GHOST OF THE PINK PALACE
THE TRAGIC DEATH OF JAYNE MANSFIELD
On June 29, 1967, the woman who was one of America’s top pinup girls died a horrible and violent death along a lonely roadway near Biloxi, Miss. Her death had a sobering effect on the Hollywood film community and also strange repercussions in the occult community of the time, as well. Jayne Mansfield’s death was said to have been caused by a curse gone awry, but was the “curse” nothing more than a publicity stunt arranged by the “high priest of the occult” in the 1960s? Stranger still, could her mysterious death be the reason that her former home was rumored to be haunted by her restless spirit until it was destroyed in 2002?
She was born Vera Jayne Palmer in Bryn Mawr, Pa., on April 19, 1933 and spend most of her childhood in Phillipsburg, N.J. When she was three years old, her father, Herbert, died of a heart attack while driving in a car with his wife and daughter. After his death, her mother worked as a schoolteacher and in 1939, Vera Palmer re-married and the family moved to Dallas, Texas. Jayne’s desire to become an actress started at an early age and after high school, she studied both drama and physics at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
In January 1950, Jayne secretly married Paul Mansfield. She spent the next couple of years juggling motherhood and college classes while her husband was in the army. In 1953, she discovered her love for acting and appeared in a stage production of “Death of a Salesman.” Living in Texas, she won several beauty contests, but few had any idea about just how smart she was. She had an IQ of 163, spoke five languages, and was a classically trained pianist and violinist. She later admitted, though, that she knew the public didn’t care about her brains, they were more interested in her looks and the size of her breasts.
Paul Mansfield had hoped that Jayne would lose interest in acting, but when she didn’t, he moved with her to Los Angeles to try and start a movie career. Between working at a variety of odd jobs, Jayne studied drama at UCLA. Her film career began with bit parts at Warner Brothers, which had signed her after one of its talent scouts and seen her in a production at the Pasadena Playhouse. She started with small roles and then won a larger part in a dramatic film called THE BURGLAR. It wasn’t released until two years later, when Jayne’s career was at its peak – and she was known for much different kinds of roles.
Her big break came from a stage production – “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” – in which she first appears wearing nothing but a towel. After that, she starred in a camp, comic film, THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT, in 1956. She played an outrageously voluptuous, tone-deaf girlfriend of a retired racketeer. The film features some early performances by Fats Domino, The Platters and Little Richard, successfully introducing rock-n-roll to many movie audiences.
In May 1956, she signed a contract with 20th Century Fox and played a straight dramatic role in the John Steinbeck-based film, THE WAYWARD BUS. She tried to get away from the “dumb blonde” image and establish herself as a serious actress. She won a Golden Globe for New Star of the Year, beating out Carroll Baker and Natalie Wood. In 1957, she reprised her stage role in WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? With Tony Randall and Joan Blondell and this film, along with THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT, remains a favorite among Jayne’s fans. They were hugely successful and cemented Jayne’s image as a blonde comic relief. She would find it impossible to escape.
In January 1958, Jayne divorced Paul Mansfield and married actor, bodybuilder, and Mr. Universe title holder, Mickey Hargitay. Their marriage lasted for just five years and Jayne got a Mexican divorce in Juarez in May 1963. The divorce was initially declared invalid in California, and the two reconciled in October 1963. After the birth of their third child, Mansfield sued for the Juarez divorce to be declared legal and won. Their acrimonious divorce battle had the actress accusing Hargitay of kidnapping one of her children to force a more favorable financial settlement. During this marriage, she had three children — Miklós, Zoltán, and Mariska, an actress currently known for her role as Detective Olivia Benson in “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
At this time, Jayne’s career was still at its height. She realized that she was stuck in the roles that people loved her for and sought publicity in whatever she could find out: through her beauty and her famous breasts. She repeatedly – and successfully – managed to expose them in carefully staged “accidents.” On the “Tonight Show,” host Jack Parr introduced her as “Here they are, Jayne Mansfield!” and in 1957, her breasts were part of a notorious publicity stunt that was arranged to deflect attention away from Sophia Loren during a dinner in the Italian star’s honor. Photographs of the encounter were published around the world. One image showed Sophia Loren raising an eyebrow at Jayne, who was sitting between Loren and Clifton Webb, as she leaned over the table, allowing her breasts to spill out of her low-cut dress and exposing a nipple. During a film festival party in Berlin, Mickey picked her up so that she could bite some low-hanging grapes from a vine and both breasts “accidentally” popped out of her dress. The photograph of the incident became a sensation, appearing in magazines all over the world with the word CENSORED hiding her exposed breasts. Tacky? Sure, but it worked and it kept Jayne in the movie magazines.
Even so, most of the good roles for Jayne had dried up by 1959. She did a lot of independent and foreign films – usually scantily clad – until she decided to slow down and try and rejuvenate her career. She announced that she planned to study acting in New York, so that she could attract more serious roles, but by then it was too late. Her racy publicity had brought her fame, but it became her downfall. Fox did not renew her contract in 1962.
