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John Payne (actor)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

John Payne
John Payne Silver Theater 1949.jpg
Payne in 1949
John Howard Payne

(1912-05-23)May 23, 1912
DiedDecember 6, 1989(1989-12-06) (aged 77)
OccupationActor, singer
Years active1934–1975
(m. 1937; div. 1943)

(m. 1944; div. 1950)

Alexandra Crowell Curtis
(m. 1953)
Children3, including Julie Payne

John Howard Payne[1] (May 23, 1912 – December 6, 1989)[2][3] was an American film actor who is mainly remembered from film noir crime stories and 20th Century Fox musical films, and for his leading roles in Miracle on 34th Street and the NBC Western television series The Restless Gun.

Early life

Payne was born in Roanoke, Virginia. His mother, Ida Hope (née Schaeffer), a singer, graduated from the Virginia Seminary in Roanoke and married George Washington Payne, a developer in Roanoke. They lived at Fort Lewis, an antebellum mansion that became a state historic property, but was destroyed by fire in the late 1940s.

Payne attended prep school at Mercersburg Academy in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, and then went to Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia. He then transferred to Columbia University in New York City in the fall of 1930. He studied drama at Columbia and voice at the Juilliard School. To support himself, he took on a variety of odd jobs, including wrestling as "Alexei Petroff, the Savage of the Steppes" and boxing as "Tiger Jack Payne".[4]

He returned frequently to visit his family in Roanoke, Virginia.[5]

Acting career

Stage actor

In 1934, a talent scout for the Shubert theaters spotted Payne and gave him a job as a stock player. He appeared in road company productions of Rose Marie and The Student Prince at $40 a week.[6]

Payne toured with several Shubert Brothers shows, and frequently sang on New York City-based radio programs. On Broadway he appeared in the revue At Home Abroad (1935–36) alongside Ethel Waters, Eleanor Powell and Beatrice Lillie.[7] He understudied for Reginald Gardiner and took over one night. He was seen by Fred Kohlmar of Sam Goldwyn's company and was offered a movie contract.

Early films

In 1936, he left New York for Hollywood. His first role was in Goldwyn's Dodsworth, playing Harry McKee, the son-in-law of Walter Huston's titular character.

He had the male lead as Jimmy Maxwell in Hats Off (1936), an independent film.

Payne was third billed in Fair Warning (1937), at Fox, and was the lead in Love on Toast (1937). He had a small role in Paramount's College Swing (1938).

Warner Bros

Payne signed a contract with Warner Bros. and played Don Vincent in Garden of the Moon (1938). He was in Kid Nightingale (1939) and Wings of the Navy (1939).[8] Payne supported Ann Sheridan in Indianapolis Speedway (1939).

During this time he returned to Broadway to appear in Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1938–39).[9] Payne was unhappy with his Warner Bros. roles, and asked for a release.

20th Century Fox

Payne went to 20th Century Fox where he appeared in Star Dust (1940). During filming, Darryl F. Zanuck offered him a long-term contract.

He had supporting roles in Maryland (1940) and The Great Profile (1940).

Payne had roles in the comedy The Great American Broadcast (1940), and was in the musicals Tin Pan Alley (1940), Week-End in Havana (1941) and Sun Valley Serenade (1941).

Fox gave him the chance to do drama in Remember the Day (1941) and To the Shores of Tripoli (1942).

After serving in the military during World War II Payne returned to Fox, and was in The Dolly Sisters (1945), playing Harry Fox. It was one of Payne's most successful films.

Payne starred with Maureen O'Hara in Sentimental Journey (1946), and was in The Razor's Edge (1946).

Miracle on 34th Street (1947 film poster).jpg

Payne's most familiar role may be his final film for Fox, that of attorney Fred Gailey in the classic holiday favorite Miracle on 34th Street (1947) with Natalie Wood, Maureen O'Hara and Edmund Gwenn. It was another box office success. He was meant to make another with O'Hara, Sitting Pretty (1948) .[10] However, in October 1947 he got his release from the studio, despite the contract having another four years to run, which would have brought him $670,000. Payne claimed he was dissatisfied with the roles being offered him.[11]

Payne later said he had asked for his release every week for eight months before he got it.[6] Film historian Jeanine Basinger later wrote that "Fox thought of [Payne] as a secondary Tyrone Power. They didn't know how to use him."[12]

Freelance actor

After leaving Fox, Payne attempted to change his image and began playing tough-guy roles in Hollywood films noir.

He did two noirs at Universal, Larceny (1948), where he played the lead role, and was in The Saxon Charm (1948). He had the lead in The Crooked Way (1949) for United Artists.

