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The Kennedys in Hollywood
By Lawrence J. Quirk

Chapter One: Clowning Around with Jayne

One of Jack Kennedy's sillier romantic involvements was with Jayne Mansfield, who had staked her life and career in the 1950s--and beyond--on becoming not only the poor man's Marilyn Monroe but Everyman's answer to Marilyn Monroe. That Jayne's plans did not work out as she had hoped was due not only to the poor management and promotion of her cause but to her own self-destructive obsession with becoming an almost caricaturial Monroe. "Marilyn thinks of me as her rival--I know it unnerves her," she told me in 1957 during an interview at the Sherry-Netherland; at the table where we were lunching she sported her usual exaggerated-breasts outfit. When her noisy little dogs, whom she kept handing to me, first spit and then peed on me, far from apologizing, she thought it hilarious. Granted that the pee came out only in small droplets, which I quickly corrected in the men's room, I suspected it was the dog's commentary on all journalists that amused her--though she needed those same journalists to further the image she was after.

When I got back from the men's room, all spruced up and deodorized, the dogs had disappeared--some hep publicist must have seen the light--and Jane went on telling me about how Marilyn had gone arty but she was out to win the hearts of the public.

"I'll be here for the long haul--you'll see--I know just what I'm doing!" she told me. I asked her if she wanted these words in the published interview and reminded her that I was editing the fan magazine that would be using it, as well as writing the article on her. This seemed to discombobulate her, and she said, "You mean you edit as well as write?" "Yes, Jayne, such double-jointed animals do exist," I rejoindered. At that she giggled and appeared to relax a bit, conveying that we were about to become coconspirators as to what she wanted the public to believe about her.

"I think sex is healthy, and there's too much guilt and hypocrisy about it," she continued. "Marilyn understood that, and so do I." Asked if she didn't feel it demeaning to attempt carbon-copying someone, she snapped back: "Oh, but I am merely influenced by Marilyn! Artists in all fields have original influences then they go on to put their own individual stamp on what they are offering their public!"

And what, I asked, was to be Jayne's original stamp in this instance? "Well, what with that Actor's Studio stuff Marilyn goes in for, and her acting with Laurence Olivier and all that, I want to strike out on the common trail; I want to be the ordinary man's conception of what a sexy, obliging, comradely, down-to-earth girlfriend ought to be." It was still repressed 1957; had it been a later decade, Jayne, I am sure, would have said "bed partner" or "lover" instead of "girlfriend." But I got the general drift and conveyed it duly in my article later.

There is a photograph of Jayne and me and the dogs at that table in the Sherry-Netherland in 1957. Jayne and the dogs are looking, well, busy and watchful, and I am looking puzzled and sardonic, as I would in a dozen other interviews with Jayne over the next few years.

Certainly, at that time, Jayne had cashed in on what she called Marilyn's "arty ideas." Twentieth Century-Fox, while recognizing that they had in Jayne a cruder, more elemental sexpot--subtlety was never one of Jayne's watchwords--felt that she could be milked not only for sexual titillation but for laughs, and Jayne did everything to sea and abet them. Her motto, as she confessed to me later (off the record), was: get the public's attention anyway you can. When I gently suggested that there was a subtle distinction between notoriety and fame, she shook her finger at me and interrupted with "but in Hollywood, notoriety is fame!"

And notoriety is what Jayne proceeded to win, year after year, until she ran out of gas.

Born Vera Jayne Palmer in 1933 in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, she was married at sixteen and a mother at seventeen. After drifting (briefly) through drama classes at such places as the University of Texas and UCLA, she got into and won a number of beauty contests, did minor television work, then did her first notoriety shtick in Broadway's Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, in which she sashayed around in a tantalizingly loose Turkish towel. The dizzy-blonde role she essayed in the play (obviously a somewhat cartoonish takeoff on Marilyn Monroe) she repeated in the 1957 movie version. After that, a succession of similar roles followed, until the inevitable downward slide in the 1960s. Having unloaded her early husband far back in the game, she married muscle-boy Mickey Hargitay in 1958 (they split in 1964), and later the Mansfield-Hargitay combine was reincarnated by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Loni Anderson in a 1980 television movie, The Jayne Mansfield Story.

Her third marriage, to director Matt Cimber, lasted only a couple of years in the 1960s. By the mid 1960s she had to resort to low-budget European movies, and after age thirty, her buxom blonde charms turned increasingly blowsy. She died at thirty-four in a car accident in New Orleans while on her way to a nightclub engagement. The original story that she had been decapitated was later proven untrue; she had lost her wig, was scalped, but died from general bodily traumas.

But for awhile, from 1955 to about 1960, Jayne seemed to be holding her own in such films as The Girl Can't Help It, Kiss Them for Me, and It Happened in Athens.

