Born Vera Jane Palmer, Jayne Mansfield was the daughter of a lawyer who died when Mansfield was six, at which time her mother moved the family from Pennsylvania to Dallas. While attending Southern Methodist University, the 16-year-old Palmer married student Paul James Mansfield. Lacking the funds for day-care service, Jayne attended acting classes in Los Angeles with her infant daughter strapped on her back like a papoose.
After briefly working as a candy vendor in an L.A. theater, Mansfield caught the eye of a TV producer. It was difficult for Mansfield, whose measurements were 40-21-35, not to gain attention in her subsequent TV and film works. More famous as a cheesecake model than an actress, by 1955 Mansfield first gained critical plaudits for her classic performance as a Monroe-like movie starlet in George Axelrod's Broadway play Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter. This role won her a contract at 20th Century Fox, where she fell within the sphere of comedy director Frank Tashlin, who regarded Mansfield as a "living cartoon" and directed her accordingly in the film version of Rock Hunter and in 1956's The Girl Can't Help It. Despite good dramatic performances in such films as The Wayward Bus (1957), Kiss Them for Me (1957), and The Burglar (1957), Mansfield was forever typed as a parody Marilyn Monroe.
When not acting, the publicity-hungry Mansfield aggressively sought out any press agent or photo op that was handy, as did her second husband, muscleman Mickey Hargitay, to whom she was married from 1958 through 1963 (their daughter, Mariska Hargitay, became a busy actress in her own right). Mansfield's third husband, Matt Cimber, became her agent, and guided her through a series of increasingly tawdry projects like Promises, Promises (1963), wherein Mansfield became the first major actress to appear nude onscreen. Her later career dwindled into cheap European films, slapped-together American quickies like Single Room Furnished (1965), and plenty of nightclub and summer-theater work. While driving to a club engagement in New Orleans, 34-year-old Jayne Mansfield was killed (but not decapitated, contrary to popular belief) in an automobile accident.