Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Book review - "The Tragic Secret Life of Jayne Mansfield" by Raymond Strait (1976)

Mansfield was only ever really in two films of note but has managed to carve out her own niche in Hollywood - due to a combination of things: those two films were for auterist darling Frank Tashlin, her big boobs, her massive IQ, her famous daughter, her interesting death.

Strait did press for Mansfield for a number of years so had inside knowledge. I had this image of her as a super smart girl who could play the fiddle and was better than what Hollywood had to offer. This confirms that but also shows her to be a bit of, well, fool - she was hooked on booze, and sex, and men, and fame, and constantly made bad decisions. Her ambition and work ethic got her to a decent position in Hollywood but she blew it with bad choices, particularly with management, projects and men.

She loved boozing, and sex, and being famous. She wasn't a particularly good mother, or actor. She worked hard enough to keep her profile going - when the film roles dried up (relatively quickly) she kept things going with live appearances.

If you're interested in Mansfield's private life this really is a warts and all - there are a lot of warts. Mansfield doesn't come across as a terribly likeable person. There are some interesting bits, like the fact she shaved her pubic hair (it's that much of an inside job!) but mostly it's harrowing, with a lot of squabbling and failure. Her death almost comes as a relief.

I would have liked to have read more about the films but that wasn't the focus of the book. (There is a lot on Promises, Promises and Single Room Unfurnished.) It wasn't a fun read.

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