On Wednesday, September 30th in 1959, the famed US actress Miss Jayne Mansfield arrived in Chiswick, west London, by Ford Zephyr Mk2 Convertible. The occasion was the opening of the capital’s first major two-level highway since the Second World War and its first “flyover” road link.
Movietone News was on hand to capture the moment, with the “The Blonde Bombshell” looking rather incongruous amid the serried ranks of Hillman Minx Estates and Thames 400E vans. The commentator, meanwhile, enthusiastically delivered a script that sounded as though it had been rejected from an early Carry On film.
The Chiswick Flyover connected the Great West Road with the extension to Cromwell Road, and it was intended to relieve congestion of 40,000 cars per day. Work on the £920,000 project commenced in early 1957 and John Dayton, the joint MD of the main contractor Alderton Construction Co. Ltd, believed its completion merited an elaborate opening ceremony.
However, his choice of VIP guest proved controversial, with one newspaper snidely referring to Mansfield’s “scarlet dress that fitted like a coat of paint”.
Dudley Smith, the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Brentford and Chiswick, declared it was “an insult to turn a such a fine achievement into a publicity stunt for an American film star”.
The response from Dayton was: “We could see no reason why any politician or fuddy-duddy should be invited. We feel that Miss Mansfield did a first-class job in a very charming manner.” There was the bonus that her presence apparently brought “a little colour into drab and grey lives”.
The reality was that Harold Watkinson, the then Minister of Transport, Stirling Moss and Donald Campbell had all proved unavailable. As for Jayne Mansfield, she was shooting Too Hot to Handle at MGM’s Borehamwood studios only 16 miles away.
The film was a fairly steep career descent from The Girl Can’t Help It to a hilariously inept Soho “vice drama” opposite a woebegone Christopher Lee, and a bizarrely mid-Atlantic-accented Barbara Windsor.
But although Mansfield was now reduced to British exploitation cinema, her gift for self-promotion remained infallible. The film critic Roger Ebert once observed: “Jayne Mansfield, who was not a dumb blonde, spent most of her adult life in the service of that image” – and this included cutting the ribbon of a “sweet little flyover” with a pair of gold-plated scissors.
Dayton was subsequently to complain that “with a modern design the flyover could have been built in half the time and for half the cost” and that his company “faced on this contract every possible obstruction from the earliest days” from the Ministry of Transport.
Too Hot to Handle was released in April 1960 to reviews along the lines of “tepid tedious nonsense” and “atrocious acting”. But Jayne Mansfield did indeed bring colour to the west London borough and played her role to the hilt, even if being transported by a Zephyr from Hertfordshire to West London was not quite on a par with sweeping up to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood ensconsed in a Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz.
Nor was it quite the end of the actress’s connection with British motoring – in her final UK picture The Challenge (1960) Mansfield portrayed a magnificently implausible gang boss in a Jaguar MkVII.
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