Sunday, May 23, 2010
John Payne (May 28, 1912 - December 6, 1989)
John Payne (May 28, 1912 - December 6, 1989) was an American film actor who is mainly remembered as a singer in 20th Century Fox musical films, as well as his leading role in Miracle on 34th Street.
Payne was born in Roanoke, Virginia. His mother, Margie Payne, graduated from the Virginia Seminary in Roanoke and became the bride of George Washington Payne, a developer of Roanoke. They lived at Ft. Lewis, an antebellum mansion that became a state historical property. It was destroyed by fire in the late 1950s. Payne went to Roanoke College then enrolled at Columbia University in the fall of 1930. He studied drama at Columbia and voice at Juilliard School. To support himself, he took on a variety of odd jobs, including wrestling and singing in vaudeville. In 1934, he was spotted by a talent scout for the Shubert theaters and was given a job as a stock player.
Payne toured with several Shubert Brothers shows, and frequently sang on New York-based radio programs. In 1936, he was offered a contract by Samuel Goldwyn, and he left New York for Hollywood. He worked for various studios until 1940, when he signed with 20th Century Fox. Fox made him a star, in 1940s musicals like Tin Pan Alley (1940), Sun Valley Serenade (1941), and Hello, Frisco, Hello (1943). In these films, he was usually cast as somewhat of a supporting player in love with the likes of Sonja Henie, Betty Grable, and Alice Faye. A highlight during this period was co-starring with Gene Tierney and Tyrone Power in The Razor's Edge (1946).
Payne's most popular role may be in his final film for Fox, that of attorney Fred Gailey in Miracle on 34th Street (1947). It is almost certainly his most visible role, as it typically receives frequent airplay during the Christmas season.
Later in his career Payne changed his image and began playing tough-guy roles in Hollywood films noir and westerns including Kansas City Confidential (1952), 99 River Street (1953), Silver Lode (1954), Tennessee's Partner (1955) and Slightly Scarlet (1956). Payne was a contract star with Pine-Thomas Productions where he shrewdly insisted that the films he appeared in be filmed in color and that the rights to the films reverted to him after several years that made him wealthy when he rented them to television.
Payne also starred in a television western series, The Restless Gun (1957-1959). 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).
In March 1961, Payne suffered extensive, life-threatening injuries when struck by a car in New York City. His recovery took two years. In his later roles, facial scars from the accident can be detected in close-ups; he chose not to have them removed. One of Payne's first public appearances during this period was as a guest panelist on the popular CBS-TV game show What's My Line.
Payne directed one of his last films, They Ran for Their Lives (1968). 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.
Payne was married to actress Anne Shirley from 1937 to 1943; they had a daughter, Julie Anne Payne. He then married actress Gloria DeHaven in 1944; the union produced two children, Kathleen Hope Payne and Thomas John Payne, before divorcing in 1950. Payne then married Alexandra Beryl Curtis in 1953, and remained with her until his death. He was also the father-in-law of writer-director Robert Towne.
Payne died in Malibu, California of congestive heart failure on December 6, 1989, aged 77. He has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.