2021 saw the release of two Jayne biographies, Jayne by Ashley Fulton and Jayne Mansfield: The Girl Couldn’t Help It by Eve Golden, with both offering their unique perspectives on the Mansfield conundrum. Fulton’s self-published book costs significantly more, but as someone who ventures into the self-publishing world on occasion, I know about her limited ability to determine price. Golden’s book, published by the University of Kentucky Press, received a cold response by more than a few Jayne fans (not uncommon with non-fan biographies), with those getting their first real introduction to Jayne (usually) singing its praises. Should you save your pennies and purchase the Fulton book? Or will the established Golden rule the Mansfield book market?
Fulton’s cover definitely screams Jayne, with a pink cover and a photo of Jayne. I would have liked to see a little more creativity put into the title, but it definitely fits Fulton’s writing style. A quick flip through shows an assortment of photos throughout, formatted in a scrapbook-style layout. Looking at the notes section, I appreciate Fulton’s minimal use of third-party sources in favor of relishing in primary (although it’s evident she’s read other author’s work, so no repeats in scholarship, although she’d receive some flack in academia for exclusion). Lots of magazine interviews make this one unique for new Mansfield fans.
Golden’s received the aid of a graphic designer to create a standard publicity-photo cover. I think the title is cute; however, the play on Jayne’s movie titles is in no way a unique concept, nor are the hearts on the pages separating sections. Unlike Fulton’s book, there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of anything else besides newspapers. I don’t see any archival research which is disappointing being BYU-Provo and Margaret Herrick both house beautiful and informative collections with a plethora of information available on Jayne. I do appreciate that Golden reached out to Matt Cimber (which I knew about when she was writing due to my friendship with Matt) as well as Nelson Sardelli and Scott Michaels. Some of the photo captions give incorrect dates and the death photo feels ghastly in the 2021 world (Note: The review copy included an uncovered death photo; without breaking confidences, I know about some drama resulting in the photo being switched to the covered death photo).
Winner: I’m going to give this one a tie. Fulton in excels in the variety of written source material she’s chosen while Golden’s interviews give a more direct line of communication for the reader to those who knew Jayne. Not really in love with either’s title while cover art is about even.
Fulton’s book really isn’t a biography; instead, she opted for a more “here’s Jayne and what made her tick” methodology by showing readers points of Jayne’s life through photos and primary sources (usually Jayne’s own words). The Pink Palace chapter is a highlight of the book, offering readers the chance to “tour” Jayne’s home through pictures and the suspected layout (blueprints haven’t come up and the house was torn down). There really aren’t any factual errors in the book–just differences in my opinion from Fulton’s, which I can’t hold against the book or the author. I think the book is an excellent introduction to both Mansfield as a person and a star; however, it’s probably not going to appeal to those who want an in-depth biography. There are a few fan service moments, but those tend to go hand-in-hand with fan-written bios, so take that how you will.
I’m going to start with the positive and point out that Golden’s newspaper research is spot on, with some gaps filled in by interviews and the Mansfield historiography. As someone with thousands of clippings about Jayne and her life, I appreciate Golden sorting through the endless stream of reused stories that “followed” Jayne’s career, especially in the 1960s. On the flipside, there are a fair amount of inaccuracies that could easily be researched to find the truth. Some of those include:
- Wanda Park Drive Demolished. The house is still very much standing, but considering Golden’s past with getting addresses incorrect, I’m not really shocked about this one.
- Jayne and Paul Mansfield’s Marriage Date. While Paul and Jayne would both claim a January 28, 1950 wedding to avoid the scandal of an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, no evidence of this ceremony exists; according to Texas wedding licenses as well as newspapers from the time, Jayne and Paul married on May 6, 1950. (Source: Ancestry.com. Texas, U.S., Select County Marriage Records, 1837-1965 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.)
- Jayne’s First Move to Los Angeles. Golden puts it in 1952, but it actually happened in the summer of 1951. Jayne and other biographers clearly say 1951, which makes sense being Jayne spent part of 1952 in Georgia with Paul and the summer of ’52-early ’54 studying on and off with Baruch Lumet. While Jayne can frequently be an unreliable narrator on her own life, if it was the summer of 1952 as Golden claims, Jayne couldn’t write Paul for a swimsuit like she claimed.
- Jayne’s Second Move to Los Angeles. Golden puts it in late 1953/early 1954; however, we know it was actually April of 1954, shortly after Paul’s return from the service. This is evident due to her April 30th screen test for Paramount set up by Lumet shortly after Jayne’s arrival in Hollywood. Jayne wouldn’t have sat on a screen test for months on end like Golden claims. Instead, she worked closely with Lumet to practice a soliloquy in the weeks before her screen test. She would eventually send her testing number (with the date) to Lumet, who had it in possession until at least the 1970s.
