“MANSFIELD 66/67”— Remember Jayne Mansfield?


Remember Jayne Mansfield?

Amos Lassen

If you are one of the people who believes that camp id dead, you have to see “Mansfield 66/67” by filmmakers Todd Hughes and P. David Ebersole. It is loosely based on the life of once Hollywood pin-up and blonde bombshell Jayne Mansfield. Right from the beginning we are told that the documentary is based on press cuttings and rumors and vague reminiscences of the film star’s coaster life, most of which are quite scandalous. The film mixes archival footage with talking heads of people who knew/worked with her such as Mamie Van Doren and Kenneth Anger. The directors also spoke with a very odd assortment of ‘B’ & ‘C’ list celebrities such as the punk singer Marilyn and drag queen Peaches Christ who are too young to have known her, but seemed to be obsessed with her legend. Strangely enough the only real voice of reason about the Mansfield phenomenon was filmmaker John Waters who has dismissed some of the more outrageous rumors about Jayne Mansfield for being blatantly untrue.

Jayne Mansfield had a short movie career in the mid 1950’s was very successful and included several major box office hits, one of which won her a Golden Globe Award. 20th Century Fox was grooming her to be another Marilyn Monroe but because she kept having babies, she was unavailable and so they stopped offering her any more major roles.  In 1963 when her move career was almost over, she was in the sexploitation film ”Promises! Promises!” and she became the first major American actress to have a nude starring role in a Hollywood motion picture.

This documentary, however, mainly focuses on Mansfield’s life after the studios had dropped her, and when she become even more of a real publicity hound. there is even a clip of her saying that the public have a right to know all about her private life. She was encouraged by her husbands and boyfriends to do some very questionable stunts like having ‘wardrobe malfunctions’ that would expose her enormous breasts when there were paparazzi cameras around to record it.

One of her major fixations was with the First Church of Satan and its founder, Anton LeVay First Church of Satan who sold himself as the leader of powerful demonic cult. Waters dismisses this ‘relationship’ as a joke and something that only two publicity whores would concoct.  However, we do know that LeVay had a major falling out with Mansfield’s lawyer/boyfriend Sam Brody and very publicly put a curse on him saying that he would meet his end in an automobile accident. It has never been proven that the curse was anymore than hearsay but the fact that he and Mansfield were killed in a particular nasty car crash in 1967 has been the subject of many tabloid stories, most of which claim that she had been decapitated which is definitely not true.

I understand that The documentary never set out to tell the full story of Mansfield’s life and it does look at a few of the more outrageous facts attributed to her life as an old-fashioned sex symbol, and we get hints that there was a great deal of untapped substance to Mansfield who was so much more than just another  dumb blonde.

The film focuses on the last two years of the starlet’s life, in the rumors that swirled and the legends that the papers saw fit to print. It is at its best when it look at the peculiarities of Mansfield’s singular persona and has fun with whatever explanations are dreamt up. When it indulges in notions of Satanism, curses, and other such nonsense, however, it becomes hard to take seriously. But that might just be the point of the film. It is irreverent and shows various events of the actress’s life through interpretive dance. We are dared to take it seriously and when we do, the movie changes direction.

Its fun to listen to John Waters talk about the ridiculousness of Mansfield’s persona. There is a series of her iconic and squeals and they capture the magic that made her so attractive and popular.When it focuses on the cultural milieu that gave us Jayne Mansfield then helped destroy her, it is fascinating.

In 1957 Mansfield was one of the top box office draws in the nation. In 1963, she became the first big name movie star to do a nude scene in and we understand why she was chosen to do so. By 1966, in part because of some poor business decisions made by Sam Brody her career was at its end. Brody’s influence over Mansfield was toxic.

Just how close Mansfield was deeply involved in the Church of Satan is still debated. She and LeVay did pose for PR photos together.Ebersole & Hughes try to exploit the Mansfield camp factor with frequent song-and-dance numbers to represent various episodes under discussion but, unfortunately they work only as camp.

The animated segments are irreverent. around-the-house movie Roar. Not surprisingly, none of the Hargitay family chose to participate. Jayne was married to Mickey Hargitay and mother of the fine actress, Mariska. We do however have cult film icons Mary Woronov and John Waters Mamie Van Doren having their say.

Jayne Mansfield was one of Hollywood’s legends. She died at the age of 34 in a tragic car accident in which she may or may not have been decapitated (even though I said earlier that this did not happen). Her accident might be the greatest drama she left behind. This documentary pays more attention to her death than anything she achieved in life. The film is fun as it veers as conjecture in regarding Mansfield’s messy personal life. We see the mutation of her celebrity status as she veered into the occult. We wonder if a star of her caliber turned to Satan either in desperation to save her career or for publicity. The Satanic aspect is mostly intriguing because of the belief that LeVay put a hex on Mansfield’s troubled boyfriend Sam Brody saying he’d die in a car accident.

“Mansfield 66/67” begins with a title card that tells us that much of its information draws upon rumors and press clippings. The film shows this speculation by injecting musical interludes into the show. Featuring drag numbers and eccentric songs about Mansfield, the film plays up her myth and it is fun as it captures Mansfield’s appeal even though Mansfield, herself, remains elusive. I remember her films and her persona and she was an enchantress even though she was no actress. Being from New Orleans, I remember her death. It was big news because she was on her way from Biloxi, Mississippi in order to do a television interview in The Big Easy.

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