Born into a wealthy family in Roanoke, Virginia, on May 28, 1912, John Payne's mother encouraged her son in his singing lessons. With the Wall Street crash in 1929, the family's fortune evaporated, and Payne's father died just a few months later. He enrolled at Columbia University in the fall of 1930; 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 Schubert Theater and was given a a job as a stock player. He toured with several Schubert shows, and frequently picked up singing gigs on New York-based radio programs. In 1936, Payne was offered a contract by Samuel Goldwyn, and he immediately left New York for Hollywood. He made a couple of pictures while under contract to Goldwyn, but was quickly released from his contract. Payne's early career consisted of mostly supporting roles in such films as College Swing (1938). His early starring roles were in B films, which include the musical Hats Off (1937; with Mae Clarke) and Fair Warning (1937; with Betty Furness). After a few more low-budget programmers, Payne began to be noticed by audiences. One of his finest early film performances was in the comedy Kid Nightingale with Jane Wyman. This role helped him win a contract with 20th Century-Fox in 1940, where he achieved stardom in a number of early 1940s musical extravaganzas, such as Sun Valley Serenade and Weekend in Havana.

John PayneJohn PayneJohn Payne

Late 1930s beefcake photos of John Payne

In 1940, when he signed with Fox, he appeared in six films, mostly musicals. Throughout the early 1940s, Payne starred in a number of big-budget musicals, such as Springtime in the Rockies (1942) and Iceland (1942). But after completing filming of Hello Frisco, Hello (1942), like many other actors John Payne decided to do his part for the war effort. He joined the Army Air Corps and became a flight instructor. Payne returned to Hollywood after his discharge in 1944 to resume his career. However, by the end of World War II, the popularity of musicals was declining. Following the war, Payne made several dramas, including his best-known film Miracle on 34th Street (1947; with Maureen O'Hara and Natalie Wood). Payne left Fox in 1947, shortly after completing this film. By the early 1950s, Payne had signed with Paramount and established himself as a western star in El Paso (1950), Passage West (1951), The Blazing Forest (1952), and Rails into Laramie (1954; with Mari Blanchard). He also made several film noir thrillers, including Kansas City Confidential (1952; with Coleen Gray), 99 River Street (1953; with Peggie Castle), and Slightly Scarlet (1956; with Rhonda Fleming and Arlene Dahl).

As for his personal life, Payne married actress Anne Shirley in 1937; the couple had a daughter, actress Julie Payne, before divorcing in 1943. The next year, he married actress Gloria DeHaven. This couple had a daughter and a son, but the union ended in 1950. In September 1953, Payne married socialite Sandy Crowell Curtis, whose first husband was actor Alan Curtis, and this marriage lasted until his death.

the films of john payne

Fair Warning (1937)

John Payne and Betty Furness

With Betty Furness in a scene from the mystery Fair Warning, Payne's first starring vehicle

Kid Nightingale (1939)

John PayneJohn PayneJohn Payne and Jane Wyman

Studio shots from the 1939 comedy Kid Nightingale. Payne portrays a singing waiter who is duped into a boxing career by a shady manager. The right photo includes Jane Wyman

Springtime in the Rockies (1942)

John Payne and Carmen Miranda

With Payne's help, Carmen Miranda livens the Fox musical Springtime in the Rockies

To the Shores of Tripoli (1942)

John Payne and Randolph Scott

From the wartime drama To the Shores of Tripoli with Randolph Scott

Hello Frisco, Hello (1943)

John Payne, and Alice Faye, and Jack Oakie

From the colorful Fox musical Hello Frisco, Hello with Alice Faye and Jack Oakie

Larceny (1947)

John Payne and Joan Caulfield

From the intriguing Universal-International film noir Larceny with Joan Caulfield

The Saxon Charm (1948)

John Payne

As Eric Busch in the Universal-Internatinal drama The Saxon Charm

Captain China (1949)

John Payne and Lon Chaney Jr.

