THE NIGHT JAYNE
June 29, 1967
To save you a lot of reading, let's end
this urban myth for once and for all.
JAYNE MANSFIELD WAS NOT DECAPITATED.
I WAS THERE!
This topic comes up now and then...This was over 40 years ago. It was
a horrible scene. I was just 20 and it grossed me out. Some memories have
faded. Some I repressed and can't recall now 100%...and really wouldn't
NOTE: I do not do interviews or answer
email on the topic of Jayne Mansfield's crash, so please don't even request.
It's all here.
NO, SHE WASN'T DECAPITATED - READ BELOW.
Here's my best recollection of that early morning long ago.
I started working in New Orleans radio in 1966, doing weekend music shows
and some weekday news broadcasts. Therefore I used this opportunity to get
my official media press pass issued by the New Orleans Police Department.
The bright side was that it got me in free to a number of fun concerts and
events, and I was able to strut at those events as an official member of
the press. Quite a rush for a 20-year-old just beginning a long radio career.
The downside was that, once in a while, I had to witness some of life's
horrors as an official member of the press. The first of those was the car
crash that took the life of Jayne Mansfield and two others.
I had been in radio for little over a year on that summer night/early
morning in 1967 when the phone rang and the radio station told me what had
just happened. I quickly dressed and drove on Highway 90, to a dark stretch
near Fort Pike and the Rigolets Bridge characterized by miles of marshland,
waterfront camps on high pilings, and treacherous winding asphalt highway,
one lane in each direction divided by a yellow strip down the middle. One
of those turns on that dark road had already earned the name "Dead
Man's Curve" for good reason. Many impatient drivers trying to pass
the car in front at the wrong moment ended up defining that stretch of road.
Jayne Mansfield's movie career hit the skids shortly after the movie
"The Girl Can't Help It" in, I think, 1958. She was a novelty,
a well endowed sex symbol that men saw on screen and lusted after. But,
as in real life, they were soon looking for one even sexier (men!).
In 1964, as a teen (!), I saw Jayne Mansfield in a movie called "Promises!
Promises!" at the Do Drive-In. The movie was forgettable but the come-on
was that Jayne Mansfield was topless in this "B" movie (in one
scene it turned out, with Jayne waking up and stretching in bed at the very
beginning, with the sheet falling from her shoulders to her waist as she
stretched). That's how far her movie career had sunk in six years.
By 1967 Jayne was performing on the Supper Club circuit, singing badly
and telling awful jokes. But people came in droves to see her in person
because she was, after all, Jayne Mansfield. In the summer of 1967, Jayne
was booked for a two-week (I think) appearance at Gus Stevens' supper club
on the beach road and right by the famous lighthouse in Biloxi, Mississippi,
an area of hot tourist activity and lots of beach fun. Among the biggest
attractions Gus Stevens presented were Jayne Mansfield, Johnny Rivers, Jerry
Lee Lewis, Brother Dave Gardner, Justin Wilson and Andy Griffith.
I'm not sure how many days into her booking engagement she was at Gus
Stevens,' but one midweek during her stay she was scheduled to appear on
the "Midday" show at noon (!) the next day on WDSU-TV Channel
6 in New Orleans. So, after the show that night, Jayne, her agent/lover
Sam Brody and their driver, 20 year old Ronnie Harrison from neighboring
Mississippi City, got into the front seat of a 1966 Electra Buick 225 (owned
by Gus Stevens) for the trip a bit after midnight. In the back seat Jayne
put her three sleepy kids who were traveling with her during this supper
I learned much later that one of the kids asleep in the back seat that
night was Mariska Hargitay, now a TV actress on "Law & Order -
Special Victims Unit." She is the daughter of Jayne Mansfield and her
former husband, former Mr. Universe Mickey Hargitay, and was 3-1/2 years
old at the time. Her two slightly older brothers in the back seat, Zoltan
and Mickey Jr. were also the children of Jayne and Mickey. The fact that
the kids were in the back seat and asleep probably saved their lives. All
three survived the crash with only minor physical wounds. I wonder if Mariska
even remembers the crash now, since she was so young.
So, off the Buick Electra went, in those days before interstate highways.
They left Gus Stevens' and followed the beach road west toward New Orleans.
The beach and the Mississippi Sound and the Gulf of Mexico were on their
left on that starry, moonlit summer night. With the windows rolled down,
the salty air and soft Gulf breeze on that late summer night/early morning
must have been quite pleasing as they rode to the droning of the tires.
They drove the twenty miles through Biloxi, Gulfport, Mississippi City,
Long Beach and Pass Christian. Then they turned right as the road led away
from the beach. They drove over the short, high-rise Henderson Point railroad
bridge, and then over the dark and still water as they crossed the long
Bay St. Louis Bridge, and through Bay St. Louis and Waveland.
Making the turn onto Highway 90 from Waveland, they may or may not have
stopped for a late-night meal just past the Mississippi/Louisiana state
line at the White Kitchen, a 24-hour a day landmark and stopping point for
anyone travelling between the Gulf Coast and New Orleans in those days,
if just to "potty." Rumor says they stopped there, and my hunch
is that they did. But there's no way of knowing after all these years and
since the White Kitchen has been gone since the mid-70's.
