Congrats to TCM for recently showing Barbara Payton in the most promising part of her abbreviated movie career.
The film was 1949’s film noir Trapped, which costarred Lloyd Bridges as a ne’er do well jailbird who romances Payton’s character, a somewhat blowsy night club denizen. Any way you slice it, Payton looks great. She was all of 22 at the time and this was her first big role.
Her performance drew attention since she was voted one of the stars most likely to succeed in Hollywood. As you’ll soon realize it never happened.
Payton’s story is oddly riveting while at the same time being very sad. Here it is:
Her movie career was NOT extensive, only about 15 or so features. But what down-market gems, sometimes created by such interesting directors as Curt Siodmak (1951’s Bride of Frankenstein) and Edgar G. Ullmer (1955’s Murder Is My Beat).
In her prime, Payton was gorgeous, a full-figured blond with fine features and a pouting, full mouth. She had a slightly insolent attitude — daring men NOT to be sexually moved by her presence. She was made for film noir roles, and as mentioned, her first costarring part, opposite Lloyd Bridges, was in the 1949 Eagle-Lion production of Trapped.
The same year, Payton signed a one-year contract at Universal-International, and made a western, Silver Blue, opposite a rugged leading man wannabe, Tom Neal. Thus began her torrid on-again, off-again romance with the rugged, good-looking actor, who eventually made those Confidential magazine headlines when he belted (and seriously injured) Franchot Tone in an argument over Payton’s romantic-sexual favors.
Tone may have lost the battle but he eventually won the marital war, however briefly. He married Payton in 1951; the divorce came a year later.
Two A-list Hollywood stars figured in Payton’s career. James Cagney starred opposite her in his own production for Warner Brothers, 1950’s noir drama Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye. Barbara, well received, got a career a boost for a while.
As a producer, Cagney also cast her opposite Gregory Peck in the 1951 western, Only The Valiant. She personally did not get along with Peck, and later claimed she was the only actress ever to be barred from the set of picture she starred in.
Payton later turned to the stage — opposite Neal in a touring production of The Postman Always Rings Twice — and made low-budget pictures in England. By the early Sixties, her movie career was over. (Payton and Neal pictured below.)
By then, she had developed a grade A problem with alcohol. Without a husband, her movie money long since spent, Payton took to prostitution. By at least one account, she was very good at it.
In the recently published tell-all memoir, Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars, Hollywood procuror Scotty Bowers writes that he fixed up none other than Bob Hope with hookers. His favorite was a very well-known ex-actress by the name of Barbara Payton.
For many years she was regarded as the number one hooker in town. In a personal endorsement, Bowers adds: I have to say that a half hour with her was like two hours with someone else. She was electrifyingly sexy and made a man feel totally and wholly satisfied.
Payton had a short, dissolute life. (She never made it to 40; she died in 1967 of heart and liver failure at 39.)