Mickey Hargitay

Actor husband of Jayne Mansfield
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The Independent Online

Miklos Hargitay, body-builder and actor: born Budapest 6 January 1926; married first Mary Birge (one daughter; marriage dissolved 1956), second 1958 Jayne Mansfield (died 1967; two sons, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1964), third 1967 Ellen Siano; died Los Angeles 14 September 2006.

A champion body-builder, the Hungarian-born Mickey Hargitay won the Mr Universe title in 1955, and became one of the muscle-men backing Mae West in her renowned night-club act, but he is best remembered as the actor husband of Jayne Mansfield.

Mansfield was the buxom blonde who made a career out of parodying Marilyn Monroe, notably in the George Axelrod's Broadway satire on Hollywood Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? The year after her sensational début in the play, she married Hargitay, who appeared with her in the film version.

The son of an acrobat, he was born Miklos Hargitay in Budapest in 1926. Raised as an athlete, he took part in his father's stage act, and also became a fine soccer player and a champion speed-skater. After fighting with the resistance in the Second World War, he emigrated to the United States and settled in Indianapolis, working as a plumber and carpenter while attending gym and pursuing his body-building activities. He also performed an adagio act in night-clubs with his first wife, Mary Birge, from whom he was divorced in 1956.

He started competing in "body beautiful" competitions at the start of the Fifties, and won local events (Mr Indianapolis, Mr Eastern America) before becoming "Mr Universe". His victory in the competition was described by Arnold Schwarzenegger as inspirational:

Body-building was dominated by American champions; there was no hope for anyone else.

That someone from central Europe became Mr Universe gave hope for someone like myself and others to dream about.

Hargitay is credited with stimulating the enormous interest in physical culture prevalent in the US of the Fifties. He became a pin-up in fitness magazines, and, shortly after he won the title, Hargitay's photograph was noticed by the ageing, legendary vamp Mae West on the cover of Strength and Health magazine, and she asked him to join her troupe of muscle-men in her Las Vegas night-club act, The Mae West Revue.

The act, in which West was backed by a line of muscular young men clothed only in leopard-skin loincloths, provoked derision from many critics, but the public loved it. It went on to break attendance records at the Latin Quarter in New York, Variety commenting,

The femme ringsiders give blushing gasps of admiration to the muscle-men, while their paunchy

and/or anaemic escorts cringe before the displays of physical excellence.

Hargitay was spotted in the show by Jayne Mansfield, who, when asked what she would like to have, reputedly answered, "I'll have a steak and the man on the left." Their subsequent romance attracted publicity when Hargitay claimed that West had jealously taken away his lines of dialogue in the show, and a fist fight between Hargitay and one of West's other muscle-men ensued. Hargitay and Mansfield were married in 1958, lived in a Beverly Hills mansion with a heart-shaped swimming pool and 13 bathrooms, and had three children before divorcing in 1964.

The couple also appeared in four films together, notably the sparkling screen version of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957), substantially rewritten by the director Frank Tashlin, in which Hargitay was Mansfield's boyfriend, a television star of jungle adventures. When Mansfield's career was fading, they appeared in less distinguished films, including a witless comedy about wife-swapping on a cruise, Promises! Promises! (1963). Several films that they made in Italy included two in which they appeared together, The Loves of Hercules (1960) and Primitive Love (1966), while Hargitay alone starred as the sadistic owner of a castle complete with torture chamber in Bloody Pit of Horror (1965), supposedly based on the writings of the Marquis de Sade. Hargitay made over a dozen more films - westerns and horror movies - in Italy until 1973.

Mansfield died in a car crash in 1967, and in 1980 the couple were the subject of a television movie, The Jayne Mansfield Story (1980), with Loni Anderson as Mansfield and Arnold Schwarzenegger as Hargitay. Now Governor of California, Schwarzenegger said this week:

Mickey was such an inspiration and always had such a positive attitude. He was a role model of mine for being a successful immigrant who came to this country and pursued his dreams.

In recent years Hargitay had a new career in real estate. His actress daughter Mariska received an Emmy Award last month for her recurring role as Detective Olivia Benson in Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, and in 2003 Hargitay acted with her in an episode of the show.

"I enjoyed my career," he recently said. "I never wanted to be any more than what I was, and I had fun doing it."

Tom Vallance

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