Actress. Born Barbara Redfield in Cloquet, Minnesota, a small town 20 miles west of Duluth), she was of Norwegian-German ancestry. At 11 years old, her grandfather's timberlands were burned by a forest fire and the family moved to Odessa, TX. She attended Baylor Junior High and graduated from Odessa High School. For escape from the family's problems, she went to the local movie house, the Chief Theater. As a teenager, Barbara blossomed into a very attractive, leggy blonde with a waiting list for dates. In her junior year of high school, she eloped with her high school sweetheart, William Hodge, but her parents had the marriage quickly annulled. She then married air force pilot John Payton in Monroe, LA on February 10, 1945. She gave birth to her only child, John Lee Payton, in 1947. (Some biographies of Barbara mention a first pregnancy that ended in miscarriage as well as a Hollywood honeymoon that have been subsequently discredited by her family as fiction.) In the spring of 1948, Barbara divorced John and took her mother and son to Hollywood to pursue her acting dream. She was placed under contract for $100 a week at Universal International's stock-player training program, joining the likes of Tony Curtis, Piper Laurie, Rock Hudson, and others. Her first role was as a nightclub photographer in 1949's "Once More My Darling." She was the female lead in 1949's western-themed "Silver Butte," starring Tex Williams, sometimes listed as "Silver Bullet." They would be paired again that same year in "The Pecos Pistol." Barbara then began a series of flings, including dating Howard Hughes. Universal executives, unhappy at her partying and taking up with Hughes, promptly dropped her contract but she wasn't fazed. She appeared in 1949's "Trapped," but it was her role opposite James Cagney in 1950's "Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye" that made her a star. Despite rave reviews, she was given a secondary role in 1950's "Dallas," starring Stuart Heisler with Ruth Roman in the female lead. 1951's "Only the Valiant" opposite Gregory Peck was the last quality film for Barbara. During filming, she reportedly had an affair with Peck who she claimed in her 1963 autobiography "I Am Not Ashamed" had her banned from the set "because I upset him so much." Her next film was 1951's "Drums in the Deep South," a Civil War drama. It was around this time that the focus was on her personal life. She was engaged to actor Franchot Tone but left him for actor Tom Neal. By mid-September, she was back with Tone. When they returned to her apartment, Tone was attacked by Neal (a Golden Gloves contender) and wound up with injuries so severe he would need extensive plastic surgery. Barbara tried to break up the altercation but received a black eye for her efforts. Barbara and Franchot married on September 28, 1951 in her birthplace of Cloquet, MN but stayed together barely seven weeks. They briefly reconciled, but the marriage fell apart for good in March 1952 when she took an overdose of sleeping pills. By May, they were divorced. Warner Brothers loaned Barbara to independent producer Jack Broder for "Bride of the Gorilla," a contrived version of King Kong featuring Raymond Burr. The movie was panned for its low budget appearance and it signaled the end of Payton's once-promising career. She starred in a handful of British films from 1953-1955 but, in October 1955, she was arrested for writing bad checks in a Hollywood supermarket. She wrote in her autobiography that it wasn't for food but for alcohol. From then on, her life went rapidly downhill. She was arrested numerous times for drunkenness and prostitution. By April 1967, she moved in with her parents in San Diego as she was divorcing her last husband, Jess Rawley. When her parents got a look at her haggard appearance, they wanted her to seek medical help, which she refused. On May 8, 1967, her father found her body on the floor of the bathroom, dead of heart and liver failure, due to cirrhosis of the liver, complicated by relentless drinking.
Bio by: Donna Di Giacomo
Mabel B Todahl Redfield