaVey.
In the 1950s, Jayne Mansfield was groomed by Twentieth Century Fox to be their answer to Marilyn Monroe. After starring in the 1955 Broadway hit Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, Mansfield was named one of the most promising newcomers at the 1957 Golden Globe Awards for her breakthrough performance in the 1956 film The Girl Can’t Help It. For a brief time, she was a popular performer, playing mostly comic roles as a pneumatic blonde with an exaggerated and obvious appeal.
Hughes and Ebersole document how the tensions of the Cold War climate allowed Mansfield to become a sensation in the ’50s and how the radical cultural shift of the 1960s soon left Mansfield out of step with the times. The period leading up to her death was “just so peculiar,” Hughes muses, speaking from the Provincetown International Film Festival earlier this year. “Jayne was an anti-Vietnam activist, people were experimenting with drugs and questioning their faith. Time Magazine’s cover line asked, ‘Is God Dead?’”
The filmmakers believe that while Mansfield was indeed publicity-mad, she was also a very intelligent woman who was figuring out a way to support her five children and reckon with three ex-husbands.
“She crafted this phenomenal, larger-than-life movie star image in the ’50s that completely fell out of vogue,” says Ebersole. “In the ’60s, everyone wanted you to be real and down-to-earth. We always thought that’s part of why she got caught up in seeking. That’s part of why she found her way to the Church of Satan.”
LaVey, who painted his Victorian house in San Francisco black and wore outlandish costumes with plastic horns and a cape, was not a true, dictionary-definition Satanist—the Church of Satan, which he founded in 1966, does not believe in the Devil, or in the Christian or Islamic conception of Satan—but rather an inflammatory figure who espoused individualism, pleasure, and self-preservation. He drew aesthetic inspiration from horror films and The Munsters, and he established The Church of Satan, Inc. with a publicist in tow.
“Anton LaVey was like Hugh Hefner,” says Hughes. “He just used the word Satan to get attention, but his whole thing was about empowering people and rebuking Catholicism.” Ebersole adds that LaVey was also “important in what he represented—that ’60s self-enlightenment. Jayne was judged for her sexuality. He was saying, ‘Be yourself.’”
After meeting LaVey during a trip to the 1966 San Francisco Film Festival, Mansfield was intrigued. The unlikely pair were photographed at the downtown L.A. restaurant La Scala and at Mansfield’s pink palace by her heart-shaped pool. Though there are photos of LaVey performing Satanic rituals with Mansfield against a backdrop of tiger-skin rugs, the actress told reporters that she was Catholic and that she did not believe in his church, but that she regarded him as “a genius” and “an interesting person.” (As a duo, they call to mind Pamela Anderson and Julian Assange, another knockout beauty drawn to a man of obscure, forbidden knowledge.)
Anger—who is known for his interest in the occult and who cast LaVey in his 1969 film Invocation to My Demon Brother—doesn’t believe LaVey was a powerful enough magician to put a serious curse on someone and have it actually work. “Curses, smirches,” he declares in the film.
It is likely that the friendship between Mansfield and LaVey was, in large part, a publicity stunt, but the movie touches on what this odd couple had in common and why they could have been captivated by each other. Besides their unquenchable desire for publicity, they both had self-aware, tongue-in-cheek public personas that were connected to taboos about sexuality and self-expression.
Though Mansfield was seemingly at odds with the feminist movement—Ebersole counts his mother as one of the feminists of the time who would have viewed “the image of what Jayne Mansfield represents as anathema to women coming into their full selves”—today she might be embraced as a canny, sex-positive woman. Though, to use a phrase from a psychologist who appears in the documentary, the line she walked “between empowerment and exploitation,” was one that was decidedly unclear.
Hughes and Ebersole speculate that had she lived, Mansfield may have been rediscovered by arthouse auteurs like Fellini or American independent filmmakers, or perhaps by a transgressive artist like Waters. For her part, Mansfield emerges as a sympathetic figure. Near the end of the documentary, there’s an archival news clip in which Mansfield is asked, “How much longer do you think you can be a sex symbol?” Coolly, the actress, who was not yet in her mid-thirties, replies, “Forever, darling.” Regardless of whether her poise was partly a pose, you can’t help but admire her self-possession.
IMAGES COURTESY OF THE FILMMAKERS. MANSFIELD 66/67 IS NOW PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS.
The (So-Called) Decapitation of Jayne Mansfield
In The Times Picayune newspapers of the 1950s and 60s, the buxom blonde actress and model Jayne Mansfield was often mentioned in ads for her latest films appearing at drive-ins, billed as the sexy bombshell in scant clothing. But she made the headline of the Picayune on June 30, 1967, when she and two others were involved in a fatal car accident on the dark roads east of the city.
Near the end of her life, Jayne Mansfield's career was in decline. She was beginning to be seen as trashy because of her nude appearances in Playboy Magazine, even being Playmate of the Month, and being the first American mainstream actress to bare her body in the film Promises! Promises! Pictures from the set of the film were published in Playboy in 1963 and led to obscenity charges being filed against Hugh Hefner. She had divorced her third husband after a short marriage that crumbled due to her infidelity and alcoholism. To keep in the public eye, Jayne had begun a dinner club tour around the nation, telling jokes and singing. Patrons flocked to her shows although she was supposedly not a great live entertainer, and was even arrested for indecent exposure at one such club in Vermont in 1963. Her children were also making headlines her son Zoltan was mauled by a lion in December 1966, but escaped serious injury. And just days before her death, Baton Rouge's newspaper The Advocate reported on June 19, 1967, that her 16-year-old daughter Jayne Marie (who was a Playboy model in the 1970s) was assaulted by an adult male friend of her mother.
