On June 29, 1967 the fading light of Hollywood starlet Jayne Mansfield was extinguished for good when her car slammed into the back of a truck. Was her death just a random auto accident or the product of a curse brought on by Anton LeVay, the founder of the Church of Satan?
Jayne Mansfield had made a name for herself on the big screen in the 1950s, riding the coattails of Marilyn Monroe, with a big bottle blonde hair do, buxom figure, and a high pitched girly voice. She adored attention, the color pink, and chihuahuas. Despite movie success she regularly found herself down and out in the world of love, rotating through three husbands, and numerous boyfriends. Sadly, her marriage to Mickey Hargitay and subsequent children left her dropped by the studio.
By the arrival of the 1960s, Mansfield’s version of femininity is on the way out, passé in the world of mods and hippies. When offered the role of Ginger on the TV show Gilligan’s Island, she turned it down, seeing herself as a movie star, not a TV star. After turning down the role, she tried to find her footing in new Hollywood, resorting to B-pictures. Despite being loved by and meeting The Beatles and taking a spin around the Whiskey a Go Go with them, she continued to fade from the spotlight.
Enter Sam Brody, divorce lawyer who promised her the world. In 1966 the couple arrived at the San Francisco Film Festival, albeit uninvited. After making a spectacle of herself (rumors are she wore a short dress and no underwear) she was asked to leave. Often described as an “attention junkie” Mansfield was still on the hunt to be noticed, and figured what better way to cause a stir than to visit the founder of the Church of Satan? There is debate as to just how Mansfield ended up at LeVay’s home. Some say she organized the meeting beforehand, others say she heard about him at the Film Festival and arrived uninvited.
Amid the swinging 1960s Anton LeVay had been making a splash in the media by founding the Church of Satan and encouraging his followers to be “the best sinner on the block.” Ideas of LeVay’s brand of Satanism involved indulgence and embracing sexuality, which kind of seemed up Mansfield’s alley if we are being honest. LeVay shared his home with his long time partner, Diane Hegarty, and children, as well as their pet lion, Togare. Their relatively plain Victorian on California Street in San Francisco had been painted black, and dubbed “The Black House” with the living room being transformed into the “Satanic Temple.” Often described as a “showman” LeVay did indeed love the spotlight, perhaps just as much as Mansfield. LeVay invited the media to many of the events at his home, including the first Satanic wedding.
After that first meeting, LeVay and Mansfield struck up a friendship, which was eventually photographed by German photographer, Walter Fischer. Images include Mansfield seemingly performing Satanic rituals with LeVay and visiting Mansfield’s iconic “Pink Palace.” Mansfield’s religious history had varied over the years. She had converted to Catholicism in the early 1960s, and dabbled in Judaism as well. But had LeVay convinced her to convert to Satanism? That remains one of the great debates, although LeVay himself claimed that Mansfield became a High Priestess of the Church of Satan.
Rumors swirl as to just what exactly the relationship between LeVay and Mansfield was. Some say they were just friends, others claim Mansfield did indeed have a sexual relationship with LeVay, but either way, it seems Brody was jealous. He supposedly poked fun at LeVay’s decor, touching artifacts and lighting a skull candle. Offended, LeVay cursed Brody and claimed he would die in a car crash within a year.
Back in Hollywood, Mansfield regaled her children with tales of her new friend’s pet lion, and they were eager to meet Togare. Still jealous Brody decided to take the kids to Jungleland in Thousand Oaks, just outside of Los Angeles, instead. Jungleland started out as Goebel’s Lion Farm in 1925, as the place were Louis Goebel trained and loaned out lions for the booming film industry. By the 1960s it had turned into a mini theme park and offered more than just lions. Brody, Mansfield, and the children arrived at Jungleland and interacted with the various animals, including lions. But tragedy struck when Zoltan, one of Mansfield’s sons, was mauled by one of the lions, suffering a head injury that required brain surgery. While her son lay in the hospital, Mansfield supposedly called LeVay, requesting help. It’s said that LeVay went to Mount Tamalpais and performed a Satanic prayer, and within hours Zoltan seemed to be on the road to recovery. Jungleland only lasted a couple more years, closing in 1969. The property is now home to the City of Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, and features a large plaque sharing the history of Jungleland. Meanwhile LeVay’s lion, Togare would go on to find a home at Shambala Preserve, supported by Tipi Hedren’s Roar Foundation, which you can still visit today.
Over the next few months, Brody had multiple car accidents, either an act of the hectic Sunset Boulevard traffic, or products of LeVay’s curse, but in one, Brody suffered a leg injury. In the meantime, Mansfield had been doing a USO tour as well as the night club circuit. Interviewers say Mansfield was “basically sitting on old men’s laps” at the night club gigs, but Mansfield enjoyed the attention. Brody’s leg kept him from driving Mansfield, himself, and some of Mansfield’s children to her next gig in New Orleans, so they had Ronnie Harrison drive them to New Orleans from Biloxi. En route the car crashed into the back of a tractor trailer, sliding under, killing Mansfield, Brody, and Harrison. Mansfield’s children, asleep in the backseat, and were spared. Rumors said Mansfield was decapitated, but she was in fact scalped. As a result of the traumatic accident, tractor trailers now feature a bar, nicknamed the “Mansfield Bar” to prevent similar accidents from happening.
At his Black House, Anton LeVay was cutting out images of himself from a German magazine. It’s said that as he cut he got a weird feeling, and flipped over the page to see a photo of Mansfield. His scissors had sliced right through her neck, then the phone rang, giving LeVay the information that Mansfield had died.
Was Mansfield’s death a byproduct of LeVay’s curse on Brody? Or just another tragic tale of a Hollywood starlet? You decide!
Mansfield was buried back in her home state, at Fairview Cemetery in Pen Argyl Pennsylvania, with a cenotaph also placed at Hollywood Forever. Meanwhile LeVay stuck to his Satanic beliefs until he died in 1997 and was cremated after a Satanic funeral. While you can visit the old site of Jungleland (I’ll dive more into Jungleland in a future post! Stay tuned!), and the preserve where Togare roamed, don’t bother looking for the Black House or the Pink Palace. Both were demolished in the early 2000s. Previously Mansfield’s wreck, as well as artifacts of her Pink Palace had been on display at the Dearly Departed Museum, which I visited a few years back (no photography was allowed, hence no blog post), but in 2020 the museum closed.
Want more of this devilish story? I recommend checking out the documentary Mansfield 66/67, available to rent or buy on Amazon (note: affiliate link.) You can also get your hands on California Infernal, which features Fischer’s photographs of the unlikely pair, however is limited in its information on their relationship, available buy on Amazon (note: affiliate link), as well as ebay, Abebooks, and Thriftbooks. To see artifacts from and learn a bit more about Jungleland, check out our visit to the Stagecoach Inn Museum.