Payne mixes it up with Lon Chaney Jr. in the Paramount adventure film Captain China

The Blazing Forest (1952)

John Payne, Susan Morrow, Richard Arlen, Agnes Moorehead, and William Demarest

From the Paramount Technicolor actioner The Blazing Forest with Susan Morrow, Richard Arlen, Agnes Moorehead, and William Demarest

Caribbean (1952)

Arlene Dahl and John Payne

From the Paramount pirate adventure Caribbean with Arlene Dahl

The Vanquished (1953)

Coleen Gray, John Payne, and Jan Sterling

With Coleen Gray and Jan Sterling in The Vanquished

Rails into Laramie (1954)

John Payne and Mari BlanchardJohn Payne and Mari Blanchard

With B-movie queen Mari Blanchard in Rails into Laramie

Silver Lode (1954)

John Payne and Lizabeth ScottJohn Payne and Lizabeth ScottAlan Hale Jr., John Payne, Dan Duryea, Harry Carey Jr., and Stuart Whitman

LEFT and CENTER: With Lizabeth Scott in the RKO western Silver Lode. RIGHT: With Alan Hale Jr., Dan Duryea, Harry Carey Jr., and Stuart Whitman

Tennessee's Partner (1955)

John Payne

From the 1955 western Tennesee's Partner with Rhonda Fleming and Ronald Reagan

Rebel in Town (1956)

John Payne and John Smith

Payne wrestles a knife away from John Smith in Rebel in Town (1956)

Bailout at 43,000 (1957)

Karen Steele and John Payne

With Karen Steele in Bailout at 43,000

later years

In 1956, John Payne formed his own production company, Window Productions, which was responsible for the release of The Boss (1956). Window Productions also produced Payne's 1957 through 1959 western TV series The Restless Gun, which aired on NBC. After the series folded, Payne took guest roles on several popular television series. In early 1961, Payne was seriously injured when a car struck him on a busy Manhattan street. He nearly died as a result of the accident, suffering numerous leg fractures and head injuries that temporarily blinded him, and it took him a year to recuperate. After extensive plastic surgery, Payne worked relatively little afterward, making only two films, a few TV appearances, and acting in off-Broadway plays in the 1960s and early 1970s. By the mid 1970s, after an appearance on the NBC series Columbo, he decided to retire. Sadly, John Payne passed away on December 6, 1989, of a heart ailment at the age of 77. He was survived by his wife, two daughters, a son, and two grandchildren, one of whom is actress Katharine Towne (b. 1978).

