Jayne Mansfield Turns On Blackpool

Hollywood’s greatest sex symbol puts some va-va-voom into the British seaside resort’s illuminations in 1959.

We’ve previously reported on the unlikely appearance of Jayne Mansfield at Yorkshire’s Batley Variety Club, just months before her tragic death, but this wasn’t her first brush with the bright lights and glamour of Northern England.

In 1959, she was still at the height of her fame – this was a couple of years after The Girl Can’t Help It and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, and while her career had already peaked and was quickly heading downhill, she was still seen as the very definition of a sex symbol and major Hollywood star by most people. That year, 20th Century Fox – who had her under contract – sent her to England to shoot a pair of crime movies, The Challenge and Too Hot to Handle, an early sign that the company no longer saw her as a big star and the replacement for Marilyn Monroe that they had hoped she would become. These low-budget movies are both better than their reputation would have you believe, but they were not ‘A’ pictures and this was the start of a career decline  – at least if you look at it in terms of mainstream Hollywood productions, which now became a thing of the past. For the man on the street though – and, more pertinent to this story, the dignitaries and holidaymakers of Britain’s most popular seaside resort – she was still a big star and guaranteed to have male visitors foaming at the mouth with excitement when she took a break from filming to travel to the Lancashire coast at switch on Blackpool’s legendary illuminations.

Blackpool illuminations are a festival of light that began in 1879 – a year before the electric light bulb was even patented – and continues to this day as a way of extending the summer season into the autumn and beyond. It quickly became a tradition for a celebrity, political figure or minor royal to do the big switch-on – over the years, these have included Anna Neagle, George Formby, Shirley Ann Field, Ken Dodd, Status Quo, Kermit the Frog, the 1975 cast of Doctor Who and Red Rum. Yes, the horse. With such a glittering array of stars, passing celebrities and pop acts taking part, Mansfield’s appearance seems a little less unusual. But only a little.

Watched by a slavering crowd and stutteringly introduced by the local Mayor, she does a good job of pretending to be overwhelmed by what, even in 1959, must have seemed a fairly lame display. Let no one say that Mansfield couldn’t act. She also found time to make a few public appearances around the town, posing by swimming pools and at Blackpool Tower. The whole affair was captured for the newsreels and is every bit as entertaining as you would hope.


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