Will Success Spoil My Jayne Mansfield?
I didn’t know what to think when I picked up our local Dallas newspaper not long ago and read that my daughter, Jayne Mansfield, had gone to formal Hollywood dinner party wearing a bikini bathing suit!
It was early evening and I’d just finished the supper dishes. Harry, my husband, was settled down to his favorite living-room chair and had the ball game on TV. I entered the living room to join him, ready for a nice, quiet evening of reading. As I leafed through the paper, my eye caught the story about Jayne.
“Harry!” I gasped. “Look what it says about Jayne!”
Harry looked up from the ball game and I read him—the whole thing—the item about Jayne.
“Ridiculous!” he laughed when I’d finished. “Probably some publicity stunt.” And he resumed his attention to the Texas League.
“Maybe so, but I’m calling her up to make sure,” Feit. “Don’t be silly. Jayne’s a big girl now, Vera. She knows what she’s doing. Besides, it probably was a costume party or something.”
So I dropped the subject. Bat the item bothered me all evening. I couldn’t help picturing my Jayne seated among Hollywood executives in one of those exposing bikini bathing suits. Had she made a complete fool of herself? I wondered. Or was it, as Harry suggested, just a contrived item for a news story?
Half an hour later, I was still worried. “I’m putting through the call,” I said decisively to Harry. Harry’s reaction was an exasperated sigh, but I could read beneath it and tell by his expression that he was glad I was phoning Jaynie.
Moments later, I heard my daughter’s soft, familiar voice.
“Jaynie, honey,” I said, “you didn’t really wear that bikini as it says, did you? After the way you’ve been brought up? . . .”
I could hear Jayne draw in her breath. “Mama,” she said, “it’s not true. I wasn’t even at that party. Sure, I wear a bikini. But not at a formal dinner party. Why should I? I look perfectly all right in an evening gown.”
As I hung up, I was reassured, but still a little shaky. Millions of people, reading that same story I had read, would accept it as gospel truth, and that’s what made me feel bad.
Ever since Jayne became the most publicized young actress in Hollywood, there have been a great many things printed about her. Some true, some not. The untrue things always manage to hurt me.
I’ve heard Jayne referred to as the sexiest girl in Hollywood today, but I still look upon her as my little girl. I am very proud of her success, but I worry about her, too. I pray every day that she can always remember to keep her balance in the face of all the fantastic things that are happening in her life.
And I worry about her health, too, as any mother would, because of the fast pace of her zooming career.
I worry mostly, I think, about the possibility that she may be hurt some day as a result of the wrong impression some of her publicity has given her, and because of the criticism over those skintight gowns.
About those gowns, I still can’t get used to them. I was shocked the first time I saw my girl in one of those low cut things. You see, Jayne never did wear clothes even remotely like those before she became an actress. When she was a school girl in Dallas, it was skirts and sweaters for her—and I mean the loose-fitting, becoming, collegiate kind of sweaters.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw Jayne in a clinging, low-cut gown. My husband, Harry Peers, who is Jayne’s stepfather, and I had gone to New York to see her on the opening night of “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” and we planned to stay with her for a month.
After the play, we went backstage to join Jayne. We were all going to a party that was being given in her honor. When I saw what Jayne was wearing, my mouth flew open. It was a gold satin gown that clung to her like glue, and was cut so low I couldn’t help but blurt out: “Jayne, I don’t like that one bit!”
Jayne laughed softly and said, “Mama, please don’t be alarmed. This is expected of me from now on. You must try to understand, Mama, that this is what I have to do. I’m an actress now. I have to dress in a way that the public expects a glamorous person to dress.”
After that, Jayne was photographed constantly in public wearing those skin-tight, eye-catching outfits.
Although it has practically become her trade mark, Jayne herself doesn’t go for the low cut gown routine one hundred percent. I know, because I remember the many times she’d return to our hotel suite in New York after the show was over and she had made a glamorous appearance for the public. The first thing she’d do was to get out of her slinky gown and high-heeled slippers and slip into blue jeans and an old, bulky T-shirt. Sometimes she’d even wear an oversize hunting shirt of Harry’s. She’d scrub her face until it shone, brush her hair back simply and then smile like a child and remark, “Now I feel like myself.” She’d walk down to the delicatessen at the corner and buy cold turkey slices, and bring them upstairs where we’d make sandwiches and coffee. She seemed most happy and relaxed at those moments. It’s still that way.
But most people know only the other side of my daughter. I am constantly hurt at certain comments I have heard about Jayne. I’ve heard her described as a “sexy, dumb blonde,” when actually, Jayne is just a hairbreadth away from achieving her college degree.