From the mid 1950s, Jayne had heard about the Jack Kennedy-Marilyn Monroe on-again, off-again affair, and as always, she heartily envied Marilyn for it. She pondered later, with considerable chagrin (as she told me off the record in 1959), Marilyn's talent for marrying "big shots" like Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller while she could only attract what she called "small-fry." She even said this within earshot of her then husband Mickey Hargitay, and I could tell from his scowl that he didn't appreciate it.

According to one of her publicists, Raymond Strait, who later authored two books on her, Jayne was determined to catch up with Marilyn where Jack Kennedy was concerned, and in 1960, the year he was elected president, she made it with him. As usual, Peter Lawford was the go-between. Peter himself mentioned it to me; he said Jack found Jayne's Marilyn-aping act amusing, adding that Jack thought that "Jayne's ass was as good as, if not better than, Marilyn's." "She's so anxious to ape Marilyn, be Marilyn, we'll add to her credentials by giving her a roll in the hay," Jack laughed.

Because in 1960 Marilyn was still married to Arthur Miller and the Millers were doing The Misfits together, Peter felt that there was time and room for Jack to experiment with Jayne. Peter also had a vixenish side and knew Marilyn would hear of it, get jealous, and soon want to be back in the main running in Jack's bedroom scheme.

Jack was in the early stages of his 1960 campaign and was still a senator from Massachusetts, so this gave him more mobility and "incognito opportunities" than he would know later as president (not that the presidency stopped Jack from attaining his objectives. Peter Lawford once said to me that when Jack wanted something, he wanted it, and even had he been pope he would have found a way to get it).

Raymond Strait remembered a call from a mysterious Mr. J (Jack) while he was vacationing in Palm Springs. Peter Lawford had given him all the phone numbers and addresses he would need in tracking down Jayne; Jack lost no time in availing himself of them. The first time, Jack and Jayne rendezvoused in Palm Springs; the second time, at Peter's beach house in Santa Monica. Peter was a master at keeping the wrong cast members off the stage at crucial times. Peter, Peter's wife, and the kids were away; there were no other visitors. Jack and Jayne had ample opportunity to test their mating skills.

Jayne later told Peter and others that Jack left something to be desired as a lover, preferring sex while on his back and pressing her to perform oral sex on him. "And once he's done, he's done; it's like you don't exist any more!" Peter reminded Jayne about Jack's bad back and the recurring pain he suffered, hence his preference for certain methods of intercourse. Jayne gave the most classic answer to this of all Jack's lovers: "Okay, but couldn't he at least be a little tender?" Peter felt this was ironic coming from Jayne, since tenderness was distinctly not a part of her public persona, onscreen and off. "Greer Garson and Norma Shearer and Irene Dunne she ain't, never was, never will be!" Peter laughed.

Raymond Strait continued to be cued in on Jayne's encounters with Jack Kennedy. Another time, as he recalled it, Jayne dropped by his place for a chat and a cup of coffee and a cigarette and left a matchbook with the Presidential Seal on it.

Peter didn't think Jayne very discreet and told her so. "Why bother?" she snapped back. "Everyone in Hollywood and Washington knows about it anyway, and I like it that way! And I'll bet Marilyn's pissed as all get out!"

There was truth in Jayne's statement, for all amours and assignations of any kind were gossip fodder in Washington and Los Angeles, the two gossipiest towns in America--or the world for that matter. There were always prying chauffeurs and maids looking for stains and whatnot in beds, elevator operators and desk clerks, all with a sharp eye out, all hoping to sell whatever information they had. While this was the era of the Confidential-type tabloids, the info they had was even more valuable to the network of spies who could fit such stuff into their special-interest agendas.

But the strangest encounter, as Strait remembered (Peter Lawford and others corroborated Strait on this), was when Jayne was pregnant with her fourth child and was nearing birthing time. Jack told Strait he had to see Jayne; Strait said he'd do all he could. When Jayne heard that Jack wanted her to come down to Palm Springs, she rushed to get there. When Peter tried to remonstrate that with her big belly and bloated appearance Jack would hardly find her an inviting sight, she said, "Jack knows all about it; you don't know him as I know him; he'll find his own way to enjoy himself with me--he always does!"

Jayne later reported that she had performed oral sex on Jack while he stroked her belly. "Jack got a kick out of being `done' by a woman almost ready to give birth--he was always looking for freaky variations on things," she laughed. Did she find their relative positions during the act uncomfortable? "Oh no," she said, "I managed--it was different and fun!"

Ruth Waterbury was one of Hollywood's prime interviewers and somewhat of a mother figure to stars she interviewed; she also played fair, and stars knew she would print material that was within what they called "decent limits." Ruth told me in 1964 of the Jayne-Jack interlude while she was pregnant. "If I dared print but one half of one percent of all I know about these people," Ruth chortled, "I'd be run out of Hollywood on a rail in five minutes flat!" When I asked Ruth why she felt Jack had this strange compulsion toward indiscriminate, often freaky, promiscuity, she answered, succinctly: "Power. Male nymphomania. And the cachet (which he savored) of fucking the famous!"

