A new documentary looks into the rumors behind the film legend's friendship with infamous Satanist Anton LaVey.
FilmBuff/A Gunpowder and Sky Company/The Everett Collection
Mansfield 66/67 is the perfect Halloween treat for those of us who gobbled up Kenneth Anger's legendary tell-all Hollywood Babylon like a handful of stale candy corn. Based on "rumor and hearsay," this documentary is about legendary blond bombshell Jayne Mansfield, her career, and her relationship with late Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey before her untimely death in 1967. Was it more than a photo opportunity for an actress whose star was on the wane and a
publicity-hungry huckster, or was there something about Mansfield's sex-positive persona that was attracted to the tenets of the Church of Satan?
We'll probably never know for sure, as filmmakers P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes—who also produced the 2012 The Shining deep-dive documentary Room 237—are quick to point out, but it's certainly fun to think about. The doc hit theaters this past Friday, and we spoke with them both about it.
VICE: Were you ever inspired to tackle this story as a narrative instead of a documentary?
P. David Ebersole: Actually, we wrote a narrative screenplay several years ago. It kept almost getting made but never quite got there. When we started thinking about our next documentary, we thought, God, we spent all that research on that Jayne Mansfield/Anton LaVey idea, maybe we should just go for the documentary format instead.
Todd Hughes: The narrative version always brought with it the problem—who would play Jayne Mansfield?
Did you have anyone in mind?
We propositioned Christina Hendricks, who loved the idea but then made a decision with her management that she wouldn't portray any legendary bombshell. I guess she'd been offered Jean Harlow as well. We worked with Rose McGowan hoping she would play it, and she actually helped us bring a lot more feminism into the screenplay, which was fabulous.
Ebersole: It was just at the moment where Rose was saying she didn't want to be an actress anymore. The screenplay still exists, so we shall see.
Did either of you try to contact anyone related to Mansfield's estate?
We did not. With Room 237, the idea was also to live in the space of what the audience takes from the movie and what the reaction is to it—whether or not it's the intention of the filmmaker. With this movie, we lived in a similar but different space, which was the way legend lives on in our culture and how we interact with it. We never even tried to talk to people from Anton's or Jayne's families. It just wasn't where we were focused.
Hughes: Kenneth Anger was the first person we interviewed because we had a relationship with him already, and he was the only person in the film who knew Anton LaVey. To balance that out, we put in Mamie Van Doren, who actually knew Jayne—but, you know, she's kind of creating her own mythology.
What are your ideas about Jayne Mansfield and her alleged relationship to the Church of
The Church of Satan was pre-Manson murders, and it was at a time where [Anton LaVey] was using the Satan thing to get attention—no one was going to church, TIME was asking, "Is God Dead?," Rosemary's Baby was a big hit. Anton's philosophy was very live-and-let-live, which Jayne Mansfield would have responded to. Everything he preaches is very logical and, in a way, kind of great.
Ebersole: Are you asking if I believe that there was a curse on her? [Laughs]
No—do you guys think there's something to their friendship more than just posing for publicity photos?
Yeah, I think we both would say we believe they came together and were interested in each other. Whether it was from an intellectual or sexual point of view is one of those things where you'd have had to be one of the two people in the room to know—but, clearly, she was at a place in her life where she was seeking all sorts of philosophies and information to try to make sense out of some of the things that were going on in her life, and he's a fascinating person, so you could see the two of these people coming together and being very interested in each other.
She's the image of what he was holding up as the perfect symbol of womanhood and femininity, including all of her intelligence and fascination with larger ideas about life. He wasn't somebody who was just interested in the dumb blonde, so they seem like they would be very naturally drawn to each other. We believe that they were attracted to each other and that they came together, and how far that was and how much that manifested itself is one of those things that's impossible to know.
Do you think we've reclaimed Jayne Mansfield as a sex-positive feminist icon?
In hindsight, it's much easier to place her. When you begin to think about how we went forward, our culture went forward into an embracing a woman's sexuality in the 80s, with Madonna. You look back at what Jayne was doing and you realize that women were being kept in a box and shamed for having a powerful sexual appetite. She's someone who becomes more powerful as a feminist figure in hindsight, but at the time she seemed like she was representing something that, as a woman, you had to get past.