- Jayne Signing with WB. Golden insinuates (she does this a lot in her book when not quite sure of the date) it was in November of 1954. It was January 31, 1955. I know the exact date being I own Jayne’s copy of the contract. According to those who knew Jayne, WB expressed no interest in her until after the January 1955 Underwater! premiere in Silver Springs, Florida. Her agent told her to hold out for a better contract, but Jayne signed almost as soon as it was offered. There’s no evidence WB showed interest in her prior to January 1955.
- WB Allowed Jayne to Pose for Playboy. Playboy didn’t have a 24 hour timeframe between taking a picture and printing. Jayne struck her deal with Playboy for the February 1955 issue well before being signed by WB. Based on her contract, she gave no inkling of having posed for the magazine. I do agree with Golden that WB likely did not care about her posing for the photos, but they were in no way connected to her when she’d agreed to do it.
- Jayne and Anton LaVey posing at Jayne’s house in 1966. It was June of 1967. This is confirmed by the photographer, Walter Fischer, as well as in the book California Infernal (which I highly recommend to anyone looking for a brief, accurate account on LaVey and Jayne’s ‘relationship’).
There are an assortment of other incorrect factoids about Jayne and her life throughout the book, but I don’t want anyone to be on here all day. I understand Jayne’s early life is a complicated string to unravel, but I would expect more from both Golden and University of Kentucky press as far as fact checking.
Winner: Fulton. While I appreciate that Golden’s biography is well-researched at times (and significantly longer), I don’t need a rehashing of newspaper clippings with little to no research behind them, nor do I want to read “educated guesses.” If you don’t know something, use an adverb to show the reader what they’re reading is a theory rather than presenting it as fact. Certain things Golden reports are simply Mansfield lore rather than having any supporting evidence. Choosing not to interview Ray Strait when Golden looked for connections to Jayne was an odd choice as well; Ray is very congenial and more than willing to talk about Jayne outside of his book as well. I do wish Fulton would’ve reached out to people like Golden did, but I feel much safer recommending a book I know is accurate.
Fulton sometimes falls into the fan-trap of gushing over her subject. When one writes about someone they feel a connection with, they tend to fall into the trap of flowery language. I know I’ve done the same thing, and I’m not afraid to call myself out for it. However, Fulton has moments where she doesn’t hold back either, pointing out Jayne’s faults (especially during her marriage to Mickey Hargitay) and attempting to present Jayne as a real person.
If Fulton is flowery, Golden spits vitriol. I got tired of continuously reading about how dumpy Jayne’s legs were (it’s 2021, are we not over body shaming yet, even for the dead?) or how poor her parenting decisions were. Do I think Jayne was the absolute most amazing parent on the planet? No, I think she tried her best to juggle five children with a career and made poor decisions along the way. I always find authors’ dissection of female stars’ parenting abilities fascinations because so much is placed on the mother, and Golden’s book is no exception. For example, she points out how Jayne should have let Jayne Marie spend more time with Paul (fair), but doesn’t dissect how Paul abandoned Jayne and Jayne Marie with the hope that Jayne’s career aspirations would fail and force her to return to him, her dreams of Hollywood stardom crushed. She also shares recollections from people who knew or worked with Jayne, but oftentimes only shares one side to paint a narrative. This is glaring with her use of Ann B. Davis’ memories of Jayne being an unprofessional asshole but Cimber remembers her as being professional and always knowing her lines, even when her private life was a mess. For me, a good biography includes both recollections to get a fuller picture of the subject.
Winner: This is totally up to the reader, but I prefer Fulton’s methodology. Sure, it’s not flawless, but I’d rather read something that’s kinder to the subject rather than routine judgments about their appearance or personal decisions. I’ve said multiple times in my private life that while I love Jayne, I cannot know her decision making process, nor will I ever know her as a person. All I can do is look at the facts, and I very rarely attempt to explain what I think was going through her head.
Fulton: 3 Golden: 1 (They each got a point for the tie)
Closing Thoughts: I don’t particularly care for fan service bios, and I wanted both books to give a peak into Jayne’s thought process and life. While I think Golden’s book presents a very cliché approach to Jayne (got sick of the Monroe comparisons, although I will admit their careers are forever intertwined), it’s not without its merits. I personally didn’t learn anything new from it (we use the same newspaper database), but that doesn’t mean others won’t; however, it’s far from a good introduction to Jayne. On the flipside, Fulton’s book is written by a fan for fans, and while I think it will leave Jayne newbies wanting to know more, I also believe it makes for a nice addition to anyone’s library with even a passing interest in Jayne. Save your pennies, purchase the Fulton book and pick up Golden’s after you read everything else available on Jayne.
For the best singular biography on Jayne, I still recommend Martha Saxton’s Jayne Mansfield and the American Fifties (sorry, Pink Goddess fans, although I recommend that one too!) for those who want a clear view of Jayne as told by her family and friends. You can find links to both American Fifties and Pink Goddess in my bookstore.