Jayne Mansfield was the classic Hollywood sex symbol during the 1950’s. In her prime, she was pursued by a voracious army of reporters and photographers quietly praying that one of her flimsy outfits might strategically slip off, or perhaps bust apart at the seams. Her bold antics were stimulating, and her iconic figure (40D-21-36) inspired the Rev. Billy Graham himself to proclaim, “This country knows more about her statistics than the Second Commandment!” Throughout the era of the blonde bombshell, she and her studio rival Marilyn Monroe ruled the roost.
In reality, Jayne was a highly intelligent and multi-talented woman who was fluent in five languages, played a mean fiddle, and had no shame when it came to promoting herself. She was married three times and had five children. She allegedly had affairs with both Kennedy brothers, jammed with Jimi Hendrix, and briefly appeared on the Top 10 list of box office attractions during her short film career. Later on, she famously turned down the role of Ginger on TV’s “Gilligan’s Island,” no longer willing to be stereotyped as the dumb blonde actress. But the 1960’s were not kind to her, and when the public grew tired of her antics, they turned their attention to more sedate stars like Audrey Hepburn.
An informal poll of my co-workers last week confirmed her enduring popularity 45 years after she died in a horrific car crash (despite the urban legend, she was definitely NOT decapitated). Currently, viewers can watch her daughter Mariska Hargitay play Det. Olivia Benson on the NBC drama Law and Order: SVU, a role that has earned her critical acclaim. There have been numerous dramas, biographies, and documentaries about Jayne’s life, and she is widely considered to be one of the most iconic Hollywood beauties of all time. So what can I add to all that chatter? I’ll tell you what.
I recently interviewed a man named Danny Echols for a series of stories I am writing on the crash of Southern Airways Flight 242 in New Hope, GA, on April 4, 1977. Mr. Echols is a retired Battalion Chief from the Cobb County Fire Department’s Fourth Battalion, and he was a first responder after the horrific plane crash – 72 people lost their lives in that terrible accident. As we were discussing his account of the events surrounding that tragic event, a vintage 8×10 publicity shot of Jayne Mansfield fell out of the photo album he was showing me. I immediately took note.
Mr. Echols explained he had been a young Fire Department lieutenant during the 1970’s, charged with training the new recruits. He told me he found the photograph in a derelict house during a routine pre-inspection for a rookie fire training drill. He admired it, made a note on the back for future reference, and stored it away for safe-keeping. We had a good laugh: after all these years, Jayne Mansfield can still surprise and delight!
He said the picture was probably taken during a publicity tour in the early 1960’s at the Dobbins Air Force Base in Marietta, GA. Although Jayne was famous for her outrageous chutzpah and inspired antics, this photograph shows her more maternal side. On the right side is a Naval officer placing a pin ever-so-carefully over her world-famous abundance, while a Marine Corps Drill Instructor looks on from behind with unmistakable admiration. Standing to the left is her daughter holding the family chihuahua, carefully mimicking Jayne’s effortless pose. But it isn’t Mariska. It’s her oldest child Jayne Marie, posing with her glamorous mother as they effortlessly work the adoring crowd.