A second edition of Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye: The Barbara Payton story has just been released (April 2015) by BearManor Media. It is a slightly updated and better version of the seminal biographical tome that John O’Dowd first published in 2007 about actress Barbara Payton (born Barbara Lee Redfield, 1927-1967), accompanied with vibrant illustrations.
Half a century ago, in 1965, two determining events happened during a particularly low point in Barbara Payton’s sad life. Following his return to Palm Springs, Payton’s former lover —and failed Hollywood actor— Tom Neal shot and murdered his third wife Gail Kloke, for which he was arrested on April 2nd, receiving a sentence of 6 reduced years for “involuntary manslaughter.” Gail had been called “a dark-haired version of Barbara Payton,” and like Barbara, had been object of Neal’s morbid jealousy.
Meanwhile, in the Spring of 1965, Barbara’s parents Lee and Mabel —close to dying asphyxiated— had seen their home burned to the ground, a chilling parallel of the living hell Barbara’s relationship with her father had always been. By then, Barbara had moved into the rundown Wilcox Hotel, described by Nick Bougas as “the seediest spot in the universe”, on Yucca Street.
O’Dowd maintains a passionate tone, almost febrile in some passages, throughout this extensive and methodical biography of an underrated performer whose career was truncated by her terrible death at only 39. Although initially she had been considered talented and a potential major star, very early on Payton gave signals of mental instability and sexual addiction — these deeds of her reckless daring in the context of the conservative ’50s irreversibly led her to professional ostracism— being punished by the duplicitous studio system that had exploited her in the casting couch and hooked her on diet pills.
The author miraculously turns his affectionate passion towards Barbara’s fallen soul into a formidable literary fuel that counterbalances the often decadent atmosphere of the starlet’s tragic story, displaying all her different facets while wielding a non-judgemental narrative. O’Dowd takes his time to make us appreciate the sweet and resourceful all-American girl Barbara once was, reliving her childhood in Cloquet, Minnesota; her teenage blooming years in Odessa (the classic oil boomtown), and her crush towards James Cagney (her co-star in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye), whom she first met during a war bond rally in 1943.
All the chapters contain poignant analysis of Barbara’s personal vicissitudes and progressively bad choices that would condemn her to an unfair blacklist in the film industry after her fulgurant yet brief stardom. It’s quite premonitory when Barbara obsseses about infiltrating the Hollywood scene, against her husband’s wishes. Barbara became a professional model in 1947 after signing with Rita La Roy Agency on Wilshire Boulevard. John Payton, an Air Force pilot who fathered her only son John Lee, vainly hoped his wife would outgrow this fascination, but Barbara was drawn to the nightlife she had glanced at Slapsy Maxie’s club and decided to leave her husband behind in 1948, in favor of the blinding Tinseltown lights.
Barbara, who was depicted alternatively as “naïve” or “witless, mean-spirited man-chasing floozy,” was not the docile cookie-cutter blonde mannequin Warner Bros. would have preferred. Instead, she routinely wrecked havoc on the studio backlot, exhibiting nonchalantly a forbidden lifestyle that gained her many enemies who hypocritically slut-shamed her behind her back.
One of her biggest mistakes, besides her high sexual impulsiveness, was not to focus more on developing her acting career and less on an increasingly unstoppable frenzy that isolated her from reality and consequently from a viable future. That fierce impulsiveness culminated in a fatidic love/hate triangle with an adrenaline-pumped Barbara between bad-boy Tom Neal and debonair Franchot Tone that made headlines worldwide in 1951, after an almost fatal beating that obliged Tone to undergo emergency hospitalization and facial surgery.
Practically all of Barbara’s liaisons with men were doomed from the beginning, and O’Dowd exposes the traumatic relationship (bordering on anaclisis) she’d had with her father Lee Redfield as a very negative catalyst that tinged with regret her vision of the opposite sex. A possible abuse within her family or intimate circle —O’Dowd speculates— would help explain Barbara’s self-destructive behaviour, a self-degrading pattern repeated with all her lovers and sugar-daddies including Bob Hope, William Cagney, George Raft and Howard Hughes.
On February 7, 1962, Barbara was arrested for prostitution when she approached an undercover cop on Sunset Boulevard. The L.A. Times captured a woman in ruins, reported in Andrew Dowdy’s book The Films of The Fifties: The American State of Mind as “a plump blonde, eyes red from crying, her puffy face a reminder that the body treats alcohol as a fat. Nobody could believe she was the starlet who once looked like Lana Turner.”
Barbara Payton’s cinematic legacy relies mainly on the noir thrillers Trapped (1949) and Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950), the kitsch rarity Bride of the Gorilla (1951), and Edgar G. Ulmer’s Murder is My Beat (1955). Barbara, like Marilyn Monroe, had been pigeonholed as a sex-pot by a sexist industry that overlooked their essential humanity and complexity. Unlike Marilyn, Barbara’s career didn’t flourish and Barbara never believed she deserved the fame and fortune Marilyn got. But whilst Marilyn represents the golden years of a bright post-war America, Barbara Payton has come to symbolize the full depletion of the American Dream. For that reason, Barbara Payton still resonates with later generations, now wrapped in learned self-hate and defeatism.
A second volume on Barbara’s life and career, titled Barbara Payton: A Life in Pictures is in progress, which will contain over 250 rare photos. Also, there is a long awaited film project based on a script by Linda Boroff, Fast Fade, which follows Barbara’s portrayal in O’Dowd’s Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye in the hope that his heroine will find her deserved vindication on-screen again.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00WPW5R2M] [amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00GY44AO8]