The history books are full of odd couple friendships, but few are more head-scratch inducing than the unlikely pairing of 1950s blonde bombshell and sex symbol Jayne Mansfield and the shadowy, cult-leader-like founder of the Church of Satan, Anton LaVey. Mansfield was as famous, if not more so, for her publicity stunts, often involving nudity, than she was her film work. LaVey was best known for his weekly theatrical, macabre “Satanic” performances at his San Francisco home. It was one of these powerful performances that drew Mansfield to his house, hoping to drum up some headlines for herself, that led to a strong and possibly romantic bond between the two that lasted until her untimely death from a car accident in 1967.
The meeting which launched the friendship occurred in 1966 after Mansfield attended the San Francisco International Film Festival. She had heard of LaVey and his newfound Church of Satan and visited his home to meet him in the hopes of snagging some headlines. Ever the showman, LaVey obliged and awarded Mansfield with the title “High Priestess of San Francisco’s Church of Satan.” Mansfield’s instinct for publicity was, as usual, quite accurate and the media devoured stories of Mansfield as a Satanist and lover of LaVey. LaVey’s life was full of many tales that weren’t entirely honest, but his daughter, Karla, claimed that Mansfield was, in fact, a practicing Satanist who had a romantic relationship with her father.
Far from any Satanic origin, Jayne Mansfield was born plain Vera Jane Palmer in Pennsylvania in 1933. Her parents were of German and English, and both came from relatively wealthy families. Her father was a practicing attorney up until his early death, at which point her mother remarried and moved the family to Texas. Despite her later reputation as a “dumb blonde” archetype, Mansfield was a good student, studying several languages and receiving at least Bs in all of her classes, including mathematics. Though she married at 17 and had her first child only six months later, Mansfield graduated high school and enrolled in college with her first husband, Paul Mansfield.
Mansfield studied acting at several universities while also working countless odd jobs including nude art model, door-to-door book sales, receptionist, selling popcorn and candy at movie theaters, teaching dance, photography, and modeling. During this period, she also met and studied with Baruch Lumet, father of director Sidney Lumet, who would eventually get Mansfield her first screen test with a major Hollywood studio. Rip Torn was another of Lumet’s favored “kids” and worked closely with Mansfield in studying acting.
After Mansfield and her husband settled in California, she embarked on her acting career in earnest. Her first paid gig was a commercial for General Electric that featured women lounging around a pool. Soon after, she auditioned with both Warner Brothers and Paramount Pictures but failed to impress either studio. Her next paid role was in a CBS series Lux Video Theatre for which she had a few lines and received the equivalent of $3,000 today. Her big break didn’t come until 1955 when she was the Playmate of the Month for Hugh Hefner’s new men’s magazine Playboy.