Jayne Mansfield became a Hollywood superstar in the 1950s, being a provocateur of her time. She tragically passed away in a car accident in 1967 that also involved her three-year-old daughter Mariska Hargitay, in the vehicle at the time.
Luckily, Mariska made it out alive. Today, she’s also a well-known actress. And she’s the spitting image of her mother!
Many actors and actresses have to work for decades upon decades to reach Hollywood superstar status. It takes time, patience and a lot of will and sacrifice to make it to the top, but in the end, most celebrities would probably say it’s worth it.
Jayne Mansfield, however, needed only around 10 years to become a superstar. She became one of the biggest sex symbol of the 1950s and 1960s, starring in several smash-hit movies.
At times, she was known as “the poor man’s Marilyn Monroe”, because of the roles she was offered, but despite the roles – many of which would fit into the “dumb blonde” category – she wasn’t like that at all.
The mother of five children tragically passed away following a car accident in 1967. Today, though, her children are doing their best to keep her legacy alive.
This is the story of Jayne Mansfield’s energetic life – and her daughter Mariska Hargitay, who looks just like her mother.
Jayne Mansfield – childhood
Jayne Mansfield’s life was full of both glamour and tragedy.
Born Vera Jayne Palmer on April 19, 1933, in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, as a child she was exposed to the more creative side of life. Her father Herbert was a musician, and as a young child she took both singing and violin lessons.
Yet at just three years of age, Jayne Mansfield experienced tragedy when her father died of a heart attack while driving with the family. Her mother Vera, who used to be a school teacher, was left alone with her daughter, and returned to work in order to support her family.
“Something went out of my life,” she said. “My earliest memories are the best. I always try to remember the good times when Daddy was alive.”
In 1939, Jayne’s mother married a new man and the family moved to Dallas, Texas. At the same time, Jayne Mansfield dreamt about being a Hollywood star. She adored Judy Garland and went to all of her films, even going as far as to dress as the famous actress.
Moving to Los Angeles
Mansfield hadn’t even graduated from high school before meeting her first big love. In 1950, the future icon tied the knot with 20-year-old Paul Mansfield. Together, they left to study acting at the Southern Methodist University. Just one year after their marriage, Jayne gave birth to her first daughter, Jayne Marie Mansfield.
Following attending a summer class at UCLA, Los Angeles, Mansfield entered a Miss California contest, though she later dropped out. The family decided to study at the University of Texas in Austin, where Jayne performed in several theatre productions.
That in itself proved to be great fun, but her dream remained Hollywood. Of course, to be able to make it in Hollywood, you needed to be there, and so the family decided that it was time. Mansfield and her family relocated to Los Angeles in 1954.
Naturally, as is the case for any aspiring actor or actress, getting into the industry isn’t easy. Jayne started to work as a model and before long her body became the most central part of her life, but also a big problem.
The future pinup-icon had trouble getting work because of casting agents thinking that her curvy, beautiful figure was way too sexy for a commercial or ad. It actually came to a point where she was cut out of her very first ad, was a print ad for General Electric.
Start of Hollywood career
Jayne wanted to be on screen, and soon got her big chance. She went to audition for both Paramount and Warner Brothers studios, though neither of them wanted her.
Yet while she was reading at Paramount, the head of casting, Milton Lewis, did something that would change Jayne’s perception of herself.
”I had been to three different universities and two or three dramatic schools before I went to Hollywood, preparing myself for my hoped career as an actress. I did a soliloquy for Joan of Arc for Milton Lewis who was head of casting at Paramount Studios in order to audition. And he seemed to think I was wasting my ”obvious talents”. He lightened my hair and tightened my dresses, and this is the result.”
Jayne Mansfield wanted to compete with Marilyn Monroe, the biggest and brightest Hollywood star at the time. But at the same time as her career in Hollywood was beginning, her husband Paul had simply had enough. The couple divorced in 1955, and their daughter stayed with Jayne in Los Angeles.
Jayne’s career eventually took off when she landed a role in the low-budget film Female Jungle (1955), which gave her plenty of exposure. The same year she’d been named “Playmate of the Month” and also been on the cover of Playboy Magazine.
“Marilyn Monroe King-Size”
Her new style – the pinup, provocative blonde bombshell – was supposed to cement her status as the new Marilyn Monroe, and in a way, she definitely succeeded. Pink proved to be her color, with Jayne even buying a pink Cadillac to drive.
Studios wanted more of her and soon she was signed. Fox began to market her as the “Marilyn Monroe King-Size,” and her success grew. By that point she wasn’t just an actress; she was a sex symbol of the 1950s.
One journalist even claimed: “She suffered so many on-stage strap and zipper mishaps that nudity was, for her, a professional hazard.”
Jayne gained even more attention following her appearance in Fox’s 1957 comedy blockbuster Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?. That same year, she received a Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer – Female. The following year, she starred alongside Kenneth More in the Western The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw (1958).
