“Who we looking for this time?” my father asked as we entered the grounds of Fairview Cemetery, located just south of Pen Argyl.
“I’m not sure,” Mom answered before I had a chance to reply. “But my guess it has to do with that large, heart-shaped stone.” She was correct on her guess. The stone itself seemed out of place among the other stones due to its size and shape.
I parked on the cemetery roadway and walked over to the stone marking the resting place of one of Hollywood’s original blonde bombshells. Known for flaunting her sexuality, her wardrobe malfunctions, and her infamous Playboy spread, which resulted in Hugh Hefner being arrested for publishing Jayne’s nude pictures, Jayne Mansfield’s resting place is far away from the glitter of the Hollywood scene.
Often referred to as “the poor man’s Marilyn Monroe,” Jayne was born Vera Jayne Palmer in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania on April 19, 1933, the only child of Vera and Hebert Palmer. Her father was a successful lawyer and moved the family to Phillipsburg, New Jersey, where he practiced law. When Jayne was three years old her father passed away from a heart attack and the family moved to Pen Argyl. Her mother would eventually remarry and the family moved to Dallas, Texas.
In 1949, when Jayne was just sixteen years old, she met Paul Mansfield and they were married early the following year. By the end of the year, her first daughter was born. Though the marriage would not last, and despite being married two more times, Jayne maintained Mansfield as her last name throughout her career.
In 1954, Jayne made a brief television appearance followed the next year as a cigar girl in Pete Kelly’s Blues. The following February she become one of the first centerfolds in Playboy, which would be the first of a couple appearances in the magazine.
In 1956, she married Mickey Hargitay. Mickey was a bodybuilder and had won the 1955 Mr. Universe competition. Their marriage would produce three more children. Note: Their youngest daughter, Mariska Hargitay, continues the acting path her mother started and is known for her role Detective Olivia Benson on Law and Order: SVU.
Jayne’s biggest role occurred in 1957 when she portrayed Rita Marlowe in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? But her fame as an actress was short lived as Hollywood’s demand for the blonde bombshells faded.
Jayne would marry a third time – this time to Matt Climber, with whom she had one son. Under his guidance her career bombed. In 1963, she became the first American actress to appear nude in a mainstream film titled Promises…Promises!. It was also under Climber’s guidance that Jayne descended into alcohol abuse. Jayne had filed for a divorce and in the process moved in with Sam Brody. She was still waiting for the divorce to be finalized when she took off on a cross-country journey with Sam and her children, performing in nightclubs, usually doing two shows a night almost every night.
On June 29, 1967, tragedy would strike. Jayne had made an appearance in Biloxi, Mississippi on June 28 and was headed to New Orleans where she was scheduled to be on a radio show at noon the next day. Packed into the car with her were Sam Brody, Ronnie Harrison who was driving, and three of her five children, including her daughter Mariska. While traveling on U.S. Highway 90, their car entered a fog created by an insecticide truck spraying for mosquitoes. Behind the sprayer was a tractor trailer that had slowed to a near stop because of the conditions. Their car, traveling at a speed of approximately eighty miles an hour, entered the fog and slammed into the rear of the tractor trailer. The three adults in the front seat were killed instantly; the three children survived.
Almost immediately rumors that she had been decapitated started circulating throughout the news. Though the urban legend has been proven untrue, it still circulates today. The instant her name gets brought up in conversation, it is usually followed by, “She died when she was decapitated in that wreck.” It is followed by the strange urban legend that claims in the days before she was killed a picture of her was ripped, separating her head from her body so she was destined to die the same way. The story seems to have started with a picture of her wig lying on the ground at the scene of the accident and it took on a life of its own. The story persists, but her cause of death was severe head trauma, not decapitation.
Probably the most bizarre version of her death is that her body was buried in Pen Argyl and that her head was buried in Hollywood Forever Cemetery. This is a false rumor, but it amazes me the number of times I’ve read this. I believe this comes from the fact that there is a cenotaph in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery for Jayne, which interestingly has her birth date wrong on it.
The aftermath of the deadly accident would change the design of trailers. It became mandatory for all trailers to be fitted with under-ride bars – also called a DOT bars or Mansfield bars – the steel bar which hangs from back of the trailer and is designed to stop a car from going under the trailer.
Mickey drove to New Orleans and brought Jayne’s body back to Pen Argyl. Jayne was buried in the same cemetery as her father had been buried years before, and her mother would join them later.
I finished paying my respects and walked slowly back to the vehicle, remembering the Hollywood star buried in the Poconos, far away from the glitz and glamour of Tinseltown.