According to Strait, Jack once put Jayne's nose out of joint by telling her that her voice reminded him of the woman she was busily cuckolding--Jackie. Again according to Strait, Jayne found the comparison "insulting and depressing." But far from feeling even a tinge of guilt over her adultery, Jayne put the needle in Jackie, protesting angrily, "I don't sound like her! She doesn't sound like anything!"

Fred Otash, an associate of Raymond Strait's, was a detective often for hire and popular with notables in Washington, New York, and Hollywood, who for whatever reasons wanted to get the dirt on each other. Strait later claimed that he listened to an audiotape recording Otash had made secretly. Reportedly, Jack and Jayne's lovemaking noises--and their highly imaginative sexual imagery and fetishism, vocalized eloquently and noisily--rendered the audiotape a classic of its kind.

Peter Lawford, during the presidential years of Jack Kennedy, saw to it that Jayne met with Jack whenever he expressed a desire along those lines. Whether in or out of marriage, Jayne was always available. "I'm honored--honored!" she told Ruth Waterbury. "Why, think, I'll go down in history like that--what was her name--Madame O'Barry."

"Madame Du Barry," Ruth gently corrected Jayne, adding, "she was French, Jayne, not Irish!"

"Oh, whatever she was, I'm in good historical company, ain't I?" Jayne giggled.

Marilyn and Jayne, in the 1960-1962 period, occasionally ran into each other. "Marilyn was never cordial," Jayne told Ruth. "She was seeing Jack, too, and she hated me for being her rival." When Jayne heard shortly before Marilyn's death that Marilyn had aborted Jack's baby, she was miserly with the sympathy. "Why couldn't the silly dame have been more careful?" was her tart observation.

I brought up Jayne Mansfield several times to Marilyn Monroe when I interviewed her. Marilyn, I can testify, hated her. "All she does is imitate me--but her imitations are an insult to her as well as to myself." she snapped. "I know it's supposed to be flattering to be imitated, but she does it so grossly, so vulgarly--I wish I had some legal means to sue her."

"Sue her for what, Marilyn?" I asked.

"For degrading the image I worked for years to construct!" Marilyn shot back.

When Marilyn's death was reported on August 5, 1962, Jayne, according to Strait, Ruth Waterbury, and another of her confidants, Jerry Asher, the fan-mag writer, grew very nervous and fearful. "Maybe I'll be next!" she kept repeating, striding around her bedroom, smoking frantically. Peter Lawford tried to reassure her. "But Jayne," he reminded her, "you never gave Jack any problems. You never came on possessive or demanding; you never called him, as Marilyn did; you always waited for him to call you."

But Jayne would not be comforted. "Maybe I should go to Europe for a while," she said to Ruth. Ruth, who thought Jayne was melodramatizing things and making too much of it, suggested that if Jayne did go to Europe, she should visit Versailles outside Paris and roam around among the scenes associated with Madame Du Barry, Madame de Pompadour, and other extramarital consorts of French royalty. Ruth told me years later that Jayne vetoed this. "They're dead and I'm alive. I'm the one who has to do the worrying--it's just not funny."

In the last years of her life (1966-1967) Jayne toyed with writing her autobiography. Jerry Asher tried to make her understand that she wasn't the personality she had been, that it might not attract sufficient buyers. Always the realist, if an addle-headed and indiscreet one, Jayne asked what would happen to potential sales if she told all--meaning about her and Jack, among other encounters. "Then you will take the heat you have always been ducking," Jerry snapped back. "Don't be a fool, Jayne. Let sleeping dogs lie."

Always on hand with a humorous crack even in moments of tension, he recalled, Jayne said, "You mean let sleeping wolves lie."

In one of her interviews with me, Jayne once said she thought Teddy Kennedy was the cutest of the Kennedys and she had a crush on him but had never gotten to close quarters with him. At that time (1965) Jayne was thirty-two and Teddy was thirty-three. I made notes on this at the time, remarking that it was just as well Ted and Jayne stayed at a distance from each other; Jayne, being the kind of person she was, would have possibly done worse than drive Ted's wife Joan to drink--she might have driven her to suicide.

In 1965, Jerry Asher, who was writing for my fan magazines, told me Jayne was still begging him to ghostwrite her life story, but he had never liked ghostwriting. He suggested, "Why don't you ask my editor, Larry Quirk?" Jayne was soon on the phone.

I tried to let the lady down lightly: "Jayne, I'm editing four fan magazines at once, and writing for them, too, and where would I find the time?" I suggested writer-publicist Jim Reid, who was one of my contacts. "Oh, Jim's too nice--he wouldn't write it hard-boiled. And I'm hard-boiled." Jayne giggled.

© 1996 Lawrence J. Quirk


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