One night I was with her when she made a appearance at a premiere, decked out as everyone expected her to look—with the molded gown, the fabulous fox furs, long, glittering earrings and her blonde hair falling to her shoulders.
It warmed me when I heard the crowds ooh and ahh, calling out her name affectionately, but then I heard one woman make a remark that cut me like a knife: “Imagine strutting around in a gown like that. It’s shameless!”
I felt miserable then, and I still do when I realize that some people judge Jayne solely by the type of clothes she wears in her role as a Hollywood personality.
I remember telling a publicity man once that Jayne had studied the violin from the age of six, and was a fairly accomplished musician. “In fact,” I said, “one of her teachers felt that she would be able to play in Carnegie Hall some day.”
“Oh, no,” said the man, “I could never release that story. No one would believe it.” And then, as at many other times, I was close to tears because of the way Jayne is misunderstood.
Every mother feels very deeply attached to her daughter. In some respects, I think I have been closer to my daughter than most mothers, because of the poignant circumstances of her birth.
For years, I had hungered for a baby. I’d lost my first child at birth and had almost died myself, but I wanted a baby more than anything else in the world. My husband, Herbert Palmer, was a young law student and we lived in Phillipsburg, N. J. I had taught school there but I gave up my job so that I could build up my strength.
Herbert and I were the happiest couple in the world when the doctor told us we were going to become parents. During the months we waited, I stayed home and didn’t even take an automobile drive in order to forestall any accident that might jeopardize the baby’s safe arrival. The last month I stayed in bed. Then, at the last moment, I had to have an emergency Caesarean operation. I came very close to losing this baby. . . .
“She’s the most beautiful baby I’ve ever delivered,” said my obstetrician, as I emerged from my foggy world to look at my daughter. I remember I was struck by her delicate pink complexion, and I thought, “Why, she has the longest legs I’ve ever seen on a baby.” The nurse was so taken by her beauty that she carried her all over the hospital to show her off.
We were such a happy family, and Herbert and I surrounded baby Vera Jayne with our heartfelt love. Herbert was practicing law by this time and was preparing to run for the Assembly. His future was bright and our world was a snug, secure one.
Then, one night, everything changed.
Herbert took Jayne and me for a drive to see his grandparents. Jaynie, wearing a pink suede coat with a brown beaver collar, sat between us. Our hearts were full, and Herbert, patting Jaynie’s hand, remarked, “Doesn’t she look like a little doll?”
As we drove over a hill, suddenly Herbert slumped over the wheel. Somehow, I managed to lean across him, shut off the ignition and pull on the emergency brake. A sickening fear swept over me when I touched Herbert’s cold face. Jumping out of the car, I stood out in the road and screamed for help.
That night, I had to tell two-and-a-half-year-old Jaynie that her Daddy had gone away.
I was left practically penniless. Herbert was so young—only thirty—when his heart suddenly stopped. He was just beginning a very promising law and political career and he thought he had many years in which to provide security for his family.
Now, more than ever, my whole life revolved around my daughter. I wanted desperately to shield her—to give her a happy, untroubled childhood. I returned to teaching, and a housekeeper, Sally Rice, who loved my Jayne, took care of her during my school hours. I couldn’t have left my daughter in the care of a person more loving. I would rush home from school to be with my little girl. She was a sweet, affectionate child and we were extremely devoted. I dressed her like a little doll, in ruffled organdy dresses, pretty pink coats and bonnets that framed her large brown eyes and curly, golden brown hair.
Jayne was playful and mischievous, but she had an unmistakably serious side, too. I used to feel that perhaps the serious moments came when she missed her father. I wanted to be sure that my child was not deprived of any advantages that her father would have wanted for her, so I started giving her everything I could possibly afford that would enrich her life. I saw to it that she had tap and ballet lessons, singing lessons and later, piano and violin. I wanted to do everything for her. Nothing I could possibly afford was spared.
Even when Harry Peers, a young man who was an engineer from Dallas and was visiting relatives in our town, asked me to marry him, I wouldn’t agree to become his wife until I was sure he could be a real father to Jaynie. My little girl was used to tenderness and to the background of a compatible home life. If I couldn’t surround her with the same good life, I wouldn’t remarry.
When I saw the loving way he treated Jaynie, and how eagerly she looked forward to having Harry come to the house to play with her, I decided that Harry would be a good father—and husband.
It was after we lived in Dallas for a few years that I discovered Jaynie’s most predominant trait: a dedicated kind of determination.
