Rarely has there been such perfect casting as Arnold Schwarzenegger playing the part of Mickey Hargitay in The Jayne Mansfield Story (1980). It was Hungarian born bodybuilder-turned-actor Miklos Hargitay (1926-2006) who had provided the precedent and template for Schwarzenegger’s career and made him possible.
Born in Budapest, Hargitay started out in a nationally-known troupe of acrobats with his brothers. He moved to the U.S. after World War Two when Hungary joined the Soviet blog, forming an acrobatic act with his first wife Mary Birge. Inspired to become a bodybuilder by the example of Steve Reeves (“Hercules”) Hargitay won the Mr. Universe competition in 1955 and divorced Birge the following year.
In 1956 he was cast as one of the many muscle-bound men in Mae West’s live stage show. This led to his meeting Jayne Mansfield, who got him cast as Bobo Braginasky in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957) and married him in 1958. The pair appeared in three additional movies together The Loves of Hercules (1960), Promises! Promises! (1963), and Primitive Love (1964). The first and third of those were made in Italy; the second was the first mainstream American movie to feature female toplessness. Without Mansfield, Hargitay appeared in the films Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (1957), Revenge of the Gladiators (1964), Stranger in Sacramento, Sheriff Won’t Shoot, and Bloody Pit of Horror (all 1965), Three Bullets for Ringo and Sette donne d’oro contro due 07 (both 1966), Cjamango (1967), Ringo It’s Massacre Time (1970), Lady Frankenstein (1971), Delerium (1972) and Black Magic Rites (1973). During the time of his marriage to Mansfield, he also appeared on The Bob Hope Show, The Steve Allen Plymouth Show, The Mike Douglas Show and Groucho Marx’s short-lived talk show Tell It To Groucho.
Hargitay and Mansfield had three children together, the best known of which is of course Mariska Hargitay of Law and Order: SVU. The couple divorced in 1964. Mansfield’s tragic fatal car crash was in 1967. By the time of his last starring film in 1973, Hargitay was nearing 50 years old. After this, he focused on raising his family, with his third wife Ellen Siano.
To learn more about show business history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,