Ep. Two – The Mansfield Bar
On this episode of A Reasonable Breakdown I’m going to be looking into a Facebook post I recently came across which attributed the death of a movie star to creating a new federal law that semi truck trailer manufacturers needed to follow to keep the public safe.
It involves 3 adults, 3 children, and a deadly car crash. Is it true? Is it false? Let’s find out.
Part 1 – Mansfield 101
This is a very intricate story. The way I read it was that in 1967 Jayne Mansfield and 2 other adults were killed in a horrific car accident when the Buick Electra they were in slammed into the back of a semi truck in Louisiana at 2 am. The three children, one of which was Jayne’s daughter, Mariska Hargitay, survived. Since then it has been a federal law that requires semi truck trailer manufacturers to have an Interstate Commerce Commission bar installed to prevent cars from going underneath the trailer. Supposedly this bar is also known as the Mansfield Bar.
Aside from being a movie star I didn’t really know much about Jayne Mansfield, so before we dive into the details of the story let’s familiarize ourselves with a quick bio. Now, don’t worry, I’m not going to go ALL the way back to the year she was born or anything.
Jayne Mansfield was born in April of 1933 as Vera Jayne Palmer. Ok, so I kind of needed to go back that far, at least to explain where the name Mansfield comes from. Seventeen years go by and Jayne would eventually marry Paul Mansfield in 1950. Wait a minute, ANOTHER Paul?? Yup, second episode, second Paul, but this one isn’t as nice as the one from the previous episode. I’ll get to that in just a second. By the way if you haven’t listened to the first episode, what are you waiting for? It’s a cool story.
Where was I? Ahh yes, Jayne and Paul are married. Not too long after that Jayne would give birth to a little girl, Jayne Marie Mansfield, in Nov of that same year.
Now, Jayne Mansfield, the mother, had lofty aspirations of becoming a movie star but Paul was kind of a jerk and hoped that after giving birth to their daughter that would cause Jayne to give up on her dreams. He wasn’t so lucky.
Not too long after that, she got her start in the film business in 1955. Jayne used her fame as an actress and quickly diversified her career with singing and modeling. Things seemed to be going well. However, the Mansfields weren’t the happiest of couples and in early 1955, Jayne and Paul decided to end their marriage. After a lengthy process, they eventually got their divorce papers in 1958. Jayne decided to keep Mansfield as her professional name and as for Paul, well he moved on to other women, got remarried and moved to Tennessee.
Jayne got remarried as well. In fact she was engaged to a gentleman by the name of Mickey Hargitay during the divorce process from Paul. Mickey and Jayne got married in 1958 mere days after Jayne’s divorce was officially finalized.
Jayne and Mickey had a budding relationship and during their marriage had 3 children, Mickey, Zoltan and towards the end of their marriage, Mariska. Now, I’m going to stop here with Jayne’s background because 1, all of this info is readily available on several different websites and in her official biography, so I don’t need to recount every detail of Jayne’s life. And 2, I only want to focus on the facts that pertain to the story, which are the Mansfield name and her daughter Mariska Hargitay.
So far the story is checking out. Jayne kept Mansfield as her professional name after Marrying Paul and after her second marriage to Mickey Hargitay she had 3 kids, one of which was Mariska. I have to be honest, I was skeptical that Mariska was Jayne’s daughter. But after some quick investigation all the facts are there. I was even able to find a reference to an interview in the June 7th issue of Time Magazine in 1982 in which Mariska commented that she disliked comparisons to her famous mother, Jayne. It’s fairly conclusive Mariska is Jayne’s daughter.
Part 2 – Dead Man’s Curve
The next part of the story is all about the accident. According to the story the accident happened in a Buick Electra and took place in Louisiana around 2 am. That’s very specific. Usually details that specific make me suspicious, I’m not sure why, they just do. So, with that in mind I had to do some more sleuthing. My fact checking landed me on a horrible looking webpage circa August 2001. The title was “The Night Jayne Mansfield Died” and it was authored by Bob Walker. Bob worked as a radio personality in New Orleans and was a member of the press. This gave him access to the scene of the crash. He has a fairly detailed write up of what he saw and all the details from the story are there.
The night of the crash began in Biloxi Mississippi where Jayne was doing a gig at the Gus Stevens Supper Club. She needed to get to New Orleans by morning and so Jayne, her agent/lover Sam Brody and Ronnie Harrison who was the driver, along with Jaynes 3 children Mariska, Zoltan and Mickey Jr. piled into a Buick Electra that was owned by Gus Stevens, the proprietor of, you guessed it, the Gus Stevens Supper Club.
They set out from Biloxi, Mississippi, headed west towards New Orleans. Once they got into Louisiana they drove down Highway 90 and was estimated that they were going 80 miles per hour when they approached a turn that had been given the name “Dead Man’s Curve”. Shortly after 1 am in the summer of 1967, the Buick hit the back of an 18 wheeler, shearing off the car’s top. According to details from pictures Bob described in his article, Ronnie Harrison the driver and Sam Brody who was in the middle were literally crushed from the front of the dashboard. Jayne was tossed out of the car and landed on the shoulder of the road.
Luckily the 3 children in the backseat survived and had only minor injuries.
There’s not really anything to dispute here. This is a well documented crash. The details line up with what was in the Facebook post so I’m not going to spend a lot of time here, there’s just no need. This definitely happened and it led to the untimely death of Jayne Mansfield and 2 other adults.
Part 3 – The Mansfield Bar
Now, up until this point everything I’m finding is telling me that this story is indeed true. There’s no denying the fact that Jayne Mansfield was a high profile actress killed in a horrific manner, but was it enough to change the law and adopt her name in the process? Let’s find out.
The story says that because of the accident in 1967 federal law changed to require semi trucks to have an ICC bar, or an Interstate Commerce Commission bar to prevent cars from going underneath the trailer. It goes on to say that this bar is most commonly referred to as a Mansfield bar.
I did some fairly extensive searches on both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s websites and all references to this safety feature is called an underride guard or bar. No where does it state in any official documentation by government agencies that this is a Mansfield bar.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the story is wrong. This actually happens quite a bit where a word gets adopted into our vocabulary and we use it in place of the actual term. This is referred to as a proprietary eponym or a generic trademark. This is more the case when you say “can you go Xerox this document?” or “hand me a kleenex” or “I’m going to Google it”. All of those things, Xerox, Kleenex and Google, are brands, but they’ve become synonymous with the actions they made famous. I can only surmise this is the same thing that happened with Mansfield. Since she was such a high profile name and she was killed by an accident involving the underside of an 18 wheeler, her name was attached to the public awareness of such an incident. And if you do any searches for ICC bar or underride bar you’ll get search results that come back with Mansfield bar as well.
You might be asking yourself, “why did you spend 20 minutes talking about something you could easily prove or disprove in about 30 seconds?” Well, for one, this is fun to me. I enjoy being skeptical and taking a deeper look at things. But more importantly, I feel that everyone should be this thorough before they make a quick post on social media. This was most likely a quick copy/paste post and it was done with no intent to garner likes or anything. I read the actual post and the person was genuinely excited to share some neat information with everyone. But what about when someone shares something and believes it’s fact when in truth the meme or article was actually meant to spin a political view or manipulate someone? Before you aimlessly share content, take 30 seconds and see if any of the details are valid. If so, have fun, if not, why not call that post out? Give some facts and evidence to maybe shed some light on what actually happened? Is that a better world than one filled with lies and misinformation?
I think so.
Thank you for listening to episode 2 of A Reasonable Breakdown. Join me next time when I take a look at whether or not dogs can smell carbon monoxide.
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