Payne in 1949
|Born||John Howard Payne
May 23, 1912
Roanoke, Virginia, U.S.
|Died||December 6, 1989
Malibu, California, U.S.
(m. 1937; div. 1943)
(m. 1944; div. 1950)
Alexandra Crowell Curtis
|Children||3, including Julie Payne|
John Howard Payne (May 23, 1912 - December 6, 1989) 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.
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".
He returned to his home frequently for visits. In 1942, while visiting his family in Roanoke, Virginia, he agreed to take a small role in a community theatre production of "The Man Who Came to Dinner", at the Academy of Music on Salem Avenue. His character uttered only four words of dialogue, and was greeted by a burst of applause. 
Payne toured with several Shubert Brothers shows, and frequently sang on New York-based radio programs. On Broadway he appeared in the revue At Home Abroad (1935-36) alongside Eleanor Powell and Beatrice Lillie. 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.
In 1936, he left New York for Hollywood. He tested for a role in Goldwyn's Come and Get It but lost out to Frank Shields. His first role in Goldwyn's Dodsworth (1936) presented him as an affable, handsome character actor.
He had the male lead in Hats Off (1936), an independent "B" film. Goldwyn announced plans to co-star him with Miriam Hopkins in The Woman's Touch, but the film appears to have not been made. In September 1936, it was announced Goldwyn would not sell half of Payne's contract to Columbia, and that he might be the lead in Women Can Be Wrong.
Payne was down the cast list for Paramount's College Swing (1938). He then signed a contract with Warner Bros.
At Warners, he had a notable break replacing Dick Powell, who turned down the role, in Garden of the Moon (1938). Warners used Payne as a sort of "back up Dick Powell". He was in Kid Nightingale (1939) and Wings of the Navy (1939). Payne supported Anne Sheridan in Indianapolis Speedway (1939) and starred in a short The Royal Rodeo (1939) and in Bs King of the Lumberjacks (1940) and Tear Gas Squad (1940).
Payne was the male lead in the enormously popular Tin Pan Alley (1940) with Alice Faye and Betty Grable. He romanced Faye in The Great American Broadcast (1940), Sonja Henie in Sun Valley Serenade (1941), and Faye in Week-End in Havana (1941).
Fox gave him the chance to do drama in Remember the Day (1941), romancing Claudette Colbert. He was meant to be in Song of the Islands with Grable but when George Raft couldn't get released from Warners Bros to play a marine in the hugely popular To the Shores of Tripoli (1942), Payne stepped in. The film, co starring Maureen O'Hara and Randolph Scott, was hugely popular.
He returned to work at Fox, who put him in The Dolly Sisters (1945) with Grable and June Haver, playing Harry Fox. It was one of Payne's most successful films. Less popular was Wake Up and Dream (1946) with Haver.
Payne was teamed with Maureen O'Hara in Sentimental Journey (1946), a big hit. He was third billed in The Razor's Edge (1946) underneath Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney, Fox's most prestigious film of 1946.
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) . However, in October 1947 he got his release from the studio, despite the contract having another four years to run, which would have bought him $670,000. Payne claimed he was dissatisfied with the roles being offered him.
Payne later said he had asked for his release every week for eight months before he got it. Film historian Jeanine Basinger later wrote that "Fox thought of him [Payne] as a secondary Tyrone Power. They didn't know how to use him."
After leaving Fox, Payne attempted to change his image and began playing tough-guy roles in Hollywood films noirs.
He did two noirs at Universal, Larceny (1948), where he played the lead role, and The Saxon Charm (1948) with Robert Montgomery and Susan Hayward. He had the lead in The Crooked Way (1949) for United Artists.
Payne received an offer to star in a Western for Pine-Thomas Productions, a unit that operated out of Paramount Studios. El Paso (1949) was a box office success and Payne went on to make other films for the company including 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 He did 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 shrewdly 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.
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."
For Edward Small, he starred in Kansas City Confidential (1952), a noir; Payne owned 25% of the film. He later worked with Small 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.
He did Rebel in Town (1956) and Hidden Fear (1957) for United Artists. He made one more Pine Thomas, Bailout at 43,000 (1957). In 1957 he optioned the rights for For the Life of Me, the memoir of a newspaper editor, but it was not made.
Payne also starred as Vint Bonner, an educated, commonsense gunfighter, in The Restless Gun which aired on the National Broadcasting Company (NBC television network), on Monday evenings from 1957 to 1959, prior to Dale Robertson's western series Tales of Wells Fargo. Dan Blocker, James Coburn, and Don Grady made their first substantive acting forays with Payne on The Restless Gun. On October 31, 1957, as The Restless Gun began airing, Payne guest-starred on The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford.
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 (Columbia Broadcasting System) 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." And 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."
Payne directed one of his last films, They Ran for Their Lives (1968), and again teamed up 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, like former Daniel Boone-Davy Crockett series star Fess Parker, became wealthy through real estate investments in southern California.
Payne was married to actress Anne Shirley from 1937 to 1942; they had a daughter, Julie Anne Payne. After their divorce, Payne then married actress Gloria DeHaven in 1944; the union produced two children, Kathleen Hope Payne (b. 1945) and Thomas John Payne, before ending in a divorce in 1950. Payne then married Alexandra Beryl "Sandy" Crowell Curtis in 1953, and remained with her until his death.
He was the father-in-law of writer-director Robert Towne, who was married to his oldest daughter Julie until their divorce in 1982.
He has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, in motion pictures and television.
|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||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||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|
|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|
|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||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 (TV)||Ned Diamond||"Forgotten Lady", (final television appearance)|
|1940||Lux Radio Theatre||Wings of the Navy|
|1952||Family Theater||The Promise|