Barbara Payton

Barbara Lee Payton (born Barbara Lee Redfield; November 16, 1927 May 8, 1967) was an American film actress best known for her stormy social life and battles with alcoholism and drug addiction. Her life has been the subject of several books, including Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye: The Barbara Payton Story (2007) by John O'Dowd, L.A. Despair: A Landscape of Crimes and Bad Times (2005) by John Gilmore, and B Movie: A Play in Two Acts (2014) by Michael B. Druxman. In her brief life she married four times.

Barbara Payton
in Bad Blonde (1953)
Barbara Lee Redfield

(1927-11-16)November 16, 1927
DiedMay 8, 1967(1967-05-08) (aged 39)
Resting placeCypress View Mausoleum and Crematory
Years active19491955
William Hodge
(m. 1943; annul. 1943)

John Lee Payton Sr.
(m. 1945; div. 1950)

Franchot Tone
(m. 1951; div. 1952)

George Anthony Provas
(m. 1957; div. 1958)

Jess Rawley
(m. 1962)

Early life

Born in Cloquet, Minnesota, Payton was the daughter of Erwin Lee ("Flip") and Mabel Irene (Todahl) Redfield, the daughter of Norwegian immigrants. A son, Frank Leslie III, was born in 1931, and in 1938 the family moved to Odessa, Texas. With financial assistance from his sister, Payton's father started his own business, a court of tourist cabins named Antlers Court, hoping for a profitable enterprise in a city like Odessa, whose population was booming because of the oil business.

By various accounts, Payton's father was a hard-working but difficult man, emotionally closed off, slow-talking but quick-tempered. His interaction with his children was minimal, and child-rearing responsibilities were left to his wife Mabel, who occupied herself with her homemaking duties and managing family difficulties. Both of Payton's parents had long-standing problems with alcohol. Payton's first cousin Richard Kuitu remembers visits to the home of his uncle and aunt. The Redfields often started drinking at mid-morning and continued long after midnight. He recalls the violent temper Lee Redfield had when fueled by drink, which sometimes resulted in the physical abuse of his wife.[1]

As Payton was growing into maturity, her good looks were blossoming, which garnered her attention. This type of attention was valued, even encouraged, by her mother. She was known as a lively girl, willing to please, and she learned early in life that she had a potent effect on the opposite sex.[2]

In November 1943, the then 16-year-old eloped with high school boyfriend William Hodge. The marriage seemingly amounted to nothing more than an act of impulsive teenage rebellion, and Payton did not fight her parents' insistence that the marriage be annulled. A few months later, she quit high school in the 11th grade. Her parents, who did not believe that formal education was needed for success in life, did not object to her leaving high school without a diploma.[3]

In 1944, she met her second husband, decorated combat pilot John Payton, who at the time was stationed at Midland Army Airfield. The couple were married on February 10, 1945, and moved to Los Angeles, where John enrolled at the University of Southern California under the G.I. Bill. It was still early in their marriage when Barbara, restless and feeling confined by her life as a housewife, expressed a desire to pursue a modeling or acting career.[4]

Payton started a modeling career by hiring a photographer to take photos of her sporting fashionable outfits. This portfolio attracted the attention of Saba of California, a clothing designer, which signed her to a contract modeling junior fashions. In September 1947, the Rita La Roy Agency in Hollywood took her on and brought her work in print advertising, notably in catalogs for Studebaker cars and in clothing ads for magazines such as Charm and Junior Bazaar.[5]

The couple had a son, John Lee Payton, who was born on March 14, 1947.[6] Payton managed to combine the responsibilities of wife, new mother, and professional model, yet the marriage was strained; Barbara and her husband separated in July 1948. Payton's drive, fueled by her high-energy personality, had become focused on promoting her career and showcasing her beauty around the town's hot spots. Her notoriety as a luminous, fun-loving party girl in the Hollywood club scene caught the attention of William Goetz, an executive of Universal Studios. In January 1949, he signed her, at age 21, to a contract with a starting salary of $100 per week.[7]

After her divorce from Payton in 1950, she lost custody of the couple's son in March 1956 after her ex-husband charged that she exposed John Lee to "profane language, immoral conduct, notoriety, unwholesome activities" and failed to provide the boy with a "moral education".[8]


