The average moviegoer would be hard-pressed to name one of Jayne Mansfield’s films, but could probably detail the gruesome story of her tragic death. In 1967, Mansfield was killed in a car crash on the way to New Orleans. She was only 34. Reports that the actress was decapitated were bogus, but remain talked about to this day. Photographs of the gory scene showed a mop of blonde hair on the road, which was confused for Mansfield’s head. It was one of her wigs, which the actress started wearing in the early ’60s to conceal her thinning hair from overdyeing. “Her head was attached as much as mine is,” undertaker Jim Roberts later said. These myths about the blonde bombshell are the center of P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes new documentary Mansfield 66/67, about the last two years of the star’s life.
Ebersole and Hughes were the executive producers behind the Stanley Kubrick/The Shining documentary Room 237, which is awash in bizarre conspiracy theories about the horror film. Mansfield 66/67 follows suit but is accompanied by over-the-top interpretive dance performances, animated reenactments, and Greek chorus-style interludes that quickly wear out their welcome. In keeping with the “camp” factor, interviewees include “Pope of Trash” John Waters, cult film actress Mary Woronov, fellow flaxen-haired starlet Mamie Van Doren, drag performer Peaches Christ, and filmmaker Kenneth Anger, who featured the bosomy Mansfield on the cover of his exploitive tell-all Hollywood Babylon.
Mansfield essentially got her start in Hollywood as a Marilyn Monroe copycat. But the actress — who was said to have an IQ of 163 and spoke five languages — was in on the joke and played the bimbo role with a satirical edge. Mansfield 66/67 introduces us to an older, tired, somewhat insecure Mansfield, still enjoying a fairly visible career, but frequently the target of ridicule. The Girl Can’t Help It star managed her own publicity, which grew increasingly desperate. She was on her third marriage, caring for five children, and fought hard to conceal the plumper parts of her famous figure. Life in the Pink Palace, Mansfield’s blush-colored mansion, wasn’t always a font of bubbly (a fountain on the property built by Mickey Hargitay, husband number two, flowed with pink champagne).
A large focus of the doc is Mansfield’s encounters with the late Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey, between 1966 and ’67; the unlikely “relationship” was mutually beneficial for PR purposes. Meetings with LaVey were documented by paparazzi photographers and speculation about the nature of their friendship made headlines, as did Jayne’s gossiped-about affiliation with the Church of Satan as its High Priestess. LaVey family interviews verifying Mansfield’s link to the Church of Satan are limited to a postage stamp-sized clip from the Joan Rivers Show in the ‘90s featuring LaVey’s daughter, Karla LaVey.
Mansfield lovers looking for a deep dive into the truth behind her life and career won’t find much new information in Mansfield 66/67. Instead, the film leaves her mystique intact and relishes the juicy tabloid nature of the star’s free-spirited antics, billing itself as “a true story based on rumor and hearsay.” Mansfield 66/67 cuts a few corners (the kitsch low-fi aesthetic feels messy at times), but the film has an impish enthusiasm going for it. Ebersole and Hughes are content to toy with the myth of Mansfield. As even the star’s mortician knew, “People always figured wrong about Jayne. About the way she lived and the way she died.”