'Mansfield 66/67' explores the 'satanic curse' behind actress Jayne Mansfield's death in a freak car accident
Jayne Mansfield's death in a car accident in 1967 did not happen under suspicious circumstances. However, that did not stop the satan's curse theory from coming out.
Marilyn Monroe was the original 'blonde bombshell.' Emblematic of the era's attitudes towards sexuality, Monroe remains one of Hollywood's most popular sex symbols even six decades after her death. However, there was another actress who was just as vivacious, feisty, and talented and came to be known as 'the working man's Marilyn Monroe': Jayne Mansfield.
While Mansfield attracted a lot of controversies onscreen, as well as off it, her untimely death in 1967 at the tender age of 34 had the industry reeling. Despite the fact that her acting career was on a downward spiral at the time and some ill-advised decisions had attracted swathes of negative publicity, her passing in that freak car accident was still tragic; a life taken too soon.
Mansfield died on the spot after suffering significant head trauma, and it was accepted that the accident was the cause of her passing. Except, that is, amongst a small but significant portion of the public who were of the belief that her death was the result of a satanic curse placed upon her and her married lawyer boyfriend Samuel S. Brody by Anton LaVey. Lavey, a former boyfriend/love interest of Mansfield and famously the founder of the Church of Satan and LaVeyan Satanism, had gotten into a heated spat with Brody which culminated in him cursing the lawyer to die in an accident.
Because the actress' life and numerous publicity stunts had visibly blurred the line between reality and fiction, that theory never got off the rumor mills and is still cited by some today. Intrigued, P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes - who are known for their previous documentaries 'Hit So Hard,' Room 237,' and 'Dear Mom, Love Cher' - explored the theory in 'Mansfield 66/67,' which released on the 50th anniversary year of Mansfield's death in 2017.
While the documentary does provide a brief overview of the actress' career and her constant courting of controversy, it primarily focuses on her relationship with the charismatic LaVey. LaVey, described as 'the most iconic figure in Satanic milieu,' had managed to sweep her off her feet with his mantra of 'if you're going to be a sinner, be the best sinner on the block,' to which she felt like she related like no other.
'Mansfield 66/67,' makes it abundantly clear what to expect from it given how it ominously highlights the '666' portion of the title in the trailer and features commentaries from Kenneth Anger, John Waters, Mamie Van Doren, and a host of other experts across many disciplines as they explore whether the outlandish theory has any credence whatsoever.
It's a theory that arguably does not deserve to see the light of day but nonetheless piques interest because of the divisive figure that Mansfield proved to be in her lifetime. The actress was often in the news for all the wrong reasons, but only because she willed it.
Behind the wardrobe malfunctions, behind the 'n' number of affairs, and behind the publicity stunts was a fierce, smart and talented woman who failed to fulfill her initial promise and whose life was improbably cut short because of allegiance to a man who many now consider to be a charlatan of the highest order. 'Mansfield 66/67' attempts to answer the controversy surrounding the actress' death and delves into the deterioration of one of America's most promising stars.
Mansfield had been launched to fame along with Sheree North by 20th Century Fox as the successor to the reigning sex symbol of the period, Marilyn Monroe. Having gotten her start as one of the early Playboy playmates, she reached hysteric levels of superstardom with films such as 'The Girl Can't Help It,' 'The Wayward Bus,'and 'Too Hot to Handle.'
She also acquired a reputation for always wanting to be the center of attention, even if the said event was not necessarily about her, resulting in an incident that has now become a part of Hollywood folklore. The incident in question took place in April 1957, when she attempted deflect media attention away from Sophia Loren during a dinner party in the Italian star's honor. A photograph published and seen around the world showed Loren's gaze longingly falling on Mansfield's cleavage as it spilled over the low neckline of her dress.
Her striking hourglass figure - which she claimed was of the dimension 40-21-35 - was the envy of women around the around the country and had tabloids drooling. Her impact on pop culture today is undeniable, with her unique sashaying walk, breathy baby talk, and cleavage-revealing costumes which are some of the defining aspects of the era. As Hollywood historian Andrew Nelson put it, 'she was Hollywood's gaudiest, boldest, D-cupped, b-grade actress.'
The stories that populated the papers in those days were a product of the image that she had cultivated for herself in her endless quest for fame. Mansfield was sharper than she let on, earning her the nickname of 'smartest dumb blonde.' Peers and friends say she had a wicked sense of humor, impeccable comic timing, and was more of an intellectual than she let on.
She reportedly boasted an IQ of 163 and spoke five languages: English, French, Spanish, German, and Italian. She was also an outspoken anti-war advocate, heavily criticizing multiple administrations for their involvement in the Vietnam War. But the mold had long been cast. She could never quite manage to shake off her sex symbol persona.
