Style Hero: Jayne Mansfield, Playmate pin-up

‘If you’re going to do something wrong, do it big, because the punishment is the same either way.’ So said Jayne Mansfield, our pin-up girl, whose career attests to the fact that she lived by this same caution-to-the-wind maxim. The bombshell, whose film credits somehow pale into the shadows (The Girl Can’t Help It? The Wayward Bus, anyone?) in comparison to her other considerable assets, was not only symbolic of the 1950s, but also of the extreme expression of the established female idea as defined by her forerunner, Mae West and, definitively, her contemporary Marilyn Monroe. Her hair was blonder, her figure more exaggerated and her persona an inflated caricature. Big, as far as Mansfield was concerned, was better.

And it stands to reason; an early Playboy Playmate, 20th Century Fox reputedly drafted her in initially to ruffle the feathers of Monroe, who was causing trouble with her contract. Mansfield, then, had to play up everything she had if she were to avoid a fate as a callously tossed away bargaining chip in a Marilyn Monroe mind game. Soon, to her credit, she became known as the ‘working man’s Monroe’, after her role in the unambiguously titled Too Hot To Handle. As she said: ‘Most girls don’t know what to do with what they’ve got.’ Mansfield knew precisely what to do, as her affairs with both JFK and Robert Kennedy attest.

In 1967, she died tragically in a dramatic car crash in New Orleans, leaving behind her three children. She lived fast, died young, and always, always went big. In her own words: ‘A 41-inch bust and a lot of perseverance will get you more than a cup of coffee – a lot more.’

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