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Vowing Not to Be Just a Pretty Face, Mariska Hargitay Turns Actress Like Her Mom, Jayne Mansfield

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Mariska Hargitay always talked so little about being Jayne Mansfield’s daughter that many of her friends aren’t even aware of it. Recently, a girl with whom Mariska was waitressing in a Westwood, Calif, restaurant belatedly heard the news and came rushing over. “I don’t believe it!” she squealed. “That is soo neat. And I don’t even know who Jayne Mansfield is!”

Mariska (pronounced Marishka), 21, tells the story without pathos, even though she herself only dimly recalls her famous mother. When Mariska was 3, she and her brothers Zoltan, 6, and Miklos, 8, were asleep in the back of a car taking Jayne, the only sex symbol to rival Marilyn Monroe, from a performance at the Gus Stevens Supper Club in Biloxi, Miss, to New Orleans for a morning talk show. In the darkness the club’s driver smashed into the rear of a trailer truck. Jayne, 34, was decapitated. Her boyfriend, Sam Brody, and the driver were also killed. Zoltan suffered a concussion; Miklos and Mariska weren’t seriously hurt.

Despite that tragedy, Mariska and her brothers grew up leading a “seriously normal” life with their father, Hungarian immigrant and ex-Mr. Universe Mickey Hargitay, and his third wife, Ellen Siano, a stewardess. At Marymount High, a Catholic girls school in L.A., Mariska was class president and a swimmer on the varsity team. Acting was not in her plans. But she “wanted to try everything,” and one part in a school play changed her mind. Like her mother, who early on garnered such titles as Miss Photoflash, Miss Texas Tomato and Miss One-for-the-Road, Mariska was crowned Miss Beverly Hills in 1982. Now after a small part in the just-re-eased cheapie Ghoulies, she has landed her first leading role in Road Trip, a comedy about the shenanigans of college tennis players in Las Vegas. “We weren’t even considering her for the part,” says director Steve (Lone Wolf McQuade) Carver. “I had someone else in mind. But she knocked me out. She’s got an electrifying smile and the degree of energy that makes a star.”

Nicknamed “Bubbles” for her enthusiasm, Mariska will only go so far to reach stardom. She wears little makeup (“My dad hates it”) and insists, “I want to be an actress, not a model or a pretty face.” When Carver told her she’d have to disrobe in the film, she refused and won. “I want my career to go a certain way, and I can’t compromise. You gotta stick to your convictions,” she says, grinning at her victory. “I’ll let God worry about those things. The closer I get to God and the more I give to Him…the more He seems to work out for me.”

A student in UCLA’s theater arts program, Mariska shares an apartment in Westwood with three other UCLA coeds. To pay for private acting lessons, she works part-time at a West Hollywood boutique, and has waitressed in two restaurants. “I like being a waitress,” she says. “It keeps my head straight.” Then, glancing around her plush apartment with its push-button gas fireplace and all-electric kitchen, she says, “I’m proud to work. I just know too many spoiled rich kids who are full degenerate losers. When I go to Hungary to visit my relatives, they have a bucket underneath the sink and you empty it every time the sink gets full. I don’t know what they’d do if they saw this apartment. They’d think they were dreaming.”

In her bedroom, Mariska keeps memorabilia of her mother, which she buys whenever she gets the chance—pictures, old movie stills, even a toothbrush with Jayne’s likeness. But there are no Mansfield biographies among the mementos. “Why should I read those? I lived with an encyclopedia—my dad,” she says. “And my mom [Ellen] calls me up to tell me when one of her movies is on TV. My mother was a young knockout but she was also brilliant [Jayne’s I.Q. was said to have been 163]. She just gave the public what they wanted.”