Pine-Thomas Productions

Payne received an offer to star in a Western for Pine-Thomas Productions, a unit that operated out of Paramount Studios. His first film for the company was El Paso (1949). Other roles were in Captain China (1950), an adventure film; Tripoli (1950) set during the Barbary War; and The Eagle and the Hawk (1950), a Western.

He signed a contract to make three more films for Pine-Thomas[13] and was in Passage West (1951), another Western; and Crosswinds (1951), an adventure film; Caribbean Gold (1952), a pirate film; The Blazing Forest (1952), an adventure story; The Vanquished (1952), a Western.

Payne insisted that the films he appeared in be filmed in color and that the rights to the films revert to him after several years, making him wealthy when he rented them to television.[14]

In 1952 he said he got four times the fan mail he did at Fox. "I make fewer pictures now but I make the kind I want to make."[6]

Other independent producers

John Payne in the television series The Restless Gun (1957)
John Payne in the television series The Restless Gun (1957)
Payne in a dual role in The Restless Gun
Payne in a dual role in The Restless Gun

Payne starred in Kansas City Confidential (1952), a noir, and owned 25% of the film.[15] He later worked with on Raiders of the Seven Seas (1953), a pirate movie; and 99 River Street (1953), a noir.

Payne did a series of Westerns: Silver Lode (1954), for Benedict Bogeaus; Rails Into Laramie (1955), for Universal; Santa Fe Passage (1955) and The Road to Denver (1955) at Republic, and Tennessee's Partner (1955) for Bogeaus.

In 1955, he paid a $1,000-a-month option for nine months on the Ian Fleming James Bond novel Moonraker (he eventually gave up the option when he learned he could not retain the rights for the entire book series).

He returned to Pine-Thomas for a noir, Hell's Island (1956), then did Slightly Scarlet (1956) for Bogeaus. He made Hold Back the Night (1956) for Allied Artists and The Boss (1956) for United Artists, co-producing the latter.[16] He did another noir, Hidden Fear, shot in Denmark.

Payne made one more Pine-Thomas film, Bailout at 43,000 (1957), playing Major Paul Peterson.


Payne starred as Vint Bonner in The Restless Gun, a half-hour western which aired on NBC Monday evenings from September 23, 1957 to September 14, 1959. He played a gunfighter who preferred not to fight if other options were available.[17] The series was originally based on an earlier radio series starring James Stewart titled The Six Shooter. On October 31, 1957 Payne guest-starred on The Ford Show hosted by Tennessee Ernie Ford.

Later career

Payne directed one of his last films, They Ran for Their Lives (1968), and starred with Alice Faye in a 1974 revival of the musical Good News. He also starred in the Gunsmoke episode of "Gentry's Law" in 1970.

His final role was in 1975, when he co-starred with Peter Falk and Janet Leigh in the Columbo episode "Forgotten Lady". Later in life Payne became wealthy through real estate investments in southern California.

Personal life

John Payne in uniform (1943)
John Payne in uniform (1943)

During World War II Payne served as a flight instructor in the United States Army Air Corps. Major Payne received a silver star in 1942 for his actions during a bombing mission of the Italian fleet which allowed British forces to proceed. He was honorably discharged in September 1944.[18]

Payne was married to actress Anne Shirley from 1937 to 1942;[19] they had a daughter, Julie Anne Payne.

He married actress Gloria DeHaven in 1944;[20][21] the couple had two children, Kathleen Hope Payne (b. 1945) and Thomas John Payne,[22] before divorcing in 1950.[23] The couple remained on good terms, and on June 27, 1961 columnist Earl Wilson wrote that DeHaven was still concerned over Payne's March 1961 accident, and called him once a week.[24]

During the filming of Kansas City Confidential (1952) Payne had a romance with co-star Coleen Gray that continued well past filming. They later appeared together in Tennessee's Partner, alongside future U.S. President Ronald Reagan.

Payne then married Alexandra Beryl "Sandy" Crowell Curtis in 1953,[25] and remained with her until his death.

His oldest daughter Julie was married to writer-director Robert Towne from 1977 to 1982.

