Song of the Day: Biography in Music (Day Four). “It Glittered and Gleamed, For the Arriving Beauty Queen …”

1991 marked the arrival of a musical departure for Siouxsie and the Banshees as the band adopted a more straightforward pop-orientated sound than on previous records.  This was largely due to the arrival of Stephen Hague as producer.  The resulting album, the band’s tenth, was Superstition, which gave the band their first hit on the US Billboard 200, where it reached number 65.  The lead single from the album was Kiss Them for Me, also a success in the US, where it reached number one on the Modern Rock chart and number 23 on the Billboard Hot 100.  The song is about the death of Jayne Mansfield in a car accident in 1967.  The song takes its name from the 20th Century Fox movie in which she starred with Cary Grant in 1957.

Mansfield, born Vera Jayne Palmer on the 19th April 1933, was staying at the Cabana Courtyard Apartments in Biloxi, Mississippi in preparation for an engagement at the Gus Stevens Supper Club.  After an evening appearance on the 28th June 1967, Mansfield, her lover Sam Brody, their driver, Ronnie Harrison and three of Mansfield’s children, Miklos, Zoitan and Mariska, set out in Stevens’ 1966 Buick Electra 225.  The party of six were headed for New Orleans, where Mansfield was scheduled to appear on an early morning television show.  On the 29th June, on highway 90, east of Rigolets Bridge, the car crashed into the back of a tractor trailer which had slowed down behind another truck which was spraying mosquito fogger.  The car hit the rear of the trailer and went underneath it.  The three adults in the front seat were killed instantly, whilst the children in the back survived with minor injuries.

Several reports emerged that Mansfield had been decapitated.  This is untrue.  However, she did suffer severe head trauma.  This urban legend was started when police photographs appeared of a crashed car with the top virtually sheared off and what resembled a blond-haired head tangled in the car’s smashed windscreen.  This is likely to have been a wig that Mansfield was wearing or her actual hair and scalp.  Mansfield’s death certificate stated that the immediate cause of death was a “crushed skull with avulsion of cranium and brain”.  Following her death, the Nation Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) recommended the fitting of an under-ride guard, a strong bar made of steel tubing, on all tractor-trailers.  The trucking industry was slow to adopt this change but the resulting bar became known as the Mansfield Bar, or ICC bar.

The song’s opening lines, “It glittered and it gleamed, For the arriving beauty queen” has a double meaning; the preparation of the television studio for Mansfield’s arrival and heaven preparing to greet Mansfield following her death.  In the next line, “A ring and a car”, the “ring” refers to the $5,000 dollar ($210,000 in 2015 dollars) 10-carat diamond engagement ring given to Mansfield by her second husband Mickey Hargitay on the 6th November 1957.   The following line, “Now you’re the prettiest star by far” could refer to the encapsulation of Mansfield’s beauty in the memory following her death or could be a slightly morbid and sarcastic visualisation of the horrific injuries that Mansfield suffered.  The line could also refer to the way in which stars who have died in tragic circumstances often become more famous in death than they would have done in life.

The song’s second verse, “No party she’s not attend, No invitation she wouldn’t send, Transfixed by the inner sound, Or your promise to be found”, refers to the metaphorical road to stardom and Mansfield’s attempts to be noticed by Hollywood.  The “inner sound” refers to the calling and the final line, “Or you’re promise to be found” refers to the promises made by Hollywood big-shots about her big chances for being a star.  Mansfield was a big star but her reign was brief.  Despite her publicity and popularity, Mansfield had no film roles of note after 1959 and was unable to fulfil a third of her time contracted to Twentieth Century Fox due to her repeated pregnancies.  Twentieth Century Fox stopped viewing Mansfield as a major star and she was often loaned out to foreign productions until the end of her contract in 1962.  She was loaned out to both English and Italian studios for a series of low budget films, many of them obscure and some considered lost.

The promises made by the Hollywood big-shots are further elaborated upon in the following bridge, “”Nothing or no-one will ever, Make me let you down””.  Note that on printed lyrics for the song, the bridge is often written in parenthesis, giving the impression that these words were something that were said to Mansfield.  This interpretation is backed up by an interview with Record Hunter in 1992, in which Sioux said of the song:  “This song was sparked off by Jayne Mansfield’s story.  She typified the dream that Hollywood holds for young women – a fairytale thing”.

The song’s chorus of “Kiss them for me, I may be delayed, Kiss them for me, if I am delayed” is a message from Mansfield, in her affected Hollywood manner, to the television studio where she was due to take part in an interview.  To state the obvious, she was terminally delayed.

The following verse, “It’s divoon, oh, it’s serene, In the fountains pink champagne, Someone carving their devotion, In the heart shaped pool of fame”, firstly includes Mansfield’s catchphrase, “It’s divoon”, with “divoon” being an affected way of saying ‘divine’.  The verse also refers to Mansfield’s 40 room Mediterranean-style mansion, 10100 Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills, bought in 1957.  Mansfield had the house pained pink and had a fountain spurting pink champagne and a pink heart-shaped swimming pool installed.  She dubbed her home the “Pink Palace”.  Mansfield also rode in a pink Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible with tailfins, which was at that point in time, the only pink Cadillac in Hollywood.  Elvis also owned a pink Cadillac, acquired in 1955, but it was in Memphis, Tennessee.

The song’s final verse, “On the road to New Orleans, A spray of stars hit the screen, As the 10th impact shimmered, The forbidden candles beamed” firstly and most obviously refers to the crash that claimed Mansfield’s, and two of her co-travellers’, lives.  The “spray of stars” which Sioux speaks of could refer to the mosquito fogger which the truck in front of the trailer that Mansfield’s car crashed into being sprayed on the windscreen.  Alternatively, the “spray of stars” could refer to the taillights of the trailer or the glass from the smashed windscreen.  In another interpretation, the “spray of stars” could be Mansfield’s life flashing before her eyes in the final moments before her death, with the “screen” of the car being likened to a cinema screen.  The line “As the 10th impact shimmered” refers to nine other car crashes that Mansfield had allegedly survived during her life.

“The forbidden candles beamed” refers to Mansfield’s involvement with the Church of Satan and possibly her passage to the afterlife.  Whilst in San Francisco for the 1966 Film Festival, Mansfield visited the Church of Satan with Brody to meet Anton LaVey, the church’s founder.  LaVey gave Mansfield a medallion and the title of ‘High Priestess of San Francisco’s Church of Satan’.  The Church of Satan proclaimed Jayne to be a pledged member, and she displayed a framed membership certificate in her pink bedroom.  The media covered the meeting between Mansfield and LaVey and proclaimed Mansfield to be a Satanist.  They also claimed that Mansfield was in a relationship with McVey.  These media claims were made time and time again throughout the rest of Mansfield’s life.  In a 1992 interview with Joan Rivers, LaVey’s daughter and High Priestess of the Church of Satan, Karla LaVey confirmed that Mansfield had indeed been a practicing Satanist and had had a romantic relationship with LaVey.  Karla LaVey also elaborated on the story in which after Brody mocked the Church of Satan, LaVey bit back with the words, “You are cursed by the devil, you will be dead within a year”.  This retort led many to believe that the crash that killed Mansfield was the result of a curse that LaVey had placed on Brody.  Despite her alleged involvement with the Church of Satan, Mansfield’s funeral ceremony was conducted by a Methodist minister.