UPDATE: Oak Cliff native Mariana Greene, who is garden and home editor at the Dallas Morning News, says she interviewed Paul Mansfield’s dad as part of an oral history project when she was a student at SMU.
She writes: “I sat in the living room of the house on Canterbury Court and tape recorded Mr. Mansfield talking about Oak Cliff history, including that his son had married Jayne Mansfield and that they lived with Paul’s parents in that house.”
Greene recalls that the elder Mansfield said his daughter in law was “very sweet.”
Mystery solved. Jayne Mansfield did live in Oak Cliff, bless her heart.
ORIGINAL STORY: The final installment of Advocate columnist Gayla Brooks’ series about Oak Cliff connections to Hollywood will run in the August Advocate. One Hollywood bombshell not mentioned in the series, but who sometimes is associated with our neighborhood, is Jayne Mansfield.
Reader Jacquie Hatton asks this question:
“Gayla, love your stories about Cliffites in Hollywood. Have you mentioned Jayne Mansfield? I know she lived in Highland Park, where she went to high school, but I also know she spent some time living on Canterbury Court. Is that right?”
After some research, the answer to that question is a firm “possibly.” Vera Jayne Palmer secretly married 1947 Sunset High School graduate Paul Mansfield in January 1950, when she was a senior at Highland Park High School. The couple announced their marriage to the surprise of friends and classmates at the bride’s graduation that June.
Paul Mansfield grew up in Kessler Park, at 1117 Canterbury Court. At the time he wed the actress, he was a student at what is now the University of Texas at Arlington. Mansfield died last month, and according to his obituary, he hitchhiked between Oak Cliff and Arlington to attend classes every day for three years. So it is possible the two did live with Mansfield’s folks in Oak Cliff early in their marriage.
But Paul Mansfield’s life also was fascinating. Take this, from his obit:
The summer he was 15 he traveled by train from Dallas to New York and Washington to see the sights by himself. At 16, his Sunset Quartet (later called the Beau Jesters) traveled on behalf of Lyndon Johnson’s first primary Senatorial campaign. At 17 he joined a summer sales crew in Dallas in early June to sell stationery throughout the West. He hitchhiked from Portland, Ore. to Los Angeles, Calif., boarding a train to Dallas in time to begin school in September.
Mansfield met his second wife, Sue, at Cliff Temple Baptist church in 1956, and they were married for the rest of his life.
Quite a few newspaper articles from the ’40s mention Paul Mansfield. Two of these are announcements about parties. In 1949, friends threw a birthday party for Mansfield and pal Jerry Ottinger, and it had a shipwreck theme. Awards were to be given “to the couple most appropriately dressed for a torrid or frigid zone island.” In 1947, Mansfield hosted an open house on Canterbury for the graduates of Sunset High School. The party started at 2 a.m. and ended at dawn. Did this guy know how to party.
Sunset ’47 graduate Glenn Wamble, who now lives in Plano, says Paul Mansfield was “a wonderful person and a good friend.” Did he know how to party, Mr. Wamble? “Oh, yes, we always had fun.”
I couldn’t resist asking what Oak Cliff kids did for fun back in the ’40s, and here’s what Wabmle says:
“I lived very near the zoo, so I and my friends spent quite a lot of time at the zoo,” he says. “There was a lot of land between our homes and the zoo, and the boys would spend the night in the woods sometimes. And then the zookeepers would have (bear) cubs out on leashes and say, ‘here, take them for a walk.'”
So to recap, shipwreck-themed parties, morning-time parties, camping in the woods and walking baby bear cubs around the zoo on leashes. Sweet life, 1940s Oak Cliff.