On Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, Mariska Hargitay’s character regularly connects with people who’ve endured traumatic experiences.
Part of what makes Mariska so convincing in this role is that she is able to pull inspiration from her past: When she was just three years old, Mariska was sleeping in the backseat of a car when it crashed into the back of a tractor-trailer. Mariska’s mom, Janye Mansfield, was riding in the front seat and was killed instantly.
“Losing my mother at such an early age is the scar of my soul,” she told Redbook in 2009. “But I feel like it ultimately made me into the person I am today. I understand the journey of life. I had to go through what I did to be here.”
Although Mariska rarely opens up about her mother’s death, the tragedy is well-documented — as is Janye’s life.
Known as “The Working Man’s Monroe,” Janye Mansfield broke into the entertainment industry in February 1955 with a Playboy centerfold. The controversial photo shoot caused trouble in Jayne’s personal life — as husband Paul Mansfield said she was an unfit mother to their daughter, Jayne — but served to launch her film and Broadway careers.
In 1956, Jayne signed a six-year contract with 20th Century Fox, which promoted her as “Marilyn Monroe king-sized.” She won critical acclaim for her roles in several box office movies. Most notably, her role in 1957’s The Wayward Bus won her a Golden Globe for New Star of the Year.
Due to a combination of bad selections on the part of her studio and multiple pregnancies, Jayne was never able to replicate her early film success. She didn’t have any major starring roles after 1959. She did, however, have success on stage with well-reviewed performances in 1964’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Bus Stop. She supplemented with nightclub performances.
Although Jayne’s actual resume is relatively short, her controversial personal life helped make her a legend: She was married three times and had five children. She had several high-profile affairs, including a tryst with President Kennedy. Jayne was also a publicity mastermind, who staged multiple wardrobe malfunctions. As one columnist for the Los Angeles Times noted in 1967, “She confuses publicity and notoriety with stardom and celebrity and the result is very distasteful to the public.”
Although Jayne was better known for her escapades than talents by the mid-1960s, her reputation was exalted when she was killed at the age of 34.
Since her death, Janye’s been the subject of multiple biographies and biopics — including a 1980 television movie starred Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mariska’s father, Mickey Hargitay. Jayne also received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which got a new neighbor in November 2013 when Mariska got a star of her own. (Top picture is of Mariska standing next to her star and her mother’s star.)