LIFE With Jayne Mansfield: Vintage Pictures of a Pop-Culture Icon

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Jayne Mansfield, born Vera Jayne Palmer on April 19, 1933, was an actress and singer. She was one of those pop-culture figures who helped define the country’s mood in the middle of the 20th century: carefree, innocent, and open. She was also a self-made icon who loved publicity stunts, which only added to her appeal and still does today. After all, it’s hard to hate someone who goes after fame with such glee and enjoys it so much once they have it.



Here, LIFE.com remembers the classic blonde bombshell with pictures taken by Peter Stackpole in the spring of 1956, none of which were published in LIFE magazine. Mansfield was in her early 20s at the time. She wasn’t a full-fledged movie star yet, but she was someone to watch. She had already made a name on Broadway and seemed headed for bigger things on the big screen. In the April 1956 issue of LIFE, it was written:



Even though pretty blonde Jayne Mansfield has never thought about it, she is one of the most interesting social studies in the U.S. this spring. As the star of the Broadway comedy Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, Miss Mansfield has made a big splash in the theater world. Her name and picture seem to be in more Broadway columns and movie magazines than any other actress living. Miss Mansfield is still nice and honest, and she might even be slightly naive in her own clever way. This is unusual because a movie queen usually doesn’t get shown to the public until a studio has spent a lot of money making her look so different that even her mother wouldn’t know her.

Miss Mansfield doesn’t even follow movie queen cliché number one: to act bored with success. No teen has ever been so determined to get an autograph as she is. She will stand in the wind, rain, or snow until her last fan is happy.



She looks and sounds like Marilyn Monroe. Her voice says, “Come here, you brute!” But Miss Mansfield doesn’t seem to like the comparison at all. A more experienced actor might at least act like she loves it. She has said, “Marilyn is very pretty and all, but she and I couldn’t be more different.” I can change my hair color and still play an important role.” In fact, Miss Mansfield wouldn’t need to dye her hair at all. She could let it grow back to its natural brown color, which she says is a big no-no for a movie queen.



But despite her best efforts and the fact that she was a talented actress and (classically trained) musician, Mansfield had a hard time getting steady film parts, and after the mid-1950s, she didn’t make many movies at all. She did make a lot of money and had a lot of success as a bar performer in her late 20s and early 30s. If her life hadn’t been cut short, she might have been able to use that success to get back into movies. In June 1967, Mansfield was killed when her driver crashed into the back of a tractor-trailer on the way home from a bar in Mississippi.

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