Fifty years ago, on June 29, 1967, tragedy struck on a desolate stretch of Highway 90 in Louisiana, forever altering the course of road safety history. A silver Buick Electra, driven by college student Ron Harrison, collided with a stationary truck, claiming the life of the iconic Hollywood bombshell, Jayne Mansfield.
Earlier that evening, the Gus Stevens Supper Club in Biloxi, Mississippi, had hosted a captivating performance by the vivacious actress, Jayne Mansfield. As the clock struck past 2.30am, Harrison was entrusted with the task of chauffeuring the star from Biloxi to New Orleans. Little did they know that this fateful journey would take an unexpected turn.
The scene was set for tragedy when a cloud of insecticide from a city council vehicle obscured the view of the parked truck on the road. Oblivious to the impending danger, the speeding Buick hurtled towards the truck, colliding with a force that instantly claimed the lives of Harrison, Mansfield, and her lawyer, Samuel S. Brody. Miraculously, Mansfield’s four chihuahuas and her children survived with relatively minor injuries.
Jayne Mansfield’s death at the age of 34 marked an ignominious end to a career that had captivated audiences and fueled headlines. Born as Vera Jayne Palmer in Pennsylvania in 1933, she dreamt of being a performer from a young age. Her journey into the world of entertainment began with acting lessons and various jobs, including modeling and posing for Playboy. She ingeniously orchestrated wardrobe malfunctions to gain publicity, capturing the attention of the press and fueling her popularity.
Despite her undeniable talent and intelligence, Mansfield’s career suffered from being typecast as a stereotypical dumb blonde. The decline in demand for such roles and waning interest in her publicity stunts led to a frustrating period in her career. Struggling to secure significant film roles, she resorted to B-grade movies, television guest spots, and nightclub performances to make ends meet.
As Mansfield yearned for a comeback, her life took a tragic turn on that fateful night in 1967. The collision on Highway 90 shocked the nation and left a lasting impact on road safety. News reports inaccurately claimed that Mansfield had been decapitated in the accident, but her actual cause of death was a crushed skull.
The shocking incident sparked a nationwide campaign for road safety changes. One crucial outcome was the introduction of the “Mansfield Bar,” also known as the rear underrun protector or underride guard, which began to be installed on trucks in the late 1960s. This lifesaving device ensured that vehicles following a truck would not slide beneath it during rear-end collisions, preventing potentially fatal accidents.
The impact of Jayne Mansfield’s death resonated far beyond the confines of Hollywood. The Mansfield Bar became a standard feature of trucks in Australia, saving countless lives on the nation’s roads. While her untimely passing cut short her Hollywood career, Jayne Mansfield’s legacy lives on through the enduring impact of the safety measures inspired by her tragic accident. Fifty years later, her name remains etched in the history of road safety, a reminder of the importance of continuous efforts to protect lives on the highways and byways of the world.