The story of a beautiful starlet that lost its shine is always tragic, and the tale of Barbara Payton is no exception.
Born in Cloquet, Minnesota on November 26, 1927, Barbara Lee Redfield came from a modest, blue-collar background. She grew up to be a stunningly gorgeous woman, and, following a quickie marriage at age 19, decided to leave home to capitalize on her good looks in Tinseltown. She headed for Hollywood in 1948 and, within a short time, was placed under contract by Universal, where she began the typical starlet route of bit parts. Pretty soon the renamed Barbara Payton was earning several thousand dollars a week in the early 1950s, becoming the "It" Girl of her day. The gossip magazines followed her relentlessly, mercilessly reporting her sordid personal details.
She was immersed in violent relationships with both actor and socialite Franchet Tone and B-movie tough guy actor Tom Neal. She juggled between the two for a while. On September 13, 1951, the men engaged in a deadly brawl and when it was over, Tone was in the hospital with broken bones and a brain concussion. Barbara ended up with both a black eye and the story splattered across the gossip rags. She married Tone after he recovered from his injuries, but left him after only seven weeks and returned to the violence-prone Neal. Her career plummeted during the 4-year relationship, and she left for England, hoping to rediscover herself.
Payton's looks were fading, due to alcohol and drugs, so she tried -- once again -- to change. She spent some time in Mexico, another time in a roach-infested apartment with Vampira, another star whose light had dimmed, next door.
Many speculate that Payton likely had mental and emotional issues that were exacerbated by alcoholism, occasional drug abuse, and deep self-loathing. Later, evidence would show that she was likely sexually abused as a teen. In 1963, she was conned into helping publish an "autobiography," called I Am Not Ashamed, which didn't do well. She received a mere $1,000 for her story.
Payton sunk even lower, gaining weight. Her gorgeous features were distorted by her self-abuse, as veins creased across her face, her hair faded to a dull shade, and she had a potbelly. Soon she became a drug-addicted derelict in the streets of Los Angeles. From 1955 to 1963 there were various brushes with the law - among them passing bad checks, public drunkenness and, ultimately, prostitution along Sunset Boulevard. She was forced to sleep on bus benches, was beaten and bruised by her tricks, and lost teeth in the process. She eventually made headlines when she was discovered unconscious outside a drug store market in the downtown streets of L.A. Offered the choice of being admitted to the detox unit, Payton was quoted as saying, “I'd rather drink and die.”
After a stay in the hospital, she was sent to her parents’ home in San Diego. She told a friend, “I never wanted to be with them, I never wanted to see them again. But here I am, and I got all the booze I want.” Her father and mother were both heavy drinkers, and engaged with Payton in unabated drinking binges. Just weeks later on May 8, 1967, she was found dead on the bathroom floor; reckless living had destroyed her liver and heart. She was only 39 years old.