I have had my license for 26 years. I’ve never driven on the highway, not even once. Jayne Mansfield’s fault. There are trucks on the highway, and trucks decapitate you. They told me as a child, better the train than in the car you end up like her, with your head rolling in the fields. Hardly anyone has seen a Jayne Mansfield film in its entirety, everyone knows who she is, what she was like, how she died.
On the night of June 29, 1967 Jayne travels on her Buick Electra along the road that is nicknamed “the big liar”, because it hides curves that are insidious snakes.
She is 34 years old and performed in a Mississippi strip club before rushing to New Orleans, where she is expected the following day as a guest on a local TV station. If her name no longer works in the cinema, she Jayne still strikes in nightclubs where she dances, she undresses and sometimes tells jokes.
On board the Buick: the driver, Jayne with her two chihuahuas Popsicle and Momsicle and her new partner, the lawyer Brody who represents her in yet another divorce case. On the back seats, her 3 children with her second husband, famous for being Mister Universe.
At one point, after a curve, a tractor appears like a ghost, hitherto hidden by the enormous cloud of pesticides it is spreading for disinfestation. A truck brakes suddenly, but the Buick doesn’t make it in time and ends up under the articulated lorry, uncovering itself.
In the impact, the driver, Brody and Jayne with the two dogs are killed instantly. The children are miraculously saved.
The commander of the traffic police speaks of a very blonde and decapitated Marie Antoinette, years later it will be discovered that it was not true, but for decades the world has met in dreams that stratospheric body – of which it knew the measures “101-53-89” by heart – floating in search of his head.
What is true: after the accident, there will be an obligation to install the rear bumper bar, also known as the “Mansfield bar”, on every truck, to prevent the cars from having the same fate.
His death gives Jayne the legend: forever blonde, forever dumb. Yet stupid Jayne is not her. She has an IQ of 148 (when the world average is 100), which allows her to speak 5 languages with extreme ease, play the violin, take a degree in literature and say serenely to Oriana Fallaci during an interview: “to conquer the world a girl must not exhibit brains. In a glamorous girl the brain has always been a disturbing element”.
This is why he prefers to tell journalists whom he welcomes in bikinis to “wash exclusively in rosé champagne, dry in wild mink furs, sleep in black silk sheets”.
On the other hand, Jayne has forged her career on being the living parody of Marilyn Monroe, her even more vaporous and vaporous version, wearing the caricature and turning it into marketing in her favor. If there is a swimming pool at some Hollywood party, surely Jayne will end up in it “by mistake” coming out with the dress glued on the body which makes the total lack of underwear clear to everyone. There’s always a button that pops, a shoulder that slips, a neckline that will make Sophia Loren hiss “everything that was stuffed into her dress was feared to explode and end up scattered on the table”.
But it is interesting to understand the determination that transformed Vera Jayne Palmer, a girl from Pennsylvania, born in 1933, to become the queen of self-destructing clothes.
If you decide to marry for love at 16 and get pregnant at 17, there is objectively little chance of doing anything other than being a housewife and mother in 1950s America. Yet Jayne has many plans for herself, and even more ambition. She waits for her husband to go to war to start her battle. She enters all the beauty contests, she becomes “Miss Photoflash”, “Miss Magnesium Lamp” and “Miss Fire Prevention”, fire walks with this phosphorescent girl who occasionally leaves a husband behind.
It must be said that Mr. Mansfield tries for a while, when he returns from the front he moves to California because she wants to get closer to Hollywood, but then he is jealous, more and more jealous…
Meanwhile, Jayne kicks off her celluloid story by calling the Paramount switchboard and telling the truth: “I want to be a star.” We don’t know what your answer was, but what is certain is that, at her first auditions, she is rejected because she is too provocative and for a certain period she works as a sweet seller in cinemas. Thanks to photo ops like hers in Playboy she gets the first part of her in 1955, simultaneously with the date of her divorce from Mr. Mansfield. She will make about twenty films whose titles we can hardly remember, but we remember her very well, the presence of gossip: her affairs with John Fitzgerald Kennedy and her brother Robert are whispered, just to continue the ambiguity of the game with her doppelganger Marilyn.
Between films he marries and divorces three times, and has five children whom he will love dearly. Oriana Fallaci, after having interviewed her, said that she was “the nicest, most sincere and most misunderstood girl in America”. And Oriana was (always) right.