Payne was a Republican and in October 1960 he was one of many conservative notables who drove in the Nixon-Lodge Bumper Sticker Motorcade in Los Angeles.[26] Payne also supported Barry Goldwater in the 1964 United States presidential election.[27]


On the evening of March 1, 1961, when Payne was 49, he suffered extensive, life-threatening injuries when struck by a car when he was crossing Madison Avenue in New York City.[28] It had been raining, and the driver, future billionaire hedge fund manager Bernard Selz, claimed he had not seen Payne.[29] Payne was tossed into the air, and came down facefirst into the car’s windshield, which then shattered, causing extensive facial lacerations, including damaging both his eyes. His left leg was broken in five places, and he suffered a skull fracture.[28]

Payne was taken to Roosevelt Hospital (now named Mount Sinai West), where he had facial surgery. He was in a hip cast for five-and-a-half months. He claimed his full recovery was due to doctors telling him that a patient’s attitude is important, and he always remained optimistic.[28]

One of Payne's first public appearances during this period was as a guest panelist on the popular CBS Sunday night game show What's My Line? In the December 3, 1961 episode, regular panelist Dorothy Kilgallen introduced Payne by saying, "He's been in the hospital after a very bad accident. So it's good to see him fit as a fiddle and all in one piece." Regular panelist Bennett Cerf remarked, "Good to see you here, John. Glad to see you beat that car on Madison Avenue that bumped into you."[30]


Payne died in Malibu, California, of congestive heart failure on December 6, 1989, aged 77.[2] His ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean.

He has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, in motion pictures and television.

Complete filmography

Year Title Role Notes
1936 Dodsworth Harry McKee
1937 Hats Off Jimmy Maxwell
1937 Fair Warning Jim Preston
1937 Love on Toast Bill Adams
1938 College Swing Martin Bates
1938 Garden of the Moon Don Vincente
1939 Wings of the Navy Jerry Harrington
1939 Indianapolis Speedway Eddie Greer
1939 Kid Nightingale Steve Nelson, a.k.a. Kid Nightingale
1939 The Royal Rodeo Bill Stevens Short
1940 Star Dust Ambrose Fillmore, a.k.a. Bud Borden
1940 King of the Lumberjacks James "Jim" / "Slim" Abbott
1940 Tear Gas Squad Sergeant Bill Morrissey
1940 Maryland Lee Danfield
1940 The Great Profile Richard Lansing
1940 Tin Pan Alley Francis Aloysius "Skeets" Harrigan
1941 The Great American Broadcast Rix Martin
1941 Sun Valley Serenade Ted Scott
1941 Week-End in Havana Jay Williams
1941 Remember the Day Dan Hopkins
1942 To the Shores of Tripoli Chris Winters
1942 Footlight Serenade William J. "Bill" Smith
1942 Iceland Capt. James Murfin
1942 Springtime in the Rockies Dan Christy
1943 Hello, Frisco, Hello Johnny Cornell
1945 The Dolly Sisters Harry Fox
1946 Sentimental Journey William O. Weatherly
1946 The Razor's Edge Gray Maturin
1946 Wake Up and Dream Jeff Cairn
1947 Miracle on 34th Street Fred Gailey
1948 Larceny Rick Mason
1948 The Saxon Charm Eric Busch
1949 El Paso Clay Fletcher
1949 The Crooked Way Eddie Rice, a.k.a. Eddie Riccardi
1949 Captain China Charles S. Chinnough / Capt. China
1950 The Eagle and the Hawk Capt. Todd Croyden
1950 Tripoli Lt. Presley O'Bannon
1951 Passage West Pete Black
1951 Crosswinds Steve Singleton
1952 Caribbean Dick Lindsay / Robert MacAllister
1952 Kansas City Confidential Joe Rolfe / Peter Harris
1952 The Blazing Forest Kelly Hansen
1953 Raiders of the Seven Seas Barbarossa
1953 The Vanquished Rockwell (Rock) Grayson
1953 99 River Street Ernie Driscoll
1954 Rails Into Laramie Jefferson Harder
1954 Silver Lode Dan Ballard
1955 Hell's Island Mike Cormack
1955 Santa Fe Passage Kirby Randolph
1955 The Road to Denver Bill Mayhew
1955 Tennessee's Partner Tennessee w/Ronald Reagan
1956 Slightly Scarlet Ben Grace
1956 Hold Back the Night Capt. Sam McKenzie
1956 Rebel in Town John Willoughby
1956 The Boss Matt Brady
1957 The Restless Gun Vint Bonner TV series
1957 Bailout at 43,000 Maj. Paul Peterson
1957 Hidden Fear Mike Brent
1960 O'Conner's Ocean Tom O'Conner TV movie
1968 They Ran for Their Lives Bob Martin
1975 Columbo: Forgotten Lady Ned Diamond Season 5, Episode 1

Radio appearances

Year Program Episode/source
1940 Lux Radio Theatre Wings of the Navy[31]
1947 Lux Radio Theatre Miracle on 34th St.[32]
1952 Family Theater The Promise[33]


