Jayne Mansfield (1933-67) was a movie star who lived for publicity, but many rumours about her life and untimely death have circulated for years. She died in a car crash that, the story went, decapitated her and killed her then-boyfriend, her lawyer, but that was not quite accurate, as while she was dead all right, her head never left her body, but this was the sensational story that seemed appropriate to her lurid existence in the spotlight. She was one of the blonde bombshells along with the better-regarded Marilyn Monroe and the more equal in status Mamie Van Doren who grabbed the headlines in the nineteen-fifties and sixties, but for Jayne, publicity was like an addiction...
To indicate where this documentary was coming from, it was all in the title: it largely covered the years 1966-67, the final two of Mansfield's life, but if you looked at it you would see three sixes all in a row: 666, the number of the beast. Here was an investigation into whether she had genuine Satanic connections, or whether it was all part of that drive for ever-more outrageous publicity for herself that she craved so wholeheartedly, as in that period of time she was purported to have grown chummy with Anton LaVey, the self-appointed leader of The Church of Satan. Could it be that Jayne was a Satanist in her latter days, and that she had brought a curse upon her own head?
Well, maybe, maybe not - but probably not. That didn't mean it was not interesting to speculate, however, and this was arranged in an entertaining manner by husband and husband directors P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes, presenting the expected array of clips and talking heads of celebrity fans and pop culture experts, but also a selection of dance numbers and songs, plus animated sequences to fill in gaps where no footage existed. There was no visual record of Mansfield's son being mauled by a lion, for example (yes, that really happened), so the event is represented by a cartoon, which is all tied into the supposed curse since LaVey owned a pet lion, therefore the connection is plain. Or is it? The film teetered on a tightrope of taking the Devil worship seriously, and thinking, "Naaaah..."
Certainly, Satan was very much in the air in the late sixties, as people began to question Christianity and other religions, and wonder if there was any truth in them, and if there was what kind of truth they held. Rosemary's Baby, book and film (which LaVey consulted on), were returned to again and again here, as proof that America was obsessed with the idea of selling your soul or simply rejecting God in favour of a more hedonistic lifestyle that Mansfield apparently embodied, though it was this self-promotion that was becoming her stock in trade by 1966 than anything she was doing in her actual movie work. Once she had appeared nude in a movie and in men's magazine spreads, it seemed she had nowhere else to go, yet she was still only in her mid-thirties when she passed away; there’s a sense here she was a spent force, and whatever deal she had made had reached the end of its contract.
While the spirit of this effort was unmistakably that of Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon books (Anger is an interviewee – Jayne was on the cover of the first volume), it perhaps had more serious intent than its glossy, frivolous surface might suggest. There was a conscious desire to portray Mansfield as a fully rounded (no pun intended) human being, so we understood her as both a celebrity obsessed with fame, a doting mother, and as the possessor of a genius I.Q. that she did not exactly promote the way she promoted her Pink Palace home or her cavernous cleavage. We can see she was a people pleaser, rarely saying "no" to any offer, which it is indicated cheapened her brand and led to her low rent engagements at the end of her career, one of which she was on the way to when she died. Although this did not shy away from sensationalism - bad taste pretty much comes with the territory when discussing her - it did demonstrate that it cared about Jayne, more so than Anton who is exposed as a charlatan also addicted to publicity, though convincing to particular people, yet even he was not hauled over the coals of opprobrium. If anything, the chintzy, kitschy visuals undercut what was surprisingly thoughtful. Generally, a very good show.