If you were ever even slightly famous, and now you're dead, look out. Somebody may use you as the excuse for a TV movie. The best advice for stars today, such as they are, is, tie up the rights to your life this minute so you can never be sunk into something as grubby as "The Jayne Mansfield Story," a pink flamingo of a CBS movie at 9 tonight on Channel 9.
Producers of this particular strain of movie virus use specific, if dubiously accurate, incidents from real people's lives in order to extend the careers of melodramatic cliches that have been around longer than Ronald Reagan. Poor Jayne, popular dumb blond of the '50s, was really a serious actress who fell victim to her own publicity, according to the script of the film. When she starts sloshing booze at 11 a.m., you know that the skids are only a commercial or two away.
Writers Charles Dennis and Nancy Gayle ferret out the exploitable hokum in Mansfield's life, or published accounts of it, and kick around a few bromides about sex symbols and dumb blondism to justify this intrusion. They concoct a tale not even an idiot would bother telling -- and what does that make director Dick Lowry? -- beginning and ending it with Mansfield's death in a car accident in 1967.
The project is doubly doomed by the casting of Loni ("WKRP") Anderson as Mansfield, a role not only physically but intellectually beyond her, and that's saying something. Her squeals and peeps as the public Mansfield, and her sobs and wails as the private Mansfield, can't be said to ring even remotely true. But then how true could anyone ring while sitting in a bathtub drinking champagne and shouting out, "Get me the Playboy mansion! I want to talk to Hugh Hefner!"
Not even the telephones ring true in camp as limp as this.
The film notes the passing of the dumb blond from popular culture, but it doesn't mention that in the '70s, actresses like Anderson, and Suzanne Somers, the definitive zero, would bring it back again on television. Women's lib can't kill it, but the species may be tolerated because we now have male dumb blonds as well. And, as John Davidson regularly proves, they don't even have to be blond.
The unintentional point of this shoddy Alan ("That's Incredible!") Landsburg Production is that blond bombshells used to be more fun. For dramatic conflict, it can't supply much more than that hoary old groan about the sex object who really wants to be taken seriously .
G. D. Spradlin projects his usual surly menace as a ruthless but probably fictitious 20th Century-Fox executive. The big meanie won't let Jayne play Hamlet, or something, and this constrains her thespic juices. "I'll just sell the cheesecake until I'm famous," she says. "I'll play the game." And later she vows to peddle her epidermis on the silver screen "until I'm a household name. Then they'll give me the scripts I want."
Just once, particularly so soon after that phony-baloney Marilyn Monroe biography on ABC, it would be refreshing to see a movie about a sex bomb who didn't aspire to The Classics, who just liked being paraded in public. Someone like -- well, someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who gives the movie a certain lunkheaded charm with his fractured phonetic line readings in the role of Mickey Hargitay, Mansfield's muscle-boy husband.
Bruce the Shark was more expressive than the stilted but somehow amiable Arnold, who starts the movie on the phone with his ex-beloved just before the fatal crash. She is promising reform and he says, "Jayne, we've been tru dis before." Much later when Jayne has accepted a part in a low-budget movie as her career, among other things, sags, Arnold delivers perhaps his most searingly emotional speech: "This picture -- 'Las Vegas Hillbillies.' Why, Jayne?"
One is reminded of Oscar Levant's famous remark about the movie "Samson and Delilah," with Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr; Levant said he didn't care for pictures in which the leading man had larger breasts than the leading lady. Stuffed into slinky dresses and pink Cadillacs and topped with a gob of platinum blond, Anderson doesn't resemble Mansfield so much as as she does the redoutable Divine, transvestite star of underground filmmaker John Walters' scandalous oeuvre.
Anderson's acting range suggests this is not really the movie biography she was meant for. She'd be more at home in "The Mitzi Gaynor Story," though if Mitzi and her lawyer have any smarts, they'll take pains to make any such venture nothing less than recklessly actionable. "Mansfield" should serve as fair warning to the famous but mortal. In the nearly immortal words of Arnold Schwarzenegger: "Oh, dat's reedickaloose."