  1. ^ California Death Records – California Department of Health Services Office of Health Information and Research.
  2. ^ a b Flint, Peter B. (December 8, 1989), "John Payne, 77, Actor, Is Dead; Lawyer in 'Miracle on 34th Street'", The New York Times
  3. ^ NOTE: The California Death Records show his date of birth as May 28, but most published biographies show May 23, as does his obituary in The New York Times.
  4. ^ Victoria Wilson (2015), A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907–1940, Simon and Schuster, p. 637, ISBN 9781439194065
  5. ^ Berrier, Ralph, 2018 "John Payne, Roanoke Big Star." Discover: History & Heritage. February 2018. Pages 72-77.
  6. ^ a b c Hopper, H. (September 14, 1952). "JOHN PAYNE--the star who likes people". Chicago Daily Tribune. ProQuest 178342888.
  7. ^ "At Home Abroad – Broadway Musical – Original | IBDB".
  8. ^ "John Payne Hollywood choice to fill Dick Powell's singing roles; of Virginia ancestry, he was studying opera when movies called". The Washington Post. Associated Press, S. C. January 15, 1939. ProQuest 151222238.
  9. ^ "Abe Lincoln in Illinois – Broadway Play – Original | IBDB".
  10. ^ THOMAS F BRADY (September 4, 1947). "JOSE FERRER TO DO ROLE IN 'JOAN' FILM". New York Times. ProQuest 108090020.
  11. ^ THOMAS F BRADY (October 4, 1947). "JOHN PAYNE ENDS CONTRACT AT FOX". New York Times. ProQuest 108083448.
  12. ^ Nott, R. (December 21, 2007). "THE BIG PICTURE TAKES ON FILM". The Santa Fe New Mexican. ProQuest 331724253.
  13. ^ Schallert, E. (November 28, 1949). "John payne will hit pioneer trail; helene stanley cast at metro". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 165997304.
  14. ^ Blank, Ed (January 26, 2006), "360 Degrees of Oscar", Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, archived from the original on September 23, 2007
  15. ^ Hopper, Hedda (September 14, 1952). "John Payne's Hopper Rating Given Boost: Actor Becomes Hollywood Goodwill Envoy After Personal Troubles Fade Ambassador Payne". Los Angeles Times. p. E1.
  16. ^ Scheuer, P. K. (May 13, 1956). "Payne mum on who's 'boss'". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 166940388.
  17. ^ Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh, The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows 1946 – Present, 1st Edition, page 523, Ballantine Books, 1979
  18. ^ "GEN. PATTON'S LIFE SUBJECT OF FILM". New York Times. September 11, 1944. ProQuest 106844382.
  19. ^ "Anne Shirley Wins Divorce", Los Angeles Times, February 20, 1942
  20. ^ "Gloria De Haven, John Payne To Wed", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 18, 1944
  21. ^ "John Payne Weds Gloria De Haven", Los Angeles Times, December 29, 1944
  22. ^ Flint, Peter B. (December 8, 1989). "John Payne, 77, Actor, Is Dead; Lawyer in 'Miracle on 34th Street'". The New York Times.
  23. ^ "Gloria De Haven Wins Uncontested Divorce", Los Angeles Times, February 10, 1950
  24. ^ Earle Wilson, The Charlotte News (Charlotte, NC), June 27, 1961, page 22
  25. ^ "Actor John Payne Weds Ex-Wife of Alan Curtis". The Los Angeles Times. California, Los Angeles. September 28, 1953. p. 2. Retrieved January 8, 2018 – via open access
  26. ^ "Framework". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on February 16, 2013. Retrieved August 14, 2012.
  27. ^ Critchlow, Donald T. (October 21, 2013). When Hollywood Was Right: How Movie Stars, Studio Moguls, and Big Business Remade American Politics. ISBN 9781107650282.
  28. ^ a b c Lloyd Shearer, "Faith Kept Him Alive", Parade, December 24, 1961, page 12
  29. ^ John Payne’s Accident Will Not Ruin Career, Wausau Daily Herald (Wasau, Wisconsin) March 3, 1961, page 12
  30. ^ "What's My Line? – Janet Leigh; John Payne [panel] (Dec 3, 1961)". Archived from the original on December 13, 2021 – via
  31. ^ "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. 42 (2): 38. Spring 2016.
  32. ^ "Lux Radio Theater: Miracle on 34th Street", Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, 19 December 2004. Retrieved on 12 December 2020.
  33. ^ Kirby, Walter (March 2, 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 42. Retrieved May 28, 2015 – via open access

External links

This page was last edited on 25 November 2022, at 17:16
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