Monday, September 18, 2006

Former Mr. Universe Mickey Hargitay Dies

The Hungarian actor first gained recognition as a bodybuilder in the 1950s, winning the Mr. Universe title in 1955, and went on to star in a series of Italian fantasy-adventure films, starting with The Loves of Hercules in 1960. Hargitay played the heroic title character in the film, in which he starred alongside his wife, screen siren Jayne Mansfield.

Hargitay was performing in Mae West's muscleman revue at New York's Latin Quarter nightclub in the late '50s when Mansfield supposedly told her dining companion that she would have a steak "and the man on the left."

The blonde bombshell wed Hargitay in 1958 and the couple had three children, Mariska and sons Miklos Jr. and Zoltan, before splitting up in 1964. Mickey Hargitay also had a daughter, Tina, with first wife Mary Birge.

When Mansfield died in a car crash in 1967, Hargitay sued her estate for more than $275,000, claiming the actress had agreed to pay child support in their divorce settlement. That same year, Hargitay married his current wife, Ellen Siano.

The Budapest native fled Hungary for America in 1947 to escape the Soviet military draft. He ended up in New York and got his big break when West spotted him on the cover of Strength and Health magazine in 1953.

Hargitay went on to appear in films and TV shows with titles (once translated into English) such as Revenge of the Gladiators, Primitive Love, Bloody Pit of Horror and Rites, Black Magic and Secret Orgies in the Fourteenth Century.

A young up-and-comer named Arnold Schwarzenegger portrayed the strongman in the TV movie The Jayne Mansfield Story in 1982.

"He was a role model of mine for being a successful immigrant who came to this country and pursued his dreams," the actor-turned-governator said Monday. "Mickey was an accomplished bodybuilder, 1955's Mr. Universe and had a successful acting and film career as well. Maria and I want to express our sincere condolences to Mickey's family, including his wife Ellen and his four children, Mickey Jr., Zoltán, Mariska and Tina."

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