But Jayne kept working. In 1963, she was the first mainstream American actress to appear nude in the film PROMISES! PROMISES! Nude photos taken on set were published in Playboy magazine, which resulted in an obscenity charge for Hugh Hefner. The film ended up being banned in Cleveland, but enjoyed success across the country. She appeared in more foreign films, but good roles became harder and harder to find. Later in life she appeared in a number of dismal, low-budget films like THE LAS VEGAS HILLBILLYS and PANIC BUTTON. They were a disaster and embarrassment for a woman who deserved better.
After her divorce from Mickey Hargitay, Jayne was linked romantically with singer Nelson Sardelli, but in 1964, she married an Italian-born director named Matteo Ottaviano. They were divorced in July 1966. Jayne was in a bad place. Her career was in tatters and she was supporting herself and her children doing burlesque and dinner theater.
Then, in late 1966, she took another step to revive her career. Whether this was a serious attempt to find herself, or merely another infamous publicity stunt, remains in question. Whatever it was, Jayne joined the newly formed Church of Satan, founded by Anton LaVey. According to LaVey, Jayne had a real interest in exploring the occult, while friends say she was simply curious about it. It’s also quite possible that she was merely attaching herself to LaVey for the publicity and the attention. The Church of Satan had recently been making headlines and appearing on magazine covers. LaVey was a dashing figure and had become notorious in a short time. Even those who disliked him respected him as being a great showman and promoter. Other celebrities, like Sammy Davis, Jr., were photographed with the country’s leading Satanist and Jayne may have been looking to get a little free publicity for herself.
LaVey was entranced with Jayne – he likely saw a connection with her as good publicity for himself – but took an instant dislike to Jayne’s boyfriend and attorney, Sam Brody. Over the next few weeks, they clashed several times and the story goes that LaVey put a curse on Brody, telling him that he would be dead within a year. LaVey later said that the “curse” was supposed to protect Jayne from Brody, who was violent and abusive with her. He warned Jayne to stay away from Brody, fearing that she might be affected by the curse.
But Jayne didn’t listen. Soon after, Jayne and Brody were involved in two separate auto accidents. A month later, Jayne’s son, Zoltan, accompanied her to Jungleland in Thousand Oaks, California, where she was supposed to pose for publicity photos, and he was mauled by a supposedly tame lion. While in Japan, a collection of her prized jewelry was stolen from her hotel room. In England, she was publicly humiliated and her show was canceled after she was falsely accused of skipping out on her hotel bill. She was charged with income tax evasion in Venezuela, robbed in Las Vegas, and attacked by a mob at Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, which stripped her of all of her clothing.
On June 22, 1967, Brody was on his way to pick up Jayne from a charity lunch when his vehicle was struck by another car. It was badly damaged and Brody was hospitalized with a broken leg and cracked ribs. But this didn’t stop Brody from going with Jayne on a tour of southern supper clubs a week later – a decision that would be fatal.
Jayne was performing at Gus Steven’s Supper Club in Biloxi, Mississippi, in late June. After the show, she decided to drive to New Orleans, where she was supposed to appear on a television talk show on the morning of June 29. They left the club after midnight. Jayne was accompanied by Brody, the club’s 19-year-old driver, Ron Harrison, and the children, Miklos, Zoltan, and Mariska. Jayne’s signature pink luggage was loaded in the car and Jayne got into the front seat with Brody and Harrison. Jayne sat next to the passenger door. The children were asleep in the backseat as they started driving west on Route 90. The road was shiny and slick from a light rain that had fallen earlier. Ahead of the car, Harrison spotted a white cloud that was coming from a mosquito-spraying truck ahead of them on the highway. He slowed down and followed the truck for several minutes but then became impatient, accelerated and drove around the truck into the fog. It was now 2:25 a.m.
Unable to see clearly, Harrison had no idea that a slow-moving trailer truck was ahead of the mosquito sprayer until the front of his Buick slammed under it. The roof of the car was sheared off and the metal rolled backwards like an opened can. Sam Brody died instantly when he was thrown from the car and Harrison suffered the same fate. The children, lying down in the back, sustained injuries, but they survived the crash.
When the truck driver, who was unhurt, jumped down from his cab, he immediately spotted the bodies of the two men on the pavement. Glancing back through the Buick’s windshield, he saw the battered body of a woman in blood-soaked clothing. Legends state that Jayne was decapitated in the crash, but later reports from police officers who investigated the scene discovered that what the truck driver thought was her severed head was actually one of Jayne’s blond, and now bloody, wigs.
The news of death stunned fans across the country. Some were quick to cash in on it. Anton LaVey announced that Jayne was “a victim of her own frivolity.” He had warned her about the curse and she ignored it. During a memorial service held in her honor at the Church of Satan, 30 people reported that a series of amber-colored bulbs suddenly flared up without explanation, but never shattered. LaVey said that it happened because “Jayne wanted to let us know she was still with us.”
