JAYNE MANSFIELD: FLORIDA OR BUST!

By Greg May, Orlando, Florida

When I was a little boy, my mom used to take me to the grocery
store with her. As she pushed her grocery cart up and down the
aisles of Winn Dixie, I would saunter over to the magazine rack
to ʹsneak a peekʹ at Playboy Magazine.

Jayne Mansfield and Gatorland's Owen GodwinJayne Mansfield and Gatorland's Owen Godwin

Jayne Mansfield was featured in their February edition as the ʹPlayMate of the Monthʹ.

She was the first woman I ever saw photographed ʹau naturelʹ.

Being raised Southern Baptist, one part of me said I shouldnʹt be looking at that type of thing but the other part of me was fascinated!

Yes, I am a Gemini - born with a split personality.

For those of you not-in-the-know, Jayne Mansfield was the ʹroad showʹ version of Marilyn Monroe and she was the only sex symbol to have children. And Jayne took her kids everywhere - including Gatorland!

Growing up in Orlando in the 1960ʹs there was only one tourist attraction in Central Florida and that was Gatorland - still growing and going strong on US-441 south of Orlando.

So whenever we had company - like those cousins from Kentucky - we would always take them to Gatorland. Hanging on the wall of the gift shop amid the alligator purses was a photograph of Jayne Mansfield and Gatorlandʹs founder, Mr. Owen Godwin.

My TV career began in 1977 - the same time a renewed interest in Jayne began making her a ʹcultʹ figure . . and what a figure!

Jayneʹs meteoric rise to fame and stardom began in 1955 when Twentieth Century Fox studios signed her to a seven-year contract after her smashing success in a Broadway play. But her star crashed and burned in 1967 when she was killed in a tragic automobile accident outside New Orleans.

If you are a fan of the TV series ʹLaw & Orderʹ you will remember the pretty detective, Olivia Benson. Thatʹs Jayneʹs talented daughter, Mariska Hargitay, who was only three years old when her mother was killed.

Little Mariska was one of three of Jayneʹs children who miraculously survived the accident. Jayneʹs eldest child, Jayne Marie and her baby brother Tony did not accompany their mother while she was fulfilling a nightclub engagement in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Mariska HargitayMariska Hargitay

In the late 70ʹs while producing and hosting my TV show, ʺCentral Florida Spotlightʺ I made Gatorland the focus of at least two shows, each one featuring Owen Godwinʹs son, Frank.

In one show I interviewed Frank on an island in Gatorlandʹs gator-infested lagoon with a boa constrictor (or was it a python?) draped around his neck.

Now Frank was the kind of guy that would give you the shirt off his back.

Even so, I couldnʹt get up enough nerve to ask him for that iconic photo of his dad and Jayne.  So you can imagine my delight when Frankʹs son-in-law and Gatorland CEO Mark McHugh emailed me the photo - only minutes after receiving an email from Jayne Mansfield fan Scott Hansen!

Scott had inquired whether there were any photos of Jayne Mansfield underwater while she was attending the premier of the Jane Russell film, ʹUnderWaterʹ at Floridaʹs Silver Springs back in 1955.

Talk about a publicity gimmick - the guests watched the movieʹs premier underwater wearing scuba gear! This was the first of Jayneʹs many visits to the Sunshine State.

Premiere of Movie Premiere of Movie "Underwater" at Silver Springs

Scott had inquired whether there were any photos of Jayne Mansfield underwater while she was attending the premier of the Jane Russell film, ʹUnderWaterʹ at Floridaʹs Silver Springs back in 1955.

Talk about a publicity gimmick - the guests watched the movieʹs premier underwater wearing scuba gear!

This was the first of Jayneʹs many visits to the Sunshine State.

Somewhere in my collection of oceanarium brochures there is a photo of Jayne flirting with a dolphin at the Miami Seaquarium.

Orlando resident and SunBank retiree Rubye Lewis still talks about the time she and her sister, Betty, went to see Jayne Mansfield and her bodybuilder/husband Mickey Hargitay at the Jai Alai fronton in the early 1960ʹs.

Jayne was on the road so much during her career itʹs hard to pinpoint particular appearances in towns across America.

Sophia Loren and Jayne MansfieldSophia Loren and Jayne Mansfield

She was so much in demand that she was frequently ʹdouble bookedʹ creating headaches for her manager because she could never say ʹnoʹ to people!

Jayne will be remembered for accompanying comedian  Bob Hope overseas to entertain the troops.

In 1966 Jayne returned to Florida to film one of the worst movies of all time in Cape Coral. A spoof of the James Bond movies of the 60ʹs, ʺThe Fat Spyʺ was a box office bomb despite a cast that included Phyllis Diller and Jack E. Leonard.

Morbidly, the car in which Jayne was riding when she was killed is on display in a museum in St. Augustine called the Museum of US Tragedy.

Even stranger is this story which was told to me years after I had left television and was working in real estate. A co-worker knew of my fascination with Jayne.

One day when no one was around he said, ʺIʹve heard you talk about Jayne Mansfield and I never told anyone about this because they wouldnʹt believe meʺ.

He proceeded to tell me the story of when he went to Hollywood in the 1960ʹs to break into movies and wound up selling cars. He was introduced to Jayne by a buddy of his who was also a professional football player.

To make a long story short, my co-worker had actually been steadily dating the iconic blonde bombshell!

One day a black Cadillac pulled up to his car lot and out stepped two gentlemen wearing Armani suits, sunglasses and smiles.

They informed him that his ʹdallianceʹ with Miss Mansfield would ʹcease and desistʹ immediately. My friend said a chill went down his spine.


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