Payton first gained notice in the 1949 film noir Trapped co-starring Lloyd Bridges. In 1950, she was given the opportunity to make a screen test for John Huston's production of the forthcoming MGM crime drama The Asphalt Jungle. She was not chosen, and the part of the sultry mistress of a mob-connected lawyer went to Marilyn Monroe.[9]

After being screen-tested by James Cagney and his producer brother William, Payton starred with Cagney in the violent noir thriller Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye in 1950. William Cagney was so smitten with Payton's sensual appeal and beauty that her contract was drawn as a joint agreement between William Cagney Productions and Warner Bros., which together bestowed Payton with a salary of $5,000 per weeka large sum for an actress yet to demonstrate star power at the box office.[10]

For a relative newcomer in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye Payton managed to hold her own among a cast of Hollywood veterans. Her portrayal of the hardened, seductive girlfriend, whom Cagney's character ultimately double-crosses, was praised in newspaper reviews of the movie. Her acting skills were recognized and her significant screen charisma widely acknowledged. Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye was the high point in Payton's career.

Her screen appearances opposite Gary Cooper in Dallas (1950) and Gregory Peck in Only the Valiant (1951), both westerns, were lackluster productions that did little to highlight her skills as an actress. Payton's career decline began with the 1951 low-budget horror film Bride of the Gorilla, co-starring Raymond Burr.

Personal life

In addition to her first two marriages and affairs with Howard Hughes, Bob Hope,[11] Woody Strode, Guy Madison, George Raft, John Ireland, Steve Cochran, and Texas oilman Bob Neal, Payton was married two more times.

In 1950, Payton met actor Franchot Tone. While engaged to Tone, Payton began an affair with B-movie actor Tom Neal. She soon went back and forth publicly between Neal and Tone. On September 14, 1951, Neal, a former college boxer, physically attacked Tone at Payton's apartment, leaving him in an 18-hour coma with a smashed cheekbone, broken nose, and concussion. The incident garnered huge publicity, and Payton decided to honor her engagement to Tone.[12][13] Payton and Tone, who was recovering from his injuries, were married on September 28, 1951 in Payton's hometown of Cloquet, Minnesota.[14] After being married, Tone discovered that she had continued her relations with Neal, and Tone was granted a divorce in May 1952.[15]

The Payton-Neal relationship essentially ended their Hollywood film careers. During this time, the couple capitalized on the notorious press coverage by touring in plays such as The Postman Always Rings Twice, based on the popular 1946 film of the same name. They also starred in The Great Jesse James Raid, a B-movie western that received a limited release to theaters in 1953.[16] In May 1953, Payton announced that she and Neal were to be married that summer in Paris.[17] The couple cancelled their engagement and broke up the following year.[18] She spent time in England in 1953 co-starring in two low-budget pictures for Hammer Films: Four Sided Triangle and The Flanagan Boy (a.k.a. Bad Blonde).

In November 1957, Payton married George A. "Tony" Provas, a 23-year-old furniture store executive in Nogales, Arizona.[19] They divorced in August 1958.[20]

Later years and death

Payton's hard drinking and hard living ultimately destroyed her physically and emotionally. From 1955 to 1963, her alcoholism and drug addiction led to multiple skirmishes with the law, which included arrests for passing bad checks and eventually an arrest on Sunset Boulevard for prostitution.[21]

Payton was offered the choice of being admitted to the detox unit and said "I'd rather drink and die." Following her brief hospitalization, she was driven by a county social worker to her parents' home in San Diego. She told her family's neighbor "I never wanted to be with them, I never wanted to see them again. But here I am, and I got all the booze I want." Her father Flip Redfield and her mother Mabel were both heavy drinkers and engaged with Payton in unabated drinking binges.

Writer Robert Polito recalls 34-year-old Payton in 1962, when she was a frequent visitor to Coach and Horses, a Hollywood establishment on Sunset Boulevard where the young Polito's father tended bar: "Barbara Payton oozed alcohol even before she ordered a drink. Her eyebrows didn't match her brassy hair; her face displayed a perpetual sunburn, a map of veins by her nose... [S]he carried an old man's potbelly... [H]er gowns and dresses... [were] creased and spotted. She must have weighed 200 pounds... She does not so much inhabit a character as impersonate a starlet...."[22]

In 1963, she was paid $1,000 for her autobiography I Am Not Ashamed, which was ghostwritten by Leo Guild; the memoir was reissued in 2016 by Spurl Editions. The book originally included unflattering photographs of Payton and admissions that she had been forced to sleep on bus benches and suffered regular beatings as a prostitute. That year, she won a bit part in the western comedy film 4 for Texas, which was her last acting role.

