Old Hollywood will never not have an allure to most of us — the glitz and glamour of Tinseltown’s dolled up matinee idols in clingy satin sheaths, mink stoles, and perfectly coiffed hair still captures our imagination after all these years.
So it comes as no surprise that filmmakers are likewise inspired by the stars of the past. Out this week comes Mansfield 66/67, from P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes. The documentary — which is unconventional — chooses legendary Jayne Mansfield to shine its light upon. More so, the film focuses its efforts on two very strange years in Mansfield’s life, 1966 and 1967. Ultimately, those were the last two years of Mansfield’s life.
Those who know about Mansfield’s career know that she was essentially hired to compete with the likeness of Marilyn Monroe, Hollywood’s most famous bombshell. Not only did Mansfield dye her hair platinum like Monroe, but she adopted a famous, high-pitched squeal the mimicked Monroe’s voice but went way over the top with it; the doc profiles this. However, that was Mansfield’s whole shtick — to BE over the top, exaggerated, and campy.
Likewise, the Mansfield 66/67 intercuts talking head interviews and archival footage with bright, playful scenes of interpretive dance. Often shot on sets dressed in shades of pink — Mansfield’s favorite color, the color of exaggerated femininity — dancers writhe to the tone of the timeline at hand. They dance in happiness when Mansfield is on the rise within her career, they dance in mystery when Mansfield befriends and cavorts with Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey, and they dance in agony when she’s being threatened by her last boyfriend, the skeevy lawyer Samuel Brody. These interludes may not be for everyone, but the tone of the doc isn’t serious, so the dances are more or less on the same wavelength.
In my opinion, there’s not enough background on the relationship between Brody and Mansfield. The doc does say that he’s an unsavory type — unsavory enough that LaVey warned Mansfield to stay away from him. For more detailed information on Manfield’s life and relationships, check out the fantastic podcast You Must Remember This. Like most Old Hollywood stars, there are rumors and myths surrounding the way they lived — and died. It’s said that Mansfield was beheaded in that fateful car accident in Slidell, Louisiana, but the caretaker that attempted to reconstruct her body in death says it’s not true.
And was Mansfield really a Satanist? It’s hard to take that claim seriously, but she was indeed friends with LaVey, who liked to dress in cheesy devil costumes. Mansfield herself, as we know, played to exaggeration in dress, speaking, and antics. Perhaps their relationship was solely based on provoking more publicity for themselves. Additionally, LaVey also supposedly cursed her boyfriend Brody — and told Mansfield that he would die horribly in a car accident — and to leave him because anyone with him would also come to the same fate.
True, I’m not a scholar on Mansfield’s life, but who can be sure? It’s weird, of course. Also weird is that Mansfield’s children were drawn to LaVey’s pet lion, but Brody did not want Mansfield and her kids to go visit, so instead, they visited a local private zoo where they kept the animals that “acted” in the movies, such as the MGM lion we still see at the beginning of that studio’s films. Sadly, little Zoltan Mansfield was mauled by a lion there and ended up on the brink of death in the hospital. More rumors have it that Mansfield pleaded with LaVey to intervene in some way. He supposedly cast a spell of sorts, and then voila — little Zoltan revived and survived. Fact, fiction, or coincidence? We may never know.
As one of the talking heads in the documentary, it’s interesting to see Tippi Hedren’s opinions on the lions; in fact, she adopted LaVey’s pet lion when it outgrew its San Francisco home. The lion even had a starring role in the oddly fascinating film Roar, which Hedren made with her former husband in the late ‘70s. If you’ve seen Roar or have heard the story, you know that her daughter Melanie Griffith was also mauled by a lion.
On the whole, the quality of the people interviewed for Mansfield 66/67 is rather high. Besides Hedren, we hear from John Waters, who can always be counted on for some levity. We also hear from Mary Woronov, another of the faux Marilyns, Mamie Van Doren, a pop singer named Marilyn (appropriately), A.J. Benza former host of E! Mysteries and Scandals (“Fame. Ain’t it a bitch!”), as well as cult filmmaker and author of Hollywood Babylon. I’m not sure of what the particulars were around making Mansfield 66/67, but I would have liked to have heard from the surviving ex-spouses and children of Mansfield herself.
What was more interesting to me overall about this Hollywood bombshell was the discovery that Mansfield was not the dumb blonde that she portrayed onscreen, but in fact, quite smart. This element of the documentary’s subject was glossed over; she had a high IQ, reportedly, and knew five different languages. Why did she have to suppress her intelligence — or was it that she used her understanding of the culture she lived in to simply cash in on her looks? It seems that this was the case; however, she leaped from one man to another and made some pretty bad decisions.
Mansfield 66/67 opens theatrically this Friday, October 27th from FilmBuff, with a special preview in Los Angeles (it screens with a few Mansfield classics, including Girl Can’t Help It and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?). Intrigued? Check out the trailer here — and find where you can watch the film at the doc’s official website here.