Thursday, June 29, 2017

Death of a Sex Symbol

Most people living today probably have no memory of Jayne Mansfield.

In her day, she was a sex symbol — not as accomplished as Marilyn Monroe but certainly more endowed. And, by this time in 1967, Monroe had been dead for nearly five years. Mansfield had the sex symbol spotlight virtually to herself.

It was 50 years ago today — around 2:30 in the morning — that Mansfield died in a car crash in Slidell, Louisiana, less than 20 miles north–northwest of New Orleans, where Mansfield was to appear on TV station WDSU's ground–breaking Midday show.

Mansfield made two appearances at a supper club in Biloxi, Mississippi, the night of June 28, then she and five others — her boyfriend, her three children and their 20–year–old driver — began the trip to New Orleans around midnight.

The car crashed into the rear of a tractor/trailer that had slowed down behind a truck spraying mosquito fogger. The driver of the car couldn't see the tractor/trailer because it was shrouded in the mosquito fogger. The three adults in the front were killed immediately. The three children, who were sleeping in the back, escaped with minor injuries.

Mansfield was before my time, but her death became notorious. I can remember talking about it with my friends on the playground of my elementary school. I don't remember how the subject came up. One of us probably heard our parents talking about it.

Anyway, we knew the most notorious part of the story — that she was decapitated in the collision. That was an urban legend that began with pictures showing Mansfield's blonde wig in the wreckage. I have heard that she was wearing the wig at the time of the crash so there may have been parts of her scalp and strands of her real hair in the wig, but the official cause of death was given as a crushed skull, not decapitation.

Monroe's appearance as Playboy's first centerfold got the magazine off the ground in December 1953, but Mansfield's appearance as the centerfold in February 1955 gave it a real shot in the arm — as did her other appearances in the magazine (more than 30 of them).

Actually, it was a very modest pose by modern standards, but it created quite a stir in 1955.

Mansfield cultivated the role of sex symbol in a way that Monroe never did. Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" had nothing on Mansfield. Her clothes were forever falling off in public or there would be strategic bursts at the seams or she would wear low–cut dresses with no bra.

In fact, it was during a promotion for a movie ("Underwater!") that Mansfield deliberately wore a bikini that was too small. When she dove into the pool, the top came off — and attracted Playboy's attention.

But in death, Mansfield did make a contribution to the betterment of mankind. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommended installing underride guards on all tractor/trailers. The objective of the underride guard is to provide a little protection for passenger cars that collide with a tractor/trailer from behind.

It is known as a "Mansfield bar."