In 1967, Payton was ill and seeking refuge from her turbulent circumstances when she moved to San Diego, California to live with her parents. On May 8, 1967, she died at her parents' home of heart and liver failure at the age of 39.[23] Payton was cremated and her ashes interred at Cypress View Mausoleum and Crematory in San Diego, California.


Year Title Role Director Notes
1949 Silver Butte Rita Landon Will Cowan
1949 Once More, My Darling Girl Photographer Robert Montgomery Uncredited
1949 Trapped Meg Dixon Richard Fleischer
1949 The Pecos Pistol Kay McCormick Will Cowan
1950 Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye Holiday Carleton Gordon Douglas
1950 Dallas Flo Stuart Heisler
1951 Only the Valiant Cathy Eversham Gordon Douglas
1951 Drums in the Deep South Kathy Summers William Cameron Menzies
1951 Bride of the Gorilla Mrs. Dina Van Gelder Curt Siodmak
1953 Four Sided Triangle Lena/Helen Terence Fisher Alternative title: The Monster and the Woman
1953 Run for the Hills Jane Johnson Lew Landers
1953 The Great Jesse James Raid Kate Reginald Le Borg
1953 The Flanagan Boy Lorna Vecchi Reginald Le Borg Alternative title: Bad Blonde
1955 Murder Is My Beat Eden Lane Edgar G. Ulmer
1963 4 for Texas Town citizen Robert Aldrich Uncredited


  1. O'Dowd 2006, p. 20
  2. O'Dowd 2006, p. 28
  3. O'Dowd 2006, pp. 31–32
  4. O'Dowd 2006, pp. 41, 37–39
  5. O'Dowd 2006, pp. 41, 47–48
  6. O'Dowd 2006, p. 43
  7. O'Dowd 2006, p. 51
  8. "Father Given Custody of Son of Barbara Payton". Ludington Daily News. March 10, 1956. p. 1. Retrieved May 6, 2013.
  9. O'Dowd 2006, p. 77
  10. O'Dowd 2006, p. 78
  11. Seago, Kate (October 31, 1993). "Hope laughs last at scathing biography". Gainesville Sun. p. 5G. Retrieved May 6, 2013.
  12. "Battle Over Affections Of Actress Send Franchot Tone to Hospital". St. Petersburg Times. September 15, 1951. p. 1. Retrieved May 6, 2013.
  13. "Romance Warms Up Again". St. Petersburg Times. November 26, 1951. p. 3. Retrieved May 6, 2013.
  14. "Franchot Tone Married To Miss Payton". Ottawa Citizen. September 29, 1951. p. 12. Retrieved May 6, 2013.
  15. "Tone Wins Divorce from Actress Wife". Lewiston Morning Tribune. May 20, 1952. p. 12. Retrieved May 6, 2013.
  16. "Current Attractions". Reading Eagle. October 25, 1953. p. 30. Retrieved May 6, 2013.
  17. "Barbara Payton Says Neal 'the Right One'". Spokane Daily Chronicle. May 18, 1953. p. 14. Retrieved May 6, 2013.
  18. "Barbara Payton to Re-Wed First Mate". Oxnard Press-Courier. March 26, 1954. p. 2. Retrieved May 6, 2013.
  19. "Barbara Payton Weds Executive". St. Joseph News-Press. November 29, 1957. p. 3. Retrieved May 6, 2013.
  20. "To Seek Divorce". The Evening Independent. August 6, 1958. pp. 6–B. Retrieved May 6, 2013.
  21. The Big Chat: John O'Dowd Interview May 20, 2003
  22. Polito 2009, p. 5
  23. "The Private Life and Times of Barbara Payton". Archived from the original on 5 July 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-02.


  • O'Dowd, John (2006), Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, The Barbara Payton Story, BearManor Media, ISBN 978-1-593-93063-9
  • Payton, Barbara (2016). I Am Not Ashamed. Spurl Editions. ISBN 1943679029
  • Polito, Robert (2009), Hollywood & God, University of Chicago Press, ISBN 978-0-226-67341-7
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