Jayne scored several other – for the time being – provocative roles, including The Burglar (1957) and Too Hot to Handle (1960). Sadly, however, she was labelled “The Poor Man’s Marilyn Monroe”.
Jayne Mansfield – censorship battles
At that time, Mansfield had gotten married to second-husband, actor and bodybuilder Mickey Hargitay. They tied the knot in 1958, at a press-filled ceremony in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. Before long, the family was growing. In 1959, they welcomed son Mickey Hargitay, and two more children followed. Son Zoltan Hargitay was born in 1960, and daughter Mariska Magdolna Hargitay was welcomed in 1964.
Following her performance in Too Hot to Handle, Jayne went into her first legal battle regarding film censorship. The release date of the film was delayed because of her appearing nude in what was at the time considered a scandalous dress.
A couple of years later, she got into another battle regarding the same thing. Her film Promises! Promises! (1963) sparked a huge talking point when Mansfield became the first American Hollywood movie star to appear nude on screen. The scene was considered to be way too explicit, leading to censoring and, in some cases, it being banned across the world.
By this point, Mansfield was a huge Hollywood star, with an image that at the time was considered to be “owned by the public.”
Jayne Mansfield – work in Europe
It was something she enjoyed and thought was mandatory.
”Actually, I feel that a star own it to her public, to bring the public into her life,” she said in 1960.
“The fans feel that they kind of own you and if you kept your life a complete secret it wouldn’t be fair to them. But my private life, and when I say private life, is always very private.”
As quick as Jayne had risen to fame, her career also began to fail. She was dropped from 20th Century Fox in 1962, and instead went on to appear in several TV programs and game shows. Instead of just focusing on Hollywood, Mansfield decided to go International in the 1960s, starring in several German, Italian and British films. She began also appearing onstage at nightclubs, touring both in the US and in the UK.
In 1967, a tour was put together by Don Arden, the legendary music manager, as well as father of Sharon Osbourne. One week, she was performing in the town of Batley.
Her Hollywood glamour sure did something to the people there.
“My dad said all these harridans would turn up at Batley with their rollers in and headscarves on,” Neil Sean, entertainment reporter for NBC News, explained.
“But as the week went on, they became more and more glamorous, turning up with their hair done and lipstick.”
Jayne Mansfield – death
By this point, Mansfield and Hargitay had divorced, and she’d married director Matt Cimber. They had her fifth child, Anthony Cimber, in 1965, only to divorce that same year.
The tour of the UK was the last Jayne Mansfield did. While driving from a nightclub appearance in Mississippi, en route to New Orleans, she was killed in a car accident when her vehicle collided with a tractor trailer. Jayne was only 34.
The accident killed Mansfield, her then-boyfriend Sam Brody, and their driver, instantly. She was buried beside her father at the Fairview Cemetery in Pennsylvania.
In the car were three of her children, who were asleep in the backseat, but they made it out unharmed. Daughter Mariska Hargitay, who was only three years of age at the time, moved to be with her father, Mickey Hargitay.
Daughter Mariska Hargitay
So what happened to her? Well, Mariska followed her mother into the acting business. And she sure looks very much like her mother!
“Losing my mother at such an early age is the scar of my soul,” she told Redbook in 2009.
“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.”
Mariska decided to study theater at UCLA in California. In 1984, she made her film debut in Ghoulies. She spent the 1980s performing in several TV series in order to pursue a career on the bigger stage. But, unlike her mother, she didn’t change her name or the color of her hair. People advised her to change her name and appearance, and even copy her mother’s sexy image. At one point, she turned down doing a nude scene in the movie Jocks (1986).
Being the daughter of a Hollywood icon hasn’t been easy. And sometimes, it even has been a burden for Mariska.
“I used to hate constant references to my mom because I wanted to be known for myself,” she told Closer. “Losing my mother at such a young age is the scar of my soul.”
Mariska Hargitay – career
Mariska was acting for 15 years before scoring her big breakthrough role. In 1999, she starred as Olivia Benson in NBC’s police drama Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. The show is still running, with Mariska having appeared in a total of 481 episodes.
The hit primetime show has helped Mariska carve a successful career, winning both a Golden Globe as Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Drama and an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.
In addition, she’s been nominated for eight more awards.
Just as her mother was, Mariska Hargitay is now a successful actress who’s taking show business by storm. And she looks just like her mother with that wonderful smile!
Mariska Hargitay – family
In 2004, Mariska married actor and producer Peter Hermann, with whom she has three children.
Marika was very young when her mother passed away in the tragic car accident, but becoming a mom herself has brought her closer to the guardian she lost so early in life.
“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.”
In 2013, Mariska Hargitay and her mother Jayne Mansfield were reunited – in a way – when their stars were placed side by side on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Jayne Mansfield will forever be remembered for her extraordinary roles.
She might be gone, but will never be forgotten, and we love that her daughter Mariska also chose a career in acting. Don’t they really look alike?!
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