Regardless, after they passed the White Kitchen night mist began to
settle in. The Electra proceeded down Highway 90 and entered the marshland
about ten miles further.
No one knows why they were speeding like that on a treacherous, dark
and winding road on a misty night. Maybe the youngster driving was sleepy,
no one knows.
The speedometer was estimated afterwards at 80 miles per hour as they
approached Dead Man's Curve among the marsh and camps that hide in the nighttime
mist which permeates the Rigolets.
Further obscuring visibility, a slow-moving mosquito fogging truck lay
hidden from them at the curve. The nighttime mist captured the insect fog
and spread it far and wide while holding it suspended above ground, like
light suspended in a prism of glass.
Behind the slow-moving mosquito fogger was a slow-moving 18 wheeler.
The Buick sped through the mist and the fog generated by the insect
spray. They were about 23 miles from downtown New Orleans.
The impact was tremendous.
The Buick hit the back of the 18-wheeler shortly after 1 a.m., shearing
off the car's top and prompting later rumors that they had been riding in
I was not used to seeing such carnage at that age, so I chose not to
stay at the crash scene for more than a couple of minutes because I was
But a couple of years later I was able to "acquire" copies
of the official police snapshots of the crash scene. They are still in my
house misplaced somewhere, but I remember what they showed, which is what
Ronnie Harrison, the driver, and Sam Brody, seated in the middle, were
physically intact but literally crushed from the front by the dashboard.
Jayne Mansfield was tossed out of the Buick by the impact and she landed
on the shoulder of the road.
(LET'S END THE DECAPITATION MYTH...I WAS THERE) :
Jayne had been wearing a blonde wig. It came off of her head when she
was thrown out of the Buick by the impact. Some people on the scene saw
the wig and assumed it was her real hair and that she had been decapitated.
She wasn't. But there was other very obvious physical trauma.
She lay twisted and broken on the side of the road. What a look of horror
on her face...frozen in the terror of her fate.
The coroner who did the autopsy on Jayne Mansfield passed away around
2004. In his recollections of the crash, which were quoted in his obituary
in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, he stated definitively that Jayne's head
was not decapitated, that it was intact on her neck, though her head was
And there was another detail of Jayne in death that I saw, that was
even apparent in the official pictures I have. But I won't tell that one,
in order to respect her final appearance on earth.
TO VISIT WHERE THE CRASH OCCURED: Proceed on U.S. Highway 90 to milepost
292. Go westbound from there 2118 feet and you will be within 20 feet of
where the crash occured. There are no phone or electric poles nearby to
use as a reference.
I hope this satisfies some curiousity and settles some confusion.
One of my correspondents still has the Buick in his garage in North
Carolina, untouched from that night.
NOTE: The following email was received on September 30,
2002, and is posted on Page 18 of my Email from Listeners and Visitors:
DREW STRAHAN, SUFFOLK, VA:
Bob, I was reading the article about Jayne Mansfield. I hope I have reached
the right person that wrote it. I can say for 100 per cent sure Jayne Mansfield
did stop at the White Kitchen.
My mother and I were in there eating fried chicken ... back then it
was all you can eat for $1.99 cents ... and in came Jayne Mansfield. My
mother had blonde hair and it was of course dyed back then in the 60's,
and I said "Here come's a lady with blonde hair just like yours."
Then the word out of my mothers mouth ... "OH my GOD, its Jayne Mansfield!
She went to the ladies' restroom, then she came out and believe me I was
watching. She got 3 small bottles of Coca cola and some candy ... the candy
was the small GOLD BRICK about the size of a person's small finger. She
walked over to my mother and said "Lady, that is one hell of a 'do
you have on you head," and it was. My mother had a wing on one side
the size of the state capital and had on more war paint and makeup than
8 women could wear.
I went to the door and watched Jayne get into the car. As well as
I remember is was a BUICK ELECTRA 225, about a 1965 or 1966. My mother was
driving a 1967 OLDS 98. My mother told me on the way home that Jayne Mansfield
was supposed to be on the Midday show with Terry Fletchrich. The next morning
I got up about 7:30 to cut the grass and my mother came out and told me
Jayne Mansfield had died in a car crash. It really upset my mother. We got
in the car and went to what has always been "Dead Man's Curve,"
and my mother had me cut some roses from her rose trellis in the yard and
we laid them on the right side of the road.
I too will never forget that day. I can remember like it was yesterday.
We almost did not go to the White Kitchen that night. At the last minute
we changed our minds and went to that one instead of going to Bosco's on
Highway 11, the reason being Bosco's was too crowded and I made the suggestion
for us to go and eat some Chicken at the White Kitchen.
You know I have not been back home to Slidell since my mother died
in 1980 but you can believe one thing. I am planning a trip to Louisiana
around the holidays. I will make it a point to stop by and lay some flowers
on the side of the road where her life ended. Thanks for letting me share
this story with you.