One afternoon, Jayne came home from school and asked me if she could take up horseback riding. I was afraid to let her ride a horse, so I said no. Jaynie pleaded so hard that finally, in order to put her off, I said. “All right. If you bring home 100 in arithmetic, I’ll let you have riding lessons.”
That night, and every night for a month, she was at her books and wouldn’t budge. One afternoon she ran into the house waving her report card. “Look, Mama, look,” she cried exultantly. There was her arithmetic grade—a solid one hundred!
And she fought like a little tigress to make the school orchestra, and did—as first violinist, no less.
I admired her determination in getting what she went after. It wasn’t until she was sixteen that I had to bow most reluctantly to that strong will of hers.
Jayne was very popular and our house was always filled with her young friends. It was the rage to go steady, and she went steady with a boy from school named Paul Mansfield.
And one day my baby came to me and said. “Mama, I want to marry Paul.”
I clutched a table to steady myself.
“But Jaynie, you’re much too young. So is Paul. The most glorious part of your life is ahead of you. Surely, honey, you must realize that you don’t know your own mind yet. You don’t want to be tied down so young.”
I had nothing against Paul. He was a very nice young man, but I was unalterably opposed to the idea of my daughter’s marrying anyone at the tender age of sixteen. But no matter what arguments I put forth, I couldn’t talk Jaynie out of it. She insisted that she knew what she wanted, and what she wanted was to marry Paul.
It was that familiar look of determination in Jayne’s eyes—a look I’d gotten used to—and the insistence in her voice that made me finally realize that she was adamant about taking this big step. Because I didn’t want to see my young daughter run off in an elopement, I planned a lovely church wedding and a large reception afterward at our home.
She looked so fresh and dewy-eyed in her white gown and veil as she walked down the aisle that all I could do was stem my tears and pray that I would be proven wrong and this marriage would work out.
But, sadly enough, I was only too right Jayne and Paul were too young to tackle the responsibilities of marriage. Jayne was so restless, her mind so lively and ever-changing, that it was only after she was married that she realized that she wanted desperately to become an actress. She had always shown signs of acting ability as a youngster when she appeared in school plays, and she was growing more and more beautiful. Perhaps her desire to act was heightened because of the humdrum routine of housework, or perhaps it was the desire for independence. At any rate, she decided to tackle an acting career—and with everything she had.
Again the old determination. I could recognize it. I knew that no objections on my side would sway Jayne, so I didn’t even try to talk her out of this. One summer Jayne left her baby, Jayne Marie. with me while she went to Los Angeles to major in drama at UCLA.
When she returned there was a light in her eyes and a thrust to her chin that told me only too well that somehow, even with a baby, Jayne would find a way to become an actress.
She succeeded in persuading Paul to move to Hollywood. And there, in order to insure their remaining in the movie capital while she tried getting started on a career she made a down payment on a little house, with money she had received as an inheritance from her grandmother. It’s the same house, incidentally, she lives in today.
Not until her letters from Hollywood told me that she had taken a job selling candy in a theatre in order to earn some money while waiting for a picture break. did I begin to worry about Jayne. But I was secretly proud, too, for I realized that this girl of mine would wear her fingers down to the bone, scrubbing floors, if necessary, in order to make her way until she got her first acting role.
Eventually, her zeal paid off and she did several parts in TV and in pictures. But her life was like too many stitches on a knitting needle—that wouldn’t all fit at once. No sooner would she pick up the front few than those at the end would drop off. No sooner had Jayne landed her first few roles than she and Paul discovered their teenage marriage was a mistake. Jayne had to make the choice between a happy home and a career. She could not give herself to both well. She made her choice: She and Paul separated.
It was then, after she had made a dent in pictures, Jayne came home and I was shocked when I saw her. Her golden brown hair that I had loved so much was now a platinum blonde, worn long and loose. Instead of the girlish sweater and skirt, she wore a red sheath dress that accentuated her figure.
“Jaynie, you look so different,” I exclaimed.
“Mama,” she told me—as she was to explain to me so many times afterwards, “this is the way I’m supposed to dress now. My press agent says it’s important for me to be noticed.”
But although Jayne looked more theatrical, I was delighted to discover that she was the same girl underneath. She was sweet and affectionate at home and she helped me with the dishes, as she used to when she lived at home. After supper, we would sit down and talk for hours and hours in intimate, mother-daughter fashion.
Things happened swiftly for Jayne after that. She was given the feminine lead in the Broadway comedy hit, “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” and became the toast of New York. And, as a result of her mounting publicity, she was signed to a wonderful contract by 20th Century-Fox.