The actress was appearing at the Gus Stevens Club in Biloxi, Ms., on June 23 through July 4 in 1967. After the performance on Wed., June 29, her party, which included her lawyer, and possibly lover, Samuel Brody, 20 year-old University of Mississippi student and friend of Gus Stevens Ronnie Harrison, and her young children Mariska (now an actress on Law & Order: SVU), Zoltan, and Mickey Jr. traveled to New Orleans in a Gus Stevens' grey 1966 Buick Electra 225. Ronnie was driving the car and the children slept in the backseat. Jayne was set to appear on WDSU's noon show Midday. The ill-fated group only stopped at a popular state-line diner, White Kitchen.
The area of road they were driving on between the stop near Slidell and New Orleans was known to be dangerous. Old Chef Mentuer Highway, or Highway 90, is a narrow, winding road sandwiched between the Lake Pontchartrain and the Rigolets. One curve in the road is called "Dead Man's Curve" because of the danger it could pose even to careful drivers due to the darkness and fog that rolled in from the lake and swamps. More so, the police estimated that Ronnie got up to 80-mph on the pitch black, misty road.
As the car drove down Highway 90 at approximately 2:15 a.m., a mosquito fogger truck drove slowly to dispense thick diesel mist the driver claimed later that he had turned off the fog before the accident occurred. Nearby, a large tractor-trailer driven by Richard Rambo was traveling at 35-mph when the mosquito-fogger truck was passing him on the left. Jayne's car drove into the diesel fog, and didn't see the truck ahead in enough time to stop and went under the truck's back wheels. All of the children survived with some lacerations and fractures, but Samuel, Ronnie, Jayne and her pet Chihuahua were killed instantly. Rambo stated to police that he stopped the truck, ran to the car underneath it, and took the children and Jayne out for fear that it would catch fire. He said that he could not remove the two male occupants in the driver and middle seat. Rambo laid Jayne's body in the shell-packed dirt on the side of the road her wounds seem as dark as her black boots in the old photos. The Times Picayune printed the story on June 30 with a grainy picture of the wreck including the caption, "Twisted metal is all that is left of the automobile." Jayne was deceased at 34.
Rumors persisted that all of the car's occupants were cleanly decapitated when the car drove under the truck a legend that continues today. A picture even circulated showing headless bodies sitting stoically in a pristine car. However, none of the victims were decapitated in such a way. The death certificate of Vera Jayne Palmer Mansfield Hargitay states that the cause of death was a "Crushed skull with avulsion of cranium and brain." She also incurred a broken arm and multiple lacerations on her hands and legs. An aspiring young radio personality Bob Walker was called to the scene to report on it. He, as many others, insists that the decapitation story began because pictures of the crash showed chunks of blonde hair around the car that were only pieces of her blonde wig. He states: "She lay twisted and broken on the side of the road. What a look of horror on her face. frozen in the terror of her fate." The three adult occupants in the front seat were flung forward and bashed their heads on the truck the pictures of the scene show the roof of the car pushed back like an accordion. The Times Picayune June 30 article states, "Orleans Parish coroner Dr. Nicholas J. Chetta said all three victims died because of crushed skulls. All three also had multiple leg lacerations." Along with the article on the front page of that paper, Jefferson Parish stated that they would discontinue mosquito fogging by truck because it was hazardous.
In the aftermath of the infamous crash, the car itself became a tragic trophy, but not everyone wanted to see it. The car was first towed to my grandfather James Hingle's wrecking yard in New Orleans East. He refused to keep it for very long because he believed cars that people died in were bad luck, and the police had it taken away. The Buick was eventually bought by a fan of the actress and kept it as a grim souvenir for years. It was not locked away in his garage for long before he showed it off as a sideshow prize around the country. The "Death Car" was placed on a big rig with Jayne Mansfield crudely painted on the side and driven from town to town where gawkers could pay a small fee to see the car behind glass with pictures of the crash strewn around. Some said that there were still blood stains on the upholstery. The car ultimately came to rest in the controversial Tragedy exhibion in Florida's U.S. History Museum until 1999 when the museum closed down and the car was sold at auction to a private owner. Supposedly, pieces of the interior complete with blood stains are circulating between collectors. Soon you'll be able to see what touring the Death Car was like in the film Jayne Mansfield's Car about an Alabama family whose estranged mother's body is brought back to them for burial by the British family she left them for. The movie, currently being filmed, is directed and fronted by Billy Bob Thorton, also featuring Robert Duvall, Kevin Bacon, and Shawnee Smith.
The car isn't the only piece of the crash that made it into museums. Presumably, the Chihuahua that died in the crash was willed to Jayne's friend and Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey. He had the dog stuffed and stitched back together and is on display in the Museum of Death in Hollywood, California, along with serial killer John Wayne Gacy's clown art and artifacts from the Heaven's Gate Cult mass-suicide.
Jayne Mansfield is interred in Plainview, Pennsylvania, under a heart-shaped tombstone. Back at the site of the tragedy, fans have erected a cross where they believe the exact spot of the crash occurred, although it's debated because of the location printed on the death certificate. Trucks like the one that the car drove in to now have an under-ride rail that stops cars from going underneath the wheels called the Mansfield Bar. Jayne may have seen her hectic life ending in a sudden death when she said, "Stars were made to suffer, and I am a star."