Jayne Mansfield was one of the most popular stars of the '50s and one of the earliest sex symbols in Hollywood. However, she was left stunned after a visit to the zoo left her son with a bite to the neck.
Jayne Mansfield was an American actress who rose to fame in the 1950s and 1960s for her stunning curves and cinematic performances. Mansfield was a raving beauty and one of the earliest sex symbols of her time.
After being cast in films like "Kiss Them for Me," "The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw," and "It Takes a Thief," her career took off. In the 1960s, she had a career slowdown, though she continued to act in minor roles in cinema and theater.
Jane Mansfield in a photo shoot with her son. Zoltan Hargitay | Photo: Getty Images
Mansfield was killed in an automobile accident on June 29, 1967, at 34 years old. Before her death, she was involved in a bizarre accident in a zoo. Here is a look at her life and the unusual zoo accident.
The actress was born Vera Jayne Palmer in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, on April 19, 1933. Her father, Herbert, was an attorney and pianist, while her mom, Vera, had previously worked as a schoolteacher.
Mansfield suffered a childhood tragedy when her father died of a heart attack while driving with the family when she was three years old. Mansfield later stated that the incident marked a turning point in her life.
To finance herself and her daughter, Mansfield's mother went back to teaching, and in 1939 she married Harry Peers, a sales engineer. The family relocated to the city of Dallas, Texas.
Mansfield was raised in a middle-class family and was later an above-average student, thanks to her strict mother, who enjoyed being her tutor.
Mansfield was also a natural-born performer and excelled in anything involving the arts. She took singing, dancing, and violin classes and was fond of standing in her driveway, playing her violin for passers-by.
Jayne Mansfield, Mickey Hargitay, and their children in London in 1959 | Photo: Wikimedia Commons
MARRIAGE AND CAREER
Mansfield was a stunning beauty. A few months after her 16th birthday, she found Paul, who was four years her senior. The duo met at a Christmas party and fell in love right away.
In January 1950, a few months before Mansfield graduated from Highland Park High School, they married secretly. Their daughter, Jayne Marie, was born later that year.
Following her marriage to Paul, Mansfield furthered her education at Southern Methodist University. She then studied drama at the University of Texas in Austin, participating in local productions such as Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman."
Jayne Mansfield for the film "Kiss Them for Me" in 1957 | Source: Wikimedia Commons
Seeing that her acting talents were fit enough for Hollywood, Mansfield had her heart set on relocating to Los Angeles. She aimed to pursue a career in acting, hoping to become a star in the City of Angels.
Her early years in Hollywood did not go as planned and were filled with disappointments. She had failed auditions for Paramount and Warner Bros and was forced to work as a candy seller at a movie hall to help support herself.
Mansfield also pursued a career in modeling alongside her hopes of becoming an actress. She enrolled for several modeling jobs, but she was considered too seductive for 1954 viewers and was often kept out of the spotlight.
Jayne Mansfield at the Dorchester Hotel in London in September 1957 | Source: Getty Images
Despite this, Mansfield made her television debut the next year with a role in the "Lux Video Theatre" series.
Mansfield's marriage to Paul failed as she attempted to get into the movie business. They divorced in 1955, but she opted to keep his last name which she became known as in her career.
Mansfield demonstrated a no-holds-barred approach to self-promotion. She went out of her way to set herself apart from the plethora of slender blonde starlets vying for stardom in Hollywood at the time.
Jayne Mansfield circa 1955 | Photo: Getty Images
The model/actress made pink her signature color, wearing it, driving a pink automobile, and finally purchasing a pink-themed home dubbed the Pink Palace.
Mansfield's private life took a dramatic and widely publicized turn after her 1955 divorce from Paul, which sometimes overshadowed her acting career.
She married Mickey Hargitay, the winner of the Mr. Universe Competition, in 1958 and had three children, one of them was Mariska, a future actress. The marriage turned out to be a disaster like all her relationships.
Jayne Mansfield in 1954 in Los Angeles, California in 1954 | Photo: Getty Images
THE ZOO ACCIDENT
Mansfield and her children paid a visit to Jungleland when her then 6-year-old son, Zoltan, was attacked by a lion in the zoo. Mansfield was taking pictures when the attack occurred.
According to reports, Mansfield saw the huge lion grab her toddler by the neck and roll him on the ground. The actress was said to have screamed in fear of what would have become of her son. The zoo manager and animal expert joined forces to free Zoitan by prying the lion's jaws apart.
The lion was then returned to a cage and placed in a 14-day quarantine by the Ventura County Animal Control Department. Medical professionals immediately took Zoltan to a hospital, where he underwent brain surgery before regaining consciousness.
Six years after the incident, Zoltan was awarded $10,000 after his family sued the zoo. The boy and the now-bankrupt amusement park Jungleland reached an out-of-court settlement, which the Ventura County Superior Court authorized.
In 1967, Mansfield was killed in a terrifying car accident that has remained a dark history in Hollywood. As she made her way to a TV program in New Orleans, the 34-year-old diva drove down a short country path near a swamp in a 1966 Buick Electra.
The road ahead was abruptly blocked by heavy insect repellent, preventing Mansfield's driver from recognizing a slow-moving truck approaching from behind. Mansfield, her boyfriend Sam Brody, and their driver Ronnie Harrison were all killed instantaneously when the vehicles collided.
Mansfield's three children from her second marriage to Mickey Hargitay, Mariska, Zoltan, and Miklos Jr, who were all sleeping in the rear, miraculously survived the crash with only minor injuries.
Several theories believe someone had orchestrated Mansfield's death as reports revealed she had suffered several accidents before the 8th one that claimed her life.
MANSFIELD LOVED BEING A MOM
Actress Mariska still recalls her late mom with fondness more than five decades after her sad death. But, according to the actress, her mother's biggest regret would have been not growing old with her kids.
Mariska Hargitay from the series "Law & Order: SVU" attends a photocall during the 58th Monte Carlo TV Festival on June 17, 2018 | Photo: Getty Images
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