Hollywood actress Jayne Mansfield was the blonde bombshell to rival Monroe. From The Girl Can’t Help It to her final cameo role in Gene Kelly’s A Guide to the Married Men she was adored by the public. Constantly courting publicity, Mansfield lived her life in the public eye — her struggles with alcohol and drugs visible to all, until her death in a car crash in 1967.
Filmmakers P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes have created the documentary Mansfield 66/67 to explore some of the myths and rumours surrounding Mansfield, and to commemorate the final years of her life.
I spoke with Ebersole and Hughes for a behind-the-scenes look at the film.
What initially drew you to the story of Jayne Mansfield?
As children growing up in America in the 1960s, we both had heard the story of Jayne Mansfield — the beautiful blonde movie star who was decapitated in a horrific car accident while her children slept in the back seat. Todd remembers his mother telling him that the actress was dabbling in black magic, and that she’d been a nude altar at Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan in San Francisco. True or not, these stories conjured up forbidden images of the naughty adult world of swingers.
As artists-in-residence, you’ve worked with the students of Leeds Beckett University to create this film — what was that process like?
Borne out of our long and fruitful collaboration with cinematographer and producer Larra Anderson, we were able to achieve this fever dream of an idea through a unique collaboration with Leeds Beckett University’s School of Film, Music & Performing Arts, and The Northern Film School. As luck would have it, when it came time to explore these ideas and film them into reality, Larra and her university were able to invite us to come as visiting artists-in-residence.
The school provided The Ebersole Hughes Company the opportunity to work with their faculty and students — over 100 participants in all — as part of what we’re happy to say turned out to be a very successful research project for the renowned Yorkshire institution.
It’s an eclectic group of commentators that you’ve assembled to be interviewed on camera for the documentary, what was the process you followed to identify who you wanted to speak with?
We wanted a spectrum of opinions and ages. The initial troika we thought necessary was Kenneth Anger, John Waters, and Marilyn Manson. We’ve known Kenneth for 20 years, so he was first. Jeffrey Schwarz made an intro to Mr Waters, and he was very accommodating. Some people — like Tippi Hedren and Mamie Van Doren — had direct connections to the story. Mary Woronov is a long-time friend, and one night at dinner she had this great discourse on how Jayne was a sacrifice, and we knew we had to have her in the film. Most people ended up coming to the film in an organic way
Was there anyone that you would have liked to include in the documentary but couldn’t get access to?
We had interviews scheduled with Marilyn Manson and Engelbert Humperdinck, but both declined in the end. We never asked Mariska Hargitay, Zeena LaVey, or any family members, since people would take their ‘thruths’ as definitive, and there’s nothing definitive about this story.
One of the strengths of the documentary is that it takes an intellectually feminist perspective on understanding the cultural significance of Mansfield. What took you in that direction?
David’s mother was deeply involved in sixties feminism, and the end of the era of the blonde bombshells carried a whole different connotation. So, with or without the added layer of LaVey’s roguish brand of Satanism — a playful Hefner-esque Playboy After Dark dabbling in the dark-side — Jayne’s life and death proved to be a mutual obsession for us, offering insight into the changing world we lived through as young men.
If our parents were formed by their rejection of the picket fence lives of the 1950s, our lives were shaped by the way in which that generation insisted on breaking down societal norms and constrictions. Jayne’s uneasy intersection with that moment of American history meshed perfectly with our common interests in people who live as outsiders — especially those who experience a questioning of faith — and how that expands an acceptance of mans’ multiplicitous nature, be it expressed in sexually adventurous behaviour or non-traditional paths in life.
What sort of response have you had so far to the documentary?
We screened at the Cairo Film Festival, and the most stimulating discussion followed with the audience who really connected with the themes and subtext. People with rigid ideas about what a doc is supposed to be are occasionally horrified, which always cracks us up. We’re so happy when people appreciate it as an art film.
What do you hope that people feel when watching the documentary?
