Posted on: June 6, 2015

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I know one can argue that Hollywood has always been a strange place, but mid-20th century Hollywood seems to have been particularly odd.  There was something eerie about the time when the glamorous 1950s turned into the seedier Swinging Sixties, dragging many stars down weird paths to their destruction.  In her book Scandals of Classic Hollywood Anne Helen Petersen described the 1960s as coming to resemble “a graveyard of tragically beautiful female stars”.

Jayne Mansfield was the epitome of the sexy blonde.  She famously had the same vital statistics as Marie Antoinette (40-21-35), and had dyed her hair platinum blonde to catch the 1950s craze for all things Marilyn-ish.  For a few years she was thought of as a serious contender for Marilyn Monroe’s crown as the ultimate blonde bombshell love goddess.  But she lacked Marilyn’s vulnerable little girl persona, which endeared her to men and women alike.  By contrast, Jayne was sassy and knew what she wanted.  Sometimes dubbed “the smartest dumb blonde in Hollywood”, I would put her more on a par with our own Diana Dors.  Funny, popular and sexy, but without the enduring mythology that Marilyn generated, and which keeps us so fascinated by her over 50 years on from her untimely death.

Jayne was a gifted violinist and pianist, could speak several languages, and reputedly had an IQ of 163.  From the mid-50s onwards she had a stream of successes with films like The Girl Can’t Help It, The Wayward Bus, and The Sheriff Of Fractured Jaw.  By 1960 she was written about in the worldwide press more than anyone else.  It must have helped that Jayne was a tireless self-promoter.  She would be right at home nowadays, with the media obsession for all things celebrity.

In 1958, partly using $81,000 dollars inherited from her grandmother, Jayne brought a 7-bedroom house in Beverley Hills, with her fiance, a Mr Universe contestant called Mickey Hargitay, who built her a heart-shaped swimming-pool and heart-shaped fireplace.  Jayne turned the mansion into a veritable shrine to the colour pink.  There were pink cupids surrounded by pink fluorescent lightbulbs, a pink heart-shaped bath-tub surrounded by pink furs, a massive crystal chandelier, and even a fountain spurting pink champagne.  Eat your heart out Katie Price!!  Jayne welcomed the press into her home, and constantly had herself photographed in her Pink Palace.

The good times weren’t set to last for Jayne though.  The era of the bosomy blonde bombshell was on it’s way out, sealed by the tragic death of Marilyn in 1962.  The Swinging Sixties brought with it a demand for a more androgynous type of female beauty, a precursor to the super-waif of more modern times.  Elfin, tomboyish models like Twiggy were becoming the norm.  The sack dress and dreamy look was replacing the jacked-up bosom and bold brassiness of Jayne’s era.

Jayne tried to move with the times, but – as is often the case with the uncaring bitch that can be showbusiness – everything was moving on too fast.  By the mid-1960s Jayne was getting desperate to keep her show on the road.  She was said to have gatecrashed the 1966 San Francisco Film Festival, only to be publicly humiliated by festival founder, David M Sacks, who said “Madame, I do not know how much a pound you are charging, but whatever it is I will pay it if you will leave”.

It was around this time that Jayne met Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan.  LaVey had started out as a church organist, but had been so disgusted by the hypocrisy and lies of the preachers he saw, that he had set up the Church of Satan as a riposte to them.  He started it, appropriately enough, on 30 April (Walpurgis Night) 1966.  LaVey’s Church struck a cord with the rebellious spirit of the Sixties, the era of “God Is Dead”, and this included Jayne.  She had always been fascinated by astrology and the Occult, and after she met LaVey she ordered a custom built pink and black Baphomet medallion, which she wore on her ill-fated trip to the San Francisco Film Festival.

Jayne had been taken to a party at LaVey’s house on California Street.  She recalled: “Mr LaVey took me into another room to show me the Black Magic charms … and he presented me with one.  He said I was now the high priestess of his church”.  Jayne was so taken with all this, that she had her High Priestess certificate framed, and hung in her bedroom at the Pink Palace.  She even invited LaVey to the Pink Palace for a photo shoot in June 1967.  LaVey was to claim later in life that Jayne had indeed been a practising Satanist.

If Jayne was smitten by Mr LaVey and his Church though, her current lover, Sam Brody, was rather less enamoured.  He was said to have mocked LaVey, at which LV shouted at him: “You are cursed by the Devil.  You will be killed within a year”.  It would come horribly true.

A hideous urban legend has grown up around Jayne’s death, mostly fuelled by Kenneth Anger’s book Hollywood Babylon, which has Jayne decapitated in the car accident.  It is thought that the decapitation story arose because a blonde wig had been placed on the dashboard of her car, and witnesses mistook it for her head.  Even without the decapitation story, Jayne’s death was horrific.  She was driving along a dark stretch of road, in the middle of the night near New Orleans, on 29 June 1967, with Brody and three of her children, when the car drove into the back of a farm truck. Jayne’s cause of death was listed as “crushed skull with avulsion of cranium and brain”. The adults, seated in the front, were killed.  Jayne’s children, seated in the back, survived with minor injuries.

Jayne’s non-Satanic funeral was conducted by a Methodist minister.  After her death the Pink Palace was to change hands many times, and rumours arose that Jayne was still in residence.  Ringo Starr said that however many times he tried to have the walls repainted, Jayne’s signature pink colour would always come through.  Engelbert Humperdinck claimed that he had detected her perfume, when he lived there in 1977.  Several years ago I saw a tribute to Jayne, in which someone claimed to have heard her playing the violin downstairs.

Sadly, the Pink Palace is no longer there.  It was pulled down and built over in 2002.  I can’t help feeling it should have had a preservation order on it!



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