After I graduated from high school in New York, I applied to a dozen schools. Los Angeles City College was the only one that said yes. So I took my first plane ride to a place where I did not know a soul and found a one-room apartment with a couch that turned into a bed and a hot plate that served as a kitchen. The shower was the size of a phone booth, and the only window faced a brick wall. It was home.
I lived there for two years while taking classes in broadcasting at LACC. Each morning, students were given the opportunity to practice their embryonic media skills over the school’s radio show, which was carried by KMLA. The show was called Encounter. We learned how to read the news, be sportscasters, play records, become engineers, do weather reports, improvise, and interview guests. I liked the interviewing very much.
At the end of the day I would take the bus back to my apartment and handwrite letters to agents and managers asking for a chance to interview their clients for the show. I must have written hundreds of letters. Not surprisingly, I did not hear back from many. It was enormously time consuming and extremely frustrating. I promised myself at the time that if I ever represented a public figure, I would present each and every interview request to my client and personally respond to the person who mailed the letter. I still adhere to that promise.
One day, I purchased a map to the stars’ homes. They were sold to tourists on Sunset Boulevard for two dollars. If weeks or months went by without a return call from an agent, I simply wrote to the star at home, explaining who I was and what I was seeking. The results were less than overwhelming, but it’s important to cover all your bases.
One evening, while I was heating some soup on my hot plate, I received a call from Jayne Mansfield. She was one of America’s newly anointed sex symbols. Her film Promises, Promises was the first in which a mainstream actress appeared nude. She was on hundreds of magazine covers and brilliant when it came to self-promotion. She agreed to grant me an interview.
Days later I boarded a bus to meet Jayne at her Beverly Hills mansion. She suggested I arrive around 7 p.m. I was concerned that I might miss the last bus back to East Hollywood, but hitchhiking was a reasonable option back then, and my $300-a-month budget would not allow for a cab.
Jayne lived in a pink mansion with her husband, who was Mr. Universe. They had a heart-shaped swimming pool. It was the most opulent house I had ever seen. Her daughter was having a party upstairs, so Jayne invited me into the recreation room, which was covered wall-to-wall in framed magazine covers of her looking very blonde, radiant, and ultra sexy. We spoke for an hour about her life and an album she had just released of her reading classic love poems set to Tchaikovsky. She was funny, introspective, and wise beyond the trappings of her public identity.
As the tape on my cassette reached the end of its spool, Jayne excused herself for an appointment. Sometime later I learned more about that “appointment.” I believe I interviewed her on the night the Beatles played the Hollywood Bowl and that she had gone to meet them after the show. I once joked with John Lennon that I knew Jayne first. He scoffed at and said, “Yes, but she left you for me.”
Elliot Mintz is an L.A.-based media consultant and publicist.
Alison Martino is a writer, television producer and personality, and L.A. pop culture historian. She founded the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles in 2010. In addition to CityThink and VLA, Martino muses on L.A’s. past and present on Twitter and Instagram