We hope that they have a great time and learn a thing or two about that crazy time in culture. We dare anyone to sit through the film and not walk away madly in love with Jayne.
What do you hope that this documentary contributes to the legacy of Jayne Mansfield?
That it will keep the memory of Jayne alive for the future. She’s a remarkable and talented disrupter. Our film is a document of this, as well as a fascinating moment in history.
We want to hear your opinion
“In a fictional universe I would wield magic”
I caught up with artist Stefano Junior to talk art, illustration, and super-powers.
When did you start to explore your passion for illustration and art?
I’ve been drawing as far back as I can remember. According to my parents, I drew a very convincing female figure from my imagination at about three or four years old. From then on, when I wasn’t at school, watching cartoons, or voraciously reading comic books, I’d be drawing. My parents eventually enrolled me in a fine arts weekend program at a local college — I studied there for several years while going through grammar and middle school.
What is it about superheroes that appeals to you?
In hindsight, apart from the obvious colourful allure of superhero adventures, it was the transformative nature that is the basis of most superhero narratives. As a child, in suburban 80s America, with my penchant for the arts, girls toys, and a foreign name, I was bullied extensively — superheroes provided a means to escape, I could imagine that I might one day extricate myself from that oppression.
Books like Chris Claremont’s X-Men, which were ripe with soap-opera-like drama, reassured me that my ‘latent’ powers weren’t things to be ashamed of. Roger Stern’s run on Superman affirmed my beliefs that though people could be cruel and misguided, it didn’t mean that I should have to sacrifice my ethics and sense of what’s right. George Pérez’s Wonder Woman — that she was an immigrant appealed to me as a first-generation Italian, and she never lost her compassion for even her greatest foes.
Growing up with older sisters and a strong Italian matriarch may have influenced me gravitating to female heroes. But there was also the allure of the outrageous 80s feminine glamour of heroes like She-Ra, or the many fantastic mutant women of the X-universe who all played such pivotal roles in the series while donning fantastic costumes created by amazing artists like Paul Smith, Arthur Adams, and Marc Silvestri.
I love your drawings of Sorceror Stefano — is that an alter ego?
I’ve been developing an illustrated version of myself over the years. I’m currently studying cartooning at the School of Visual Arts — comic legend Phil Jimenez was one of my instructors my sophomore year. Our mid-term assignment was to create a fictionalised life drawing of ourselves in a turnaround. So I photographed myself, and further developed the design of my Sorcerer self. As an artist, the process of creation feels like sorcery, so were I to exist in a fictional universe, I would definitely wield magic. I’d also like to be physically invulnerable.
Who are some of your art heroes or inspirations?
My inspirations are pretty vast. From the art world it includes Bernini, Gabriel Rosetti, and Waterhouse. From comics it includes Esteban Maroto, Garcia Lopez, Marc Silvestri, Brian Bolland, George Perez, Phil Jimenez, Adam Hughes, Colleen Doran, Art Adams, and especially Alan Davis — both for the aesthetic beauty and elegance of his art, and as a draughtsman and storyteller.
If you could do a life drawing of a male super-hero, who would you choose?
Henry Cavill as Superman.
Your moustache game is pretty strong — what does your moustache say about you?
At its most base, it’s a homage to the machismo of the 1980s — particularly my hero, Tom Selleck as Magnum PI. He’s the epitome of masculine idealisation.
I grow it and shave it constantly — it’s spawned its own cartoon of my creation. You can follow the exploits of me and my moustache — Mr. Mustardo — on Instagram. It’s absolutely vain, but it allows for me to be humorous in a single panel cartoon form that deviates from the more representative work and superhero storytelling that I’ve primarily been focused on.
What are some of your goals and ambitions for the months ahead?
I hope to further develop an original comic that I started in the Fall, that centres around a complex heroine and a magical discovery. Plus there’s some newer humorous cartoons that Id like to serialise online somehow — one that follows the exploits of a majordomo in an early 20th century hotel, another that follows a boy through multiple mediums and circumstances that end badly.
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