Tabloids routinely published her body measurements, leading Mansfield to exasperatedly claim that the country cared more about her figure than her wits. The infamy of her publicity stunts had even reached the ears of popular evangelist Billy Graham, who exclaimed that the 'country knows more about Jayne Mansfield's statistics than the second amendment.' Her star shone bright, but it shone briefly.
It was a case of too much, too fast. At the time of the release of groundbreaking sexploitation film 'Promises!' in 1963 - where she became the first major American actress to have a nude starring role in a Hollywood motion picture - her career had already been on a steep decline. To cash in on her waning bankability, she turned to nightclubs, where she would perform and sing to supplement her declining income from movies.
This difficult period in her acting career was exacerbated by mounting problems in her personal life. She had developed a reputation for infidelity - not helped by the fact that she had been married and divorced three times and was allegedly intimately involved with numerous men, including Robert and John F. Kennedy, and Los Vegas entertainer Nelson Sardelli - and was in a bitter divorce and custody battle with her husband.
By the time that marriage, her third, with Italian-born film director Matt Climber, had disintegrated following rumors of infidelity in 1966, Mansfield was in a dark place. The actress had taken to abusing alcohol, was regularly in the news for getting involved in drunken brawls, and performing at cheap burlesque shows.
It was at this point that she ran into Anton Szandor LaVey, who many claimed was 'a born showman,' and who anthropologist Jean La Fontaine described as a 'colorful figure of personal magnetism.' She had only recently converted to Catholicism but still decided to pay a visit to LaVey's Church of Satan when she was in San Francisco for the 1966 Film Festival.
The rest, as they say, is history. Mansfield was in town with her then-boyfriend and personal lawyer Sam Brody, but that still did not stop her from becoming smitten with LaVey as fast as after their first meeting. LaVey's charm swept her off her feet, with the Satanist awarding her with a medallion and title of 'High Priestess of San Francisco's Church of Satan. The media covered the meeting and events surrounding it with vigor, soon identifying Mansfield herself as a Satanist, and rumors of her being romantically linked with LaVey inevitably began cropping up soon after.
LaVey had a propensity for the theatrical. He ritualistically shaved his head 'in the tradition of ancient executioners,' and would never appear in public out-of-costume, more often than not showing up in a demonic Halloween costume punctuated by two horns.
Monikered 'The Black Pope,' he also painted his San Francisco home jet black, groomed a pet lion, boasted of a crowd of topless women at his residence, and kept all the Satanic paraphernalia he would find on his person. As Vanity Fair put it, he was like a Hugh Hefner for proto-goth kids.
Despite what seemed like an obvious clash of personalities, the pair got along exceedingly well, and they were not afraid to flaunt it to the media. The general feeling at the time was that she was taking refuge from her mounting problems in her relationship with LaVey. He had gotten her in his spell, literally and figuratively.
She took solace in LaVey's 'spells,' which he proclaimed would bring her happiness and prosperity, but if some are to be believed, brought about her eventual death. Forgotten in the background was Brody, who felt scorned by Mansfield. He had undergone a bitter divorce with his wife after she had found out his '41st other woman,' Mansfield, and her subsequent fling with LaVey meant he was left hanging.
In a jealous rage, Brody is said to have desecrated sacred Satanic talismans in LaVey's lair, prompting the Satanist to curse Brody with death in a car accident within a year. Following the curse, Brody and Mansfield survived no less than seven fender benders and near-fatal smash-ups before an eighth one finally saw their luck run out.
In 1967, Mansfield was in Biloxi, Mississippi, for an engagement, and after two appearances at an event was on her way to New Orleans with Brody, their driver Ron Harrison, and three of her children - Miklós, Zoltán, and Mariska in a 1966 Buick Electra 225. At approximately 2:25 am, the Buick crashed at high speed into the rear of a tractor-trailer.
The tractor-trailer had slowed behind a truck spraying mosquito fogger shrouded in the insecticide's fog, and the crash immediately killed the three adults in the front seat. Appearances of police photographs which showed the crashed car fueled rumors that Mansfield had been decapitated. While this was untrue, a significant portion of her scalp and head had indeed been sheared off.
The gruesome nature of the death fed the conspiracy theories that the actress had fallen prey to LaVey's curses, and one of the most significant trend-setters of the era departed in one of the most unfashionable manner possible.
Genuine purveyors of the 'curse theory' are few and far between, lest it give the appearance of slagging off the actress' name and legacy, but Mansfield 66/67's unique take on the incident has been done with due diligence and at least pays a deserving homage to her sparkling career.