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Old Posted Nov 1, 2011, 11:45 PM
Fab Fifties Fan Fab Fifties Fan is offline
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Now for a big shot of Los Angeles Noir

One of the most noir tales ever to come out of Hollywood has to be that of Barbara Payton. A blue-eyed, peroxide blonde sexpot who had everything going for her, her life eventually completely disintegrated, and she only herself to blame. Things started out well enough for Barbara Lee Redfield, born on November 26, 1927 in Cloquet, Minnesota and raised in Odessa, Texas.

Barbara at age six

From a modest, blue-collar background, she grew up to be a drop-dead gorgeous young woman and, following a quickie marriage and birth of her only child, a son, at age 19, she decided to leave Texas for good to try to capitalize on her good looks and great figure in Tinseltown. She headed for Hollywood in 1948 and, within a short time, was placed under contract by Universal, where she began the typical starlet route of bit parts. She reached her peak with routine but promising co-star work opposite James Cagney in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950), Gary Cooper in Dallas (1950) and Gregory Peck in Only the Valiant (1951).

Early publicity shots (Universal Pictures)

Although her talent (5) was overshadowed by her brassiness (10) and looks (10), her slightly lurid appeal seemed to be enough to carry her through. Caught up in the glitz and glamour, however, her career started taking second place to a reckless life full of capricious romances involving a number of top stars and producers, most of them married.

with Franchot Tone arriving at a Hollywood premier 1950 (LA Herald Examiner)

One of her more famous trysts ended up making headlines for her and none of them were favorable. She was juggling two boyfriends at the same time, classy "A" actor Franchot Tone (ex-husband of Joan Crawford) and muscular "B" actor Tom Neal. They fought almost to the death for Barbara's affections. On September 13, 1951, the men engaged in a deadly brawl and when it was over, Tone was in the hospital with broken bones and a brain concussion. Barbara ended up with both a black eye and a tarnished reputation. She married Tone after he recovered, but left him after only seven weeks and returned to the violence-prone Neal. That abusive relationship lasted four years, though they never married.

with son John and Franchot Tone 1951 (Los Angeles Herald Examiner)

During that time Barbara's career had plummeted to the point where she was making such dismal features as Bride of the Gorilla (1951). She went to England to try to rejuvenate her career, but no dice; it was over and her life was skidding out of control. Her once beautiful face now blotchy and her once spectacular figure now bloated,
Barbara sank deeper and deeper into the bottle.

Barbara in England during the filming of Bad Blonde 1953

Bray Studios

The last known publicity shot of Barbara. Bray Studios 1953

She returned to Los Angeles in 1954 and no studio wanted her. From 1955 to 1963 there were various brushes with the law - among them passing bad checks, public drunkenness and, ultimately, prostitution. Overall, she was arrested 14 times. She became well known for turning $5.00 tricks on the Sunset Strip. She was forced to sleep on bus benches, was beaten and bruised by her Johns, and lost teeth in the process. In 1966, two policemen found what they first thought to be a bloated corpse at the back of the parking lot for the Thrifty Drug Store on Sunset. Barbara was barely alive and clad only in a filthy slip and torn shoes. She was covered in bruises and sores. She was hospitalized for a short time but checked herself out and returned to her old haunts on Sunset Blvd.

Barbara with her teeth knocked out by a John 1958 (LAPD)

Police booking photo 1957 (LAPD)

In 1967, after failed efforts to curb her drinking, she finally moved in with her parents in San Diego to try to dry out. It was too late. On May 8, 1967, the 39-year-old former starlet was found on the bathroom floor - dead of heart and liver failure. Somehow through all this misery she managed a tell-all book ironically entitled "I Am Not Ashamed" (1963). When Barbara and her ghost writer negotiated with the book publisher, Barbara asked to be paid in red wine and not cash because there were still outstanding judgments against her and she was afraid the money would be taken from her.

I recently found a copy of the book at a yard sale for a buck and that's what started my interest in Barbara's tragic story.

Barbara was cremated and her ashes interred at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park here in San Diego. I plan on visiting soon.

~Jon Paul
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