We ask — has anyone seen a Barbara Payton movie lately?
Hmm… Thought not.
Well, we have, and lived to tell you all about it. Who exactly, you may ask, is Barbara Payton? Well, the shortest response would be — she was one of Hollywood’s foremost, classic “bad girls.”
Frank remembers reading about her exploits in Fifties issues of Confidential magazine, and was inspired anew to plow through a rare paperback edition of Payton’s 1963 autobiography, I Am Not Ashamed. (Editorial comment: Maybe she should have been.)
Her movie career, which began in 1949, 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 the Gorilla) 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 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 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.
Payton and Neal battled their way through their passionate affair but never married. (Perhaps that was for the better since Neal, no angel himself, was imprisoned in the mid-Sixties in connection with the murder of his second wife, Gale.)
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. (That’s Payton and Neal pictured below.)
Inspired by locating a hard-to-come by DVD copy of 1953’s Bad Blonde — one of the pair of films that comprises Payton’s British period — we decided to take a look and provide ourselves with a Payton update. The verdict: she may have worked in extremely low-budget and cheesy surroundings, but she was by no means a terrible actress.
Bad Blonde was produced by chronic poverty row habitant, Lippert Pictures, and distributed by Hammer Films, the great British horror film provider for several decades, which also produced Payton’s second British-made movie, 1953’s Four Sided Triangle.
In Blonde Barbara plays an impossible to resist vamp who seduces a prizefighter on-the-make, and convinces him to murder her husband. British actor Tony Wright plays the boxer with a great lack of conviction, blending an air of Ronald Coleman in the body of early Sylvester Stallone.
Payton is the only reason to bother with this movie and its only point of interest. She really did play man killers with zest and style. She looked pretty good, as well.
Things ended badly for Payton after her movie career concluded. In his tell-all memoir, Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and Secret Sex Lives of the Stars, Hollywood procurer 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.)