Vera Jayne Palmer was born on April 19, 1933 in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. She was the only child of Herbert William Palmer and Vera (Jeffrey) Palmer. She was an American actress in film, theatre, and television and was also a nightclub entertainer, a singer, and one of the early Playboy Playmates. She was a major Hollywood sex symbol of the 1950s and early 1960s and 20th Century Fox’s alternative to Marilyn Monroe who came to be known as the “Working Man’s Monroe”. She was one of Hollywood’s original blonde bombshells.
Mansfield became a major Broadway star in 1955, a major Hollywood star in 1956, and a leading celebrity in 1957. Mansfield’s had several box-office successes and she won a Theatre World Award and a Golden Globe. She starred with Rita Marlowe, both in the 1955–56 Broadway version and the 1957 Hollywood film version of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?. Her other major movie performances were for The Girl Can’t Help It, The Wayward Bus, and Too Hot to Handle. In the sexploitation film Promises! Promises! (1963), she became the first major American actress to have a nude starring role in a Hollywood motion picture.
Mansfield’s professional name came from her first husband, public relations professional Paul Mansfield, with whom she had one daughter. She was the mother of three children from her second marriage to actor/bodybuilder Mickey Hargitay. She had a son with her third husband, film director Matt Cimber.
On June 28, 1967 Mansfield was traveling to New Orleans, LA from Biloxi, Mississippi, where she was scheduled to appear for an early-morning television interview. Mansfield, her lover Sam Brody, their driver, Ronnie Harrison, and three of her children Miklós, Zoltán and Mariska set out in Stevens’ 1966 Buick Electra 225. Around 2:25am on June 29th on U.S. Highway 90, east of the Rigolets Bridge, the car crashed into the rear of a tractor-trailer that had slowed behind another truck that was spraying mosquito fogger. The car struck the rear of the trailer and went under it. The three adults in the front seat were killed instantly; the children, in the rear, survived with minor injuries.
Reports that Mansfield was decapitated are untrue, although she suffered severe head trauma.The death certificate stated that the immediate cause of Mansfield’s death was a “crushed skull with avulsion of cranium and brain”. She was only 34 years old. After her death, the NHTSA recommended requiring an underride guard (a strong bar made of steel tubing) on all tractor-trailers. This bar is known as a “Mansfield bar”, or an “ICC bar”.
Mansfield’s funeral took place on July 3 in Pen Argyl, Pennsylvania. She is interred in Fairview Cemetery, southeast of Pen Argyl, beside her father. Her heart-shaped gravestone reads, “We Live to Love You More Each Day”.