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Scott Michaels

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Blonde bombshell Jayne Mansfield’s death car moves to Dearly Departed Tours & Museum

The body is still recognizable as a 1966 Buick Electra, but its sheared-off roof stands testament to the horrific crash that killed buxom movie star Jayne Mansfield in 1967 but spared her children on the trip, including daughter and future actress Mariska Hargitay.

So on the 50th anniversary of the accident, Scott Michaels of Dearly Departed Tours and Museum thought it was just the Hollywood artifact to celebrate his company’s 13th anniversary and mark this month’s opening of Dearly Departed Tours and Museum’s larger location at 5901 Santa Monica Blvd. The new location replaces its smaller Sunset Boulevard storefront and is across from Hollywood Forever Cemetery where a cenotaph honors Mansfield’s memory.

Mansfield’s career was dominated by dumb blonde roles, including “The Girl Can’t Help It” and her Broadway success and hit movie, “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” Her appeal faded in the Sixties after Marilyn Monroe’s death in 1962. In the years leading to her death, she was primarily working in nightclubs and European films.

The tragic end to the sex symbol’s life came along a deserted Mississippi road when the car in which she was riding flew underneath a large slow-moving truck. The Buick’s roof was ripped away, and Mansfield, her boyfriend, Sam Brody, and driver Ronnie Harrison were killed. The three of her children in the back seat survived. Mansfield saved her kids when at an impromptu stop at a diner she moved the three of her children with her to the rear seat of the Electra to sleep. Contrary to rumor, Mansfield was not beheaded, but a large area of her skull was exposed.

29 Jun 1967, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA — New Orleans: Car in which actress Jayne Mansfield crashed to her death June 29 is nothing but twisted metal. The 34-year-old sex symbol, her chauffeur, Bonnie Harrison, and lawyer, Sam Brody, were all killed when the car smashed into a truck on a winding road outside New Orleans. Three of Miss Mansfield’s children, ranging in age from three to eight, were treated for cuts and shock at a New Orleans hospital. 6/29/1967 — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

The vehicle was locked away for several years because of a lawsuit, then on display in South Florida for about a decade. After that, the gray sedan changed owners several times by collectors who wanted this unique piece of history, yet had no idea what to do with it.

“I approached the man for years if he wished to sell the car and finally he did,” Michaels said. It took awhile to scrape together the funds, move it cross-country and store the car in a garage for a year. Finally a storefront big enough to display it came available. “It all fell together,” he said, “and now we’re directly across from Hollywood Forever Cemetery!”

Michaels is well-known in the “death biz,” as he calls it, appearing as expert commentary on E!’s “20 Most Gruesome Hollywood Murders,” “Ghost Adventures,” “20/20” and his own show on the E! network, “Hollywood Death Trip.” His Dearly Departed Tour has been voted “Best in LA” by the LA Weekly and Los Angeles Magazine and is featured in “1000 Things to Do Before You Die” and an award-winner on Tripadvisor.com.

In addition to its highly rated Dearly Departed Tours, Michaels offers his guests a museum of unique Hollywood memorabilia with a decided death tie-in, including bricks from the fireplace in which the Manson family killed Sharon Tate, risqué comedian Mae West’s dentures, Rocky Horror Picture Show original set models, displays and a featured costume (Michaels wrote “the movie’s bible, “Rocky Horror from Concept to Cult,” and calls many cast members friends.

Many of the museum artifacts come from Michaels’ decades of collecting odd Hollywood memorabilia, including an architectural column from the long-shuttered Perinos and Karen Carpenter’s bathroom sink. “Jayne Mansfield’s death car fit right in the mix, and we like to honor her complete and total joy in being a movie star,” Michaels said. He also has a piece of Mansfield’s pink luggage on display that was fished from the trunk after the crash.

“To me it’s less about gruesome; and much more about Hollywood history,” Michaels said, adding the movie star’s death is saving other people’s lives today and maintains her notoriety. Commercial trucks must now have protection that prohibits cars from going underneath them, as Jayne’s did. The device is called the Mansfield Bar.

Dearly Departed Tours and Museum is at 5901 Santa Monica Blvd., directly across from Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The museum and tours run 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.. There is plentiful street parking. Price is $8 to view the Jayne Mansfield death car and select special collection items. Tours are $35. Media comps upon request. Telephone (855) 600-3323 www.dearlydepartedtours.com