Who Was Barbara Payton?

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Who was Barbara Payton?

Barbara PaytonThere are some strange and often sad stories that have come out of what was called the Golden Era of Hollywood. Barbara Payton’s is one of them.

Blonde and attractive Barbara, seen here with Gregory Peck, was sure of her own stardom. She bought into the Hollywood press releases about herself. She thought she was a huge star.

Yet today, hardly no-one remembers the name and she died alone aged only thirty eight.

Barbara, who was born in Minnesota in 1927, realised at a young  age that her good looks had an effect on the menfolk she came across. At sixteen years old she embarked on her first marriage with a fellow-school student. This marriage was quickly annulled.

But the following year she met  rather dashing pilot who had been decorated in the war called John Payton. Their marriage took place only fifteen months after her first.

Two years later they had a son, John, but Barbara was already bored with her life.She had embarked upon a modelling career that seemed to offer her more excitement and experience of life than merely being a wife and mother.

Barbara continued to pursue her career and was signed up by  a Hollywood studio when she was twenty one. A year later, she and John were divorced.

In Hollywood Barbara has numerous affairs. Amongst her lovers were Howard Hughes, Bob Hope and several other names we still recognise today. But in the same year that she was divorced from John,she started a relationship with actor Franchot Tone. At the same time,she was having an affair with another actor named Tom Neal. Playing one man off against the other, she was seen in public with both men.

It had to happen – eventually, in  September 1951, a fight broke out between the two men. Both were convinced that Barbara would marry him. It was hardly a fair fight. Tom was younger and more strongly built than Franchot so it’s hardly surprising that the older actor spent eighteen hours in coma and had multiple injuries including concussion. He required plastic surgery to reconstruct his face. Franchot had already been married and divorced this time (his first wife was Joan Crawford) but nevertheless, despite the fact that he had lost the fist fight between the two men, Barbara decided to marry him.

Unfortunately, she was the sort of woman who liked to have her cake and eat it as she continued her affair with Tom Neal even after her marriage to Franchot. Cuckolded Franchot found out about this in the early months of their marriage and, having married in the September, they were divorced by May. Just a few months before the divorce, the couple had attempted a reconciliation but during and argument, Barbara took an overdose. Franchot called for medical help and she was saved. The couple had actually only spent the first fifty three days of their marriage together.

Her next husband wasn’t an actor, he was a businessman, but nevertheless, this marriage lasted only just over three years. In all probability, this is likely due to Barbara continuing to see other men. In addition, during this final marriage, her second husband had successfully gained custody for their child claiming that the actress was a bad mother and a bad influence on the boy’s life. He claimed that the boy received no moral education and feared for his future.

Barbara’s career, and hence her life, was in decline. Hollywood studios were aware of her heavy partying, drinking – and she had also started to use drugs. Her reputation as in tatters and her health and looks were going the same way. She put on weight. She didn’t care about her appearance or look after her clothing. She had become caricature of herself. She had trouble with the police on several occasions.

In the end, she was working as a prostitute on Sunset Boulevard.

Within less than ten years she had gone from a highly paid movie star to a lonely woman who ‘entertained’ her clients for ten dollars a trick.


This film was made just ten years before her first arrest for prostitution.





Jackie Jackson, also known online as BritFlorida, is a highly experienced designer and writer. British born and now living in the USA, she specialises in lifestyle issues, design and quirky stories. You can see a wide range of articles here, or visit her website Tastes Magazine. See The Writer’s Door for more information.

Author: Jackie Jackson

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  1. I had no idea. What a sad story and actually, the story of many who went to Hollywood with the intention to become a star. Thanks for sharing Barbara Payton’s story.

    • There are so many tragic stories from Hollywood, aren’t there Nancy? I guess that so many people were looking for fame and fortune there.

  2. Thank you for writing this article about Barbara Payton. Linda Boroff’s screenplay on Barbara’s life, titled “Fast Fade”, is currently being developed in Los Angeles for a feature film. Hopefully, it will bring a greater understanding to this enigmatic woman’s life.

    • John, that sounds fascinating. Please let us know when the film is released.

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