Others connected to Jayne reported strange happenings. Linda Mudrick, Jayne’s personal maid for many years, often heard Miklos, who had been injured in the accident that took his mother’s life, talking to someone when she knew he was alone in his room. He told her that he had been talking to his mother and Mudrick believed that Jayne was somehow communicating with the boy from the other side.
Weird happenings occurred around the “Pink Palace,” Jayne’s former home in Beverly Hills. She had bought the house, a 40-room, Mediterranean-style mansion that had once belonged to singer Rudy Vallee, in November 1957. Jayne had the house painted pink, with cupids surrounded by pink fluorescent lights, pink furs in the bathrooms, a pink heart-shaped bathtub, and a fountain spurting pink champagne. Mickey Hargitay built her a heart-shaped swimming pool. Soon after Jayne’s death, Mickey was involved in a bad accident just after driving out of the gates of the Pink Palace. Matteo Ottaviano, Jayne’s third husband, was plagued with troubles. His father had a heart attack, legal problems closed his nightclub, and his best friend was killed. Victor Huston, a young man who worked as Jayne’s road manager and who was a constant visitor at the Pink Palace, died suddenly. Linda Mudrick was also involved in a terrible car accident. It got worse. Jayne’s son, Miklos, and a friend were playing in a toy electric car one afternoon at the Pink Palace and the little girl leaned back and somehow, her long black hair entangled around an axle. All of the hair on the back of her head was torn out by the roots. Had there really been a curse that surrounded Jayne Mansfield, still working overtime?
Others believed the Pink Palace was haunted. Bursting water pipes ruined many pieces of furniture and plumbers who came to repair the damage were allegedly frightened off by moving objects. One painter said that when he was working in Jayne’s old room, he felt that someone was watching him and several times he felt someone touch him on the shoulder. Eerie moaning sounds were often reported and servants refused to stay on. New ones were hired, but often left after only a few days in the house. Even Linda Mudrick, Jayne’s long-time companion, finally quit, stating that, “I never want to go in that house again.”
Many came to believe that Jayne was still around, angry over the fighting that was going on over her estate. Her spirit, they said, wanted to insure that her children received their inheritance. Unfortunately, the Pink Palace was sacked by Ottaviano, Jayne’s third husband, and his attorney. They locked out the children and Jayne’s parents and then sold the place.
The first occupants of the house were a bank president and his family. Right after they moved in, the banker’s son found a pink Honda that the late actor Nick Adams had given to Jayne during a brief affair. The boy started it up and took it for a spin around the estate and then decided to try it out on the road. Just as he was roaring out of the gates and onto Sunset Boulevard, he was struck by an oncoming car and was killed. The banker and his family allegedly moved out the same day.
The singer Cass Elliot, of the Mamas & the Papas, later bought the house and moved in with her husband. She went to London to record some television commercials and left her husband behind to oversee the redecorating of the mansion. Cass’s death occurred while she was away.
Another occupant of the house also claimed to experience strange phenomena, as well as the urge to dye her hair blond and to dress in clothing that had once belonged to Jayne, which she had found in storage. After going to a plastic surgeon for a breast enlargement, she was questioned by concerned friends, but could give no explanation for her strange behavior. She became obsessed with Jayne Mansfield and began spending thousands of dollars to purchase any memorabilia of the actress that she could find. She didn’t stay in the house for long, though. One night she claimed that she heard a woman’s voice begging her to “get out.” Aware of the fate that had befallen the two previous tenants she packed up her belongings and fled the Pink Palace.
The next occupant of the mansion was Beatle Ringo Starr, who had been a fan of Jayne when she was alive and had been a good friend of hers. Although Ringo mostly used the house for parties and only actually lived in it for a short while, he had the exterior of the pink mansion repainted white. Soon though, the house began turning pink again. Some said that this was because pink was a hard color to cover, but others claimed that it was Jayne’s presence making herself known. The house was repainted again, using a sealer and two coats of paint, but it turned pink once more - much to the bewilderment of paint consultants and chemists. Eventually, though, the house was successfully repainted and remained white until it was torn down.
The singer Englebert Humperdinck, who had once been romantically involved with Jayne, purchased the house in 1977. Before moving in, he had the house blessed by a Catholic priest and issued a statement about the haunting in 1980. He did not believe that the house was haunted any longer, but he did admit to a few unsettling moments. Once, after an earthquake, he discovered a section of the yard had settled into the shape of a heart -- Jayne’s favorite design. Although he first believed that perhaps Jayne had returned after all, it was discovered that the heart was a filled-in wading pool that Jayne had built for the children. He likely breathed a sigh of relief.
In 2002, Humperdinck sold the house to developers, and it was demolished in November of that year. Since that time, there have been no further reports of Jayne’s ghost and it seems that the haunting, like many memories of the vivacious actress, has faded away.