John O’Dowd

"Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye: The Barbara Payton Story"

(Reviewed by Guy Savage DEC 3, 2008)

“Barbara Payton’s many attempts to embrace the mythical dream of Hollywood delivered her instead to its darkest and ugliest corners. Few others have fallen from its coveted opulence to its deepest squalor in such rapid and complete fashion…and fewer still, with the absolute determination Barbara possessed to completely destroy her life…for Barbara truly had been chewed up by the Hollywood machine, and then spit out like so much garbage.”

 Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye - The Barbara Payton Story by John O'Dowd

For noir fans, Barbara Payton has a firm place as one of the bright, talented stars who made an all-too brief appearance on the silver screen before fading into obscurity. Once promoted as “the white diamond with blue eyes” this gorgeous actress earned an “unprecedented” $10,000 a week following her successful role in the noir film Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye. Just twenty-two years old, Barbara was a noted, promising young actress slated for stardom. Yet within a few short years, Barbara was blacklisted in Hollywood, shunned by her former costars, and became a prostitute working some of the sleaziest skid-row areas of Tinseltown.

If you are unfamiliar with Barbara’s story, then it’s difficult to grasp just how this beautiful and talented woman began her slide into self-destruction. Hollywood has no shortage of tragic stories, but the story of actress Barbara Payton is so painful, it’s almost inconceivable. John O’Dowd’s beautifully written, outstanding memoir, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye methodically gathers together the facts surrounding Barbara’s tragic story, and piecing together interviews with family members, actors, and friends, O’Dowd paints a portrait of a deeply troubled woman whose “lack of boundaries, and her failure in setting and enforcing limits” led, ultimately, to her destruction.

The book chronologically details Barbara’s life and her troubled family relationships. Born in Minnesota, the child of two functioning alcoholics, Barbara’s relationship with her father was “murky” at best, and by the time Barbara was 14, she already exhibited sexually provocative behavior. Leaving her small town roots behind, she moved to California with her second husband, Air Force pilot, John Payton, and here she began a modeling career that led to films. When the marriage crashed, Barbara began frequenting Hollywood bars and nightclubs and made some unsavory acquaintances with ties to organized crime.

Briefly, Barbara was lucky. In 1949, she landed a contract with Universal Studios for $100 a week, and this led to a few bit parts. An unfortunate affair with the married Bob Hope led to her contract with Universal being dropped on a “morals charge.” The next few years saw the height of Barbara’s film career with noir titles Trapped and Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye. But again Barbara’s personal life intruded in her professional career -- this time it was in the form of arguably the most notorious episode in her life -- the explosive love triangle between Barbara, seasoned, well-respected actor Franchot Tone, and bit part B-film actor Tom Neal.

O’Dowd wisely spends a good deal of time analyzing this period in Barbara’s life. Most noir fans are well aware of this episode and its consequences to the careers of those involved (Tone largely managed to walk away from the affair unstained while Neal and Barbara suffered permanent, irreparable damage to their careers), yet the author sheds new light on this disastrous love triangle, and through the details it is glaringly apparent that Barbara was headed for self-destruction. Barbara’s relationship with Neal was “one long bloody spectacle” and labeled as “Glitterville’s Top Tramp” over the course of a few years, her name was linked with: George Raft, Bob Hope, Guy Madison, Gregory Peck, John Ireland, Ralph Meeker, Errol Flynn, Marlon Brando, James Cagney and Lloyd Bridges. While the sex scandals helped bury Barbara’s career, her connections with organized crime ensured there would be no career comeback.

The details surrounding Barbara Payton’s tragic life certainly opens up the possibility of a tell-all, no-holds barred sensational biography. And yet O’Dowd never once sinks to this. Instead, the author attempts to deconstruct the sometimes wildly oppositional views of this controversial actress. Seem by some as “wholesome” others saw her as “Hollywood’s biggest trollop.” The book doesn’t try to take sides or manipulate clumsy conclusions with cheap armchair psychiatry. By avoiding both glitzy homage and cheap sensationalism, the author succeeds in understanding and presenting the dark forces in Barbara, her self-destructive impulses, and why she threw herself away.

One of the things I often find very frustrating about biographies is the way authors accept statements at face value. With the subject dead and buried, it’s not hard to imagine the scenario where the ex-husbands and the ex-lovers all chime in for a little unsubstantiated character assassination. Human motivation is elusive at the best of times, but when the dead are remembered by those with an ax to grind, it seems unlikely that memories will offer a balanced view. O’Dowd avoids the pitfalls all-too commonly created by the average biographer, and the sheer hard work of piecing together an accurate portrait of Barbara is apparent in the book’s balanced view. In trying to decipher the “real” Barbara, the author painstakingly takes incidents witnessed by one person and then asks others who knew Barbara to comment. This all makes for some fascinating reading. For example, there’s one recollection made by Tom Neal’s nephew, Walter regarding a rather outrageous statement Barbara made at a party. Although Walter is the book’s only witness for this event, the author then passes the story by Barbara’s son to gauge his reaction. In other parts of the book, this technique proves invaluable. For example, at one point an actress says that she was told that Barbara was a heroin addict. Rather than let that information stick unchallenged (and let’s face it, that statement wouldn’t hold in a court of law), the author again runs the story by family members who offer their opinion. Similarly there’s another story that Barbara blackmailed Marlon Brando, and again it’s one of those hearsay situations with the original source long gone.

The author uses a wide range of sources in the book -- including Barbara’s son (who also agreed to write the foreword), Barbara’s ex-sister-in-law Jan Redfield, an ex-husband, and various friends. It’s interesting to note that sometimes the ones who knew Barbara the least have only unpleasant comments to add -- while those who knew her the best remember her as a warm, loving and generous human being. Finally, I must mention the phenomenal number of photographs in the book. There are photos for every stage of Barbara’s life -- from the high points of Hollywood, to the poignant "come back" photos featuring Barbara in laddered stockings, and finally to the final photos -- photographic evidence of Barbara’s horrifying decline.

As a noir fan, I was interested in Barbara’s story many years ago, and I read her memoir I Am Not Ashamed. While I really enjoyed the book, it was apparent that Barbara was sadly out-of-touch with reality, and now after finishing Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye: The Barbara Payton Story -- an unflinching examination of the heights and depths of Barbara’s tragic life, I understand so much more. I cannot recommend the book highly enough -- neither a glossy fluff piece nor a grimy, sensation-seeking expose, this is simply one of the best, most thoughtful, thorough star bios I have ever read. Mr. O’Dowd’s effort is to be applauded and sets a new standard for other biographers to strive for. Bravo

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Read a chapter excerpt from Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye - The Barbara Payton Story

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About the Author:

John O'Dowd is a celebrity biographer whose interviews and articles have appeared in Filmfax, Outre, Discoveries, Motown Chatbusters, Cult Movies, Chiller Theatre, Weird NJ, Take Country Back, Femme Fatales, Glamour Girls: Then and Now and Psychotronic Video magazines. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014