Since then, I have seen my daughter develop into one of the most publicized girls in the country. Scarcely a day goes by that I don’t see her name or picture in print. Usually, I must admit, in a revealing gown that is a far cry from the simple things she wore when she lived at home.
How does it feel to be the mother of such a talked-about girl—a girl who is known all over the country as “a sexpot?”
It is both fascinating and frightening. While I am glad that Jaynie is doing the work she loves and is achieving a measure of success in that work, I pray to God that she will not be hurt.
When I was in New York with her, while she appeared in the play, I became alarmed at the fervor with which hundreds of fans waited for her outside and sometimes tore at her clothes and her furs in order to be near her. Sometimes it took us all of an hour to walk the ten feet from the dressing room door to the waiting taxi, while Jayne signed autographs and posed for the kids. I would become slightly panicky when the crowds milled around us, but Jayne, flattered by the attention, was calm and smiling, displaying remarkable patience.
“Bless them,” she’d say to me when we’d reached the safety of the cab. “They’re all for me, and I don’t want to let them down.” Not a hair of hers was out of place—but I was a complete wreck!
I remained with my husband in Dallas during Jayne’s first few months back in Hollywood again, when she was making “The Girl Can’t Help It” and “The Wayward Bus.” Her star was rising high, and I was elated at the glowing predictions the studio made for her. But fears were mingled with my elation when I’d read things in the papers that made Jayne seem like anything but the girl I know as my daughter.
For instance, I was very upset when I read that she had met Mickey Hargitay when she saw him in a night club revue and ordered him to her table as she would order a bone for her dog. According to the stories I’ve read, she is supposed to have said imperiously, “I’d like a steak for my dog and that man on the right for myself. I’m a star and I’m supposed to be happy.”
It didn’t happen that way at all. I should know. I was there, right at the Latin Quarter, with Harry and Jayne and her escort, Jules Styne. It was Mr. Styne who suggested it might be fun to have Mickey join us, and he introduced Mickey to all of us in a most decorous way.
Since meeting, Mickey and Jayne have become close friends and I think Mickey is very good for Jayne. He is deeply interested in everything that she does, understands her life as a busy and ambitious actress and eases many of her burdens and responsibilities. Although he is a husky, muscular young man, there is a gentle, patient quality about him that helps Jayne find more serenity than she ordinarily would in the hectic life she leads. He regards Jayne the way I do, as a child who needs protection. Since my home is 1,500 miles away from Jayne, I find it very reassuring to know that she has someone as devoted and thoughtful as Mickey to look after her.
That part makes me feel good. But I don’t always feel good when I see Jayne involved in publicity that is undignified. Like the time when I saw a picture of Jayne hoisted in mid-air by Mickey during a recent Hollywood premiere. I was so startled I got on the phone to talk to her again. Jayne assured me that it was a whim that occurred on the spur of the moment. “The fans have been so good to me,” she said, “that I wanted to do something to stir things up a bit.”
On one hand, it’s no fun to read of these foolhardy escapades, and publicity stunts day after day. But on the other, there’s Jayne reassuring me that she knows exactly what she is doing, and I realize she’s a mature girl who has thought things out well enough to know where she’s headed.
As disturbed as I am at these antics, which seem to be such an integral part of her publicity, I was even more disturbed to discover the lightning pace at which Jayne skims through the day. I spent several weeks with her recently in Hollywood.
In the morning, Jayne would breeze out of her bedroom, kiss Jayne Marie, gulp down a cup of coffee and dash off. She’d be on her way either to the studio or to the photographers or to do an interview or make a public appearance or to keep numerous other appointments that had been set up for her. She’d fly in again in the evening, play with Jayne Marie, bathe and make a whirlwind change into one of her fabulous gowns and furs, rush off with Mickey to a dinner party, a film premiere, some kind of movie opening or other film function. All of her waking hours she was on the go.
While I am deeply grateful that my daughter is so much in demand, like any mother, I wish she could slow down, for the sake of her health.
I have every confidence that Jayne can handle herself well, no matter what situation comes along. She has a fine, middle class background and she has proven many times in the past that she cannot be swayed from doing anything she believes is right.
When I told her recently that I wish the time would come when she didn’t have to depend so much on the sexboat type of publicity but could be herself, Jayne smiled, and with a twinkle in her eyes, said, “You know, Mama, some day I’ll cut my hair short, let it grow in natural, wear high necked dresses and never pose in another sexy gown again.”
Maybe she was kidding, but some day she’ll mean it, and when she does, look out. Because she’ll do it! Jayne’s always done what she really wanted to do no matter what.
—BY VERA J. PEERS as told to HELEN HOVER WELLER
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE DECEMBER 1957