The brassy Monroe clone had a rags to riches to rags tale of Hollywood excess with a tragic ending.
Born Vera Jayne Palmer, Mansfield's father was a successful attorney who died of a heart attack when she was three. Her mother remarried and the family moved to Texas. Mansfield won her first beauty contest and decided to become an actress. Her plans had to be put on hold, however, when she became pregnant at sixteen by Paul Mansfield, who she married in May 1950.
Mansfield worked, cared for her daughter, and studied acting at the University of Texas in Austin. She also won several beauty contests, and decided to go to Hollywood to study at UCLA and to act. After some work in television, her first film was 1955's 'Blues' followed by 'The Female Jungle'. Although she was a talented actress, her career was much helped by her ample physical attributes and resemblance to Marilyn Monroe.
Her breakout role came in 1957 with a featured part in 'The Burglar'. Her Hollywood career was short lived; her most notable films were 'The Girl Can't Help It' (1956), 'Too Hot to Handle' (1960) and her last film 'Single Room Unfurnished' (1968). In 1957, she appeared on stage in a prominent role in the Broadway production of George Axelrod's comedy 'Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?'. The following year, Mansfield starred in Frank Tashlin's 'The Girl Can't Help It', which led to a long-term deal with 20th-Century Fox.
She then played a straight dramatic role (albeit as a stripper) in 'The Wayward Bus' in 1957. With her role in this film she attempted to move away from her "dumb blonde" image and establish herself as a serious actress. Her performance earned her a Golden Globe award in 1957 for Most Promising Newcomer - Female.
She gradually became more famous for her love of life, and talent for self-promoting stunts, so Jayne received few real opportunities to demonstrate her capabilities. She was also famous for her lavish Hollywood mansion, known as "the pink palace". Jayne divorced Mansfield in 1956 and married Mickey Hargitay, a former Mr. Universe, two years later in a public ceremony at which Mansfield wore a transparent wedding dress. They toured widely for stage shows and her leopard-print bikini became a widely-discussed topic that received newspaper coverage.
She gave birth to son Miklos on 21 December 1958 and Zoltan on 1 August 1960. The couple filed for divorce in Mexico in 1963 but Mansfield discovered she was pregnant again. Being an unwed mother would have ruined her career so the pair announced they were still married. Mariska was born on 23 January 1964 after their divorce but before California declared it valid in August 1964.
A few months later she married Matt Cimber, an Italian-born director whom she had met when he directed her in a highly-praised stage production of 'Bus Stop', which co-starred Hargitay. They wed on 12 September 1964 and Cimber took over her management. They had son Antonio in 1965 and filed for divorce in 1966 due to her alcohol abuse and open infidelities. Work on her last film was suspended as her marriage broke down.
In 1963, Mansfield became the first mainstream American actress to appear in the nude when she starred in 'Promises! Promises!'. Photographs of a naked Mansfield on the set were later published in Playboy magazine. She appeared in around 2,500 newspaper photographs between September 1956 and May 1957 and had 122,000 lines written about her during this time.
One of the most famous shots occurred in April 1957 when her bosom was used to deflect attention away from Sophia Loren during a dinner party in the Italian star's honour. She also exposed both breasts during a film festival in Berlin where she was wearing a low-cut dress and her second husband lifted her up to bite some grapes, which caused her to fall out of her dress.
Tragically, in June 1967, Mansfield was killed at the age of 34, when the car in which she was travelling crashed into the back of a truck in Louisiana. She had been travelling to New Orleans for an early morning TV interview, with her lover Sam Brody and their driver Ronnie Harrison, as well as three of her children. The three adults were killed, with an urban legend emerging that Mansfield was decapitated, while the children escaped with minor injuries.
Mansfield's funeral was held on 3 July in Pennsylvania. Her gravestone is shaped as a heart and has the engraving "We Live to Love You More Each Day".