Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, May 13, 2021


JAYNE MANSFIELD: THE GIRL COULDN'T HELP IT. Eve Golden. University Press of Kentucky; 2021. 

Let's face it. Jayne Mansfield, a triumph of tenacity and publicity, didn't have much of a career. She did only a couple of films for major studios, but the rest of her film "career" consisted of a few Grade B to Grade D stinkers, each one more embarrassing than the one before. Focused almost exclusively on being famous for being famous, she loved her children without necessarily being a great mother, and was said to be kind to everyone, although the wives of the men she had affairs with would probably disagree. Had she lived she would undoubtedly have descended into a morass of alcohol and sleaze or wound up on Dr. Phil in her dotage. 

Biographer Eve Golden makes a case that Mansfield was her own worst enemy. Using her most obvious assets, she became a publicity-hound of the first order, and it was this that eventually turned her into a national joke, a boob not just in name only. Her own frenetic publicity-seeking ensured that no one would ever take her seriously, and the very few performances that some people thought had merit were either ignored or not even seen by her detractors. Although she was often compared with Marilyn Monroe, Monroe managed to give some fine performances in genuinely memorable pictures, and she was too adorable to be really vulgar. This was not the case with Mansfield. Frankly, Mansfield has more in common with Anna Nicole Smith than Monroe. Her marriage to Micky Hargitay was based more on hormones and press clippings than anything else, although it may be true that he, at least, genuinely loved Jayne or at least became attached to her. Can narcissists ever really love anyone but themselves? 

Mansfield died in a horrible accident in which two others were killed (but rarely mentioned), the teen boy who was driving (and who had a child and fiancee), and Mansfield's latest boyfriend, a ground slug who left his crippled wife to be with the blond boob. But her life had pretty much become a disaster even before the accident -- she spent more time opening supermarkets than appearing in movies, her nightclub act was seen as a joke by most sensible people, and her brief days of stardom at 20th Century-Fox, the studio that dropped her, were long since over. For much of this book you have to slog through pages and pages of Mansfield's appearances at store openings and other venues to get to the meat, but in spite of that the book is generally entertaining and readable. While clearly being a fan, Golden maintains some objectivity, tries to explain Mansfield's motives and character, separates facts from fan press fiction, and does her best to present the actress as someone deserving of a certain sympathy if not a reappraisal. If some readers may feel that she doesn't quite succeed at some of these goals, it's not for lack of trying. 

Verdict: Interesting, rather exhaustive (and sometimes exhausting), look at a show business casualty and tireless self-promoter. ***. 


angelman66 said...

Need to read this one! Have read all the other Mansfield bios, and in my opinion the best is one written in the 1970s called Jayne Mansfield and The American Fifties. It’s a very honest portrait of her life and the historical context in which she worked and how her ambition trapped her into that one dimensional persona. She started to believe her own publicity, and what I think she intended as satire descended into desperation and vulgarity as society moved on from the straight laced 50s into a new more open era. But I have a soft spot for her, and she did have talent and solid comic timing. More of a poor man’s Mae West than Marilyn Monroe, in my view.
- Chris

William said...

I know she has her admirers, but I think Mansfield was far, far below the level of both Monroe and West. I thought she was decent in an Alfred Hitchcock Hour in which she was teamed with Rock Hunter co-star Tony Randell. I haven't found her otherwise impressive in anything else.

The book you mention was the basis of the telefilm reviewed below.