Jaws dropped as the platinum blonde in the fur coat wiggled her way through Bradford’s old Kirkgate Market.
It had started as just another day at the market – but it turned into the day Hollywood star Jayne Mansfield came to town, a chihuahuah tucked under each arm and an entourage trailing behind. She later called into the city’s Midland Hotel to ‘freshen up’.
It wasn’t just Bradford that got the star treatment that week in May, 1967. The American actress and singer also visited Baildon Moor, a Brighouse fete, and even ate fish and chips at Harry Ramsden’s in Guiseley!
Just two months later, she was dead, aged 34.
A leading Hollywood sex symbol during the late 1950s, Jayne had success in movies such as The Girl Can’t Help It and Promises! Promises! in which she was the first mainstream American leading lady to appear nude.
By the time Jayne came to West Yorkshire, she’d had three husbands and five children. Her larger-than-life visit was all part of a publicity drive she engineered during a week-long residence at Batley Variety Club, which drew big international stars during its heyday as the North’s entertainment capital. Now Jayne’s extraordinary visit is documented in a DVD made by entertainment reporter Neil Sean, of Mirfield.
Neil, who works for NBC News and Access Hollywood, was told about Jayne’s Yorkshire adventure by his father, a former club comic.
“He showed me an ad for her shows at Batley Variety Club. I couldn’t believe it. The comic Max Wall was also on the bill, which seems an unlikely pairing!” says Neil. “Dad knew Max and took my mum along to the club. Max was on first, then Jayne came on and sang breathy songs, Marilyn Monroe style.”
It was a far cry from Jayne’s original intention to play the violin and recite Shakespeare! Neil says the club’s booking panel suggested that wouldn’t go down too well.
“I was stunned that Jayne agreed to the tour, and that she turned up at places like Brighouse fete and Harry Ramsden’s. These were places I went to as a boy, not far from where I grew up,” says Neil.
Intruiged, he decided to track down people Jayne worked with on the tour. The DVD, Jayne Mansfield – From Hollywood To Yorkshire, which Neil produced with documentary-maker Sharaz Ali, includes interviews filmed at locations including Bradford’s Midland Hotel.
Those interviewed include Alan Clegg, the Batley Variety Club manager who booked Jayne; Trevor Simpson, author of Small Town Saturday Night, chronicling the region’s Sixties and Seventies music scene, who saw her show; and Neil’s mother, broadcaster and producer Ann Montini who interviewed the star during her visit.
“She said Jayne was sweet and well-mannered, and very switched on,” says Neil. “Before the interview, at a hotel near Wakefield where she was staying with her entourage, Jayne got changed behind a screen, knowing full well all the men in the room would be agog!
“The people we spoke to had many revealing stories about the girl behind the glamour. The film also includes pictures of Jayne never seen in public before.”
So why did one of Hollywood’s most glamorous stars end up at Batley Variety Club?
“I think it’s fair to say she did it for the fee, rumoured to be around £20,000 in today’s money,” says Neil. “This was 1967, the year of flower power, and the age of buxom Hollywood blondes was falling out of favour with cinema-goers and studio bosses. I spoke to Jayne’s daughter who said she’d been very aware of this.
“With her money drying up and her star fading, Jayne decided to de-camp, along with her dogs, her children and her furs, for a tour of English clubs. The Batley Variety Club was huge back then, and Jayne may well have been tapping into the creative energy coming out of the North at that time. She’d met John Lennon to discuss a pop album.”
While it seems odd for a star from Hollywood’s golden glamour age to turn up in public places, Neil says it was part of a publicity masterplan.
“Jayne was more than just a pin-up; she was a shrewd manager who knew the value of PR and how to cause a stir. She was well aware that she’d draw a crowd. It would be like Angelina Jolie turning up in Bradford today!
“She was a template for today’s reality TV stars. If she was around now, she’d have her own brand of merchandise and a reality show.”
So it was that Jayne, her famous hourglass figure squeezed into low-cut frocks, browsed through Kirkgate Market and ventured out to Baildon Moor, where she insisted on buying her own ice-cream from a van.
“She loved markets. She was also spotted at Dewsbury and Halifax markets,” says Neil. “There are reports of women in rollers and headscarves being very jealous as their husbands’ tongues hung out when Jayne glided by.”
If it hadn’t been for Jayne’s untimely death, she may have forged a career as a character actress – the seeds of which were being sewn in Bradford.
“She wanted to be taken seriously as an actress, but thought she’d be laughed out of the West End, so she had talks in Bradford about doing a play here. I think she met someone from Francis Laidler’s company, the Alhambra founder,” says Neil.
“Diana Dors, the UK’s own blonde bombshell, went to see her show in Batley. Jayne didn’t know who she was – to say the atmosphere between them was frosty would be an understatement!”
Jayne’s visit was covered by Telegraph & Argus entertainment reporter Peter Holdsworth. In the T&A of May 1, 1967, he wrote: “With her chihuahuahs under her arm and a twinkle in her eye, Jayne Mansfield arrived for a week’s stay in the West Riding yesterday...it was the start of quite a day.
“Jayne arrived at Yeadon Airport in a chartered plane. Waiting for her was the black and gold Silver Cloud Rolls-Royce which she will use all week. Before going on at the Batley club, Jayne made an appearance at a concert at Leeds Prison. The 400 prisoners who saw her whistled and cheered and one of them shouted out ‘You can share my cell anytime’.”
He continued: “Wearing a backless, almost sideless white gown which she must have had to fight to put on, Jayne made a 20-minute appearance at the Batley club.
“Between whispering in ears, stroking cheeks and the occasional peck of a kiss, Jayne cooked [sic] her way through a number of songs, including Call Me, This Queen Has Her Aces In All The Right Places and, in the circumstances, the amusingly named Plain Jane. Whatever she is, she is not that!”
Jayne Mansfield – From Hollywood To Yorkshire is available from Amazon.co.uk and Odeonent.co.uk.