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They Ran for Their Lives (1968) with Scott Brady, John Carradine, Anthony Eisley, and Jim Davis; directed by John Payne
O'Conner's Ocean (1960) with Irene Hervey, Edward Andrews, and Bea Benaderet
Bailout at 43,000 (1957) with Karen Steele and Constance Ford
Hidden Fear (1957) with Conrad Nagel
Rebel in Town (1956) with Ruth Roman, J. Carrol Naish, Ben Cooper, John Smith, Ben Johnson, and James Griffith
The Boss (1956) with Roy Roberts and Joe Flynn; Payne also wrote and produced
Hold Back the Night (1956) with Peter Graves, Chuck Connors, and Mona Freeman
Slightly Scarlet (1956) with Rhonda Fleming, Arlene Dahl, Lance Fuller, and Kent Taylor
Hell's Island (1955) with Mary Murphy
Tennessee's Partner (1955) with Rhonda Fleming, Coleen Gray, and Ronald Reagan
The Road to Denver (1955) with Lee Van Cleef, Mona Freeman, and Glenn Strange
Santa Fe Passage (1955) with Faith Domergue and Rod Cameron
Rails Into Laramie (1954) with Mari Blanchard, Dan Duryea, and Lee Van Cleef
Silver Lode (1954) with Lizabeth Scott, Dan Duryea, Stuart Whitman, and John Hudson
99 River Street (1953) with Peggie Castle, Evelyn Keyes, and Glenn Langan
Raiders of the Seven Seas (1953) with Gerald Mohr, Donna Reed, and Lon Chaney Jr.
The Vanquished (1953) with Jan Sterling and Coleen Gray
The Blazing Forest (1952) with Richard Arlen, Agnes Moorehead, William Demarest, and Susan Morrow
Caribbean (1952) with Arlene Dahl and Woody Strode
Kansas City Confidential (1952) with Coleen Gray, Lee Van Cleef, and Neville Brand
Crosswinds (1951) with Rhonda Fleming and Forrest Tucker
Passage West (1951) with Dennis O'Keefe and Mary Beth Hughes
The Eagle and the Hawk (1950) with Rhonda Fleming and Dennis O'Keefe
Tripoli (1950) with Maureen O'Hara
El Paso (1949) with Sterling Hayden and Gail Russell
Captain China (1949) with Gail Russell, Lon Chaney Jr., Edgar Bergen, and Robert Armstrong
The Crooked Way (1949) with Sonny Tufts and Ellen Drew
The Saxon Charm (1948) with Robert Montgomery and Susan Hayward
Larceny (1947) with Shelley Winters, Dan Duryea, and Joan Caulfield
Miracle on 34th Street (1947) with Maureen O'Hara and Natalie Wood
The Razor's Edge (1946) with Tyrone Power, Gene Tierney, and Anne Baxter
Sentimental Journey (1946) with Maureen O'Hara and Glenn Langan
Wake Up and Dream (1946) with John Ireland
The Dolly Sisters (1945) with Betty Grable and June Haver
Hello Frisco, Hello (1943) with Alice Faye, John Archer, and June Havoc
Footlight Serenade (1942) with Betty Grable and Victor Mature
Iceland (1942) with Sonja Henie
Springtime in the Rockies (1942) with Betty Grable, Carmen Miranda, and Cesar Romero
To the Shores of Tripoli (1942) with Maureen O'Hara and Randolph Scott
Remember the Day (1941) with Claudette Colbert and Anne Revere
Week-end in Havana (1941) with Alice Faye, Carmen Miranda, and Cesar Romero
Sun Valley Serenade (1941) with Sonja Henie, Joan Davis, Glenn Miller, and Milton Berle
The Great American Broadcast (1941) with Alice Faye, Cesar Romero, Mary Beth Hughes, and Jack Oakie
Tin Pan Alley (1940) with Alice Faye and Betty Grable
Tear Gas Squad (1940) with Dennis Morgan, George Reeves, and William Hopper
The Great Profile (1940) with John Barrymore, Mary Beth Hughes, Lionel Atwill, and Anne Baxter
King of the Lumberjacks (1940)
Maryland (1940) with Walter Brennan, Fay Bainter, Terry Moore, and Brenda Joyce
Star Dust (1940) with Linda Darnell and Mary Beth Hughes
Indianapolis Speedway (1939) with Ann Sheridan
Wings of the Navy (1939) with George Brent and Olivia de Havilland
Kid Nightingale (1939) with Jane Wyman
Garden of the Moon (1938) with Pat O'Brien and Penny Singleton
College Swing (1938) with George Burns, Gracie Allen, Robert Cummings, Bob Hope, and Martha Raye
Love on Toast (1938)
Hats Off (1937) with Mae Clarke
Fair Warning (1937) with Betty Furness
Dodsworth (1936) with Walter Huston, Mary Astor, David Niven, and Spring Byington

Death Valley Days, 1952-1975 TV series. Payne hosted this series during its final run, from 1972-1975
The Restless Gun, 1957-1959 TV series. Payne portrayed Vint Bonner. A total of 78 episodes were produced by Payne's company Window Productions.

Columbo, episode Forgotten Lady, originally aired September 14, 1975
Cade's County, episode Requiem for Miss Madrid, originally aired December 12, 1971
Gunsmoke, episode Gentry's Law, originally aired October 12, 1970
Schlitz Playhouse of Stars, episode The Restless Gun, originally aired March 29, 1957. This show served as the pilot for Payne's series of the same name
Zane Grey Theater, episode Until the Man Dies, originally aired January 25, 1957
The Best of Broadway, episode The Philadelphia Story, originally aired December 8, 1954

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Watch John Payne's 1952 noir thriller Kansas City Confidential

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