THE BIG CHAT
Interview Series
John O'Dowd  Interview  May 20th, 2003  
Journalist and author John O'Dowd was interviewed by writer A.K. Rode. The interview focused on ODowds extensive research on actors Barbara Payton and Tom Neal for his upcoming biography: "From The Glitter To The Gutter: The Rise And Fall Of Hollywood Star Barbara Payton,"

This was one of most popular interviews in the series yet. Group participation was very strong. The subject matter and the author's style set the stage for an excellent question and answer session.  

BACKGROUND: Real life femme fatale Barbara Payton, once a promising actress, hoped to take Hollywood by storm in the 1950s. It wasnt long before the storm took her.  Payton was a natural beauty who got her kicks by pitting man against man, painting her face with bizarre tattoos and non-stop sex. She went from starlet to hooker on Sunset Boulevard in just a few short years.

   
     
 

Her hell-raising counter part Tom Neal had something of a movie career until be punched out Paytons fianc Franchot Tone, resulting in three weeks of hospitalization. Neal was later convicted of murder in another incident with his wife.  ODowds sympathetic look at both actors rises above sensationalism and examines the Hollywood star machine. 

 
     
  ALAN K. RODE: On behalf of Dark Marc and our fellow Blackboarders, I would like to welcome writer John O'Dowd for an extended Q&A session. 

John has done some groundbreaking writing about the life and times of one of film noir's most notorious couples, Barbara Payton and Tom Neal. The Payton-Neal true-life saga, more lurid and tragic than any film noir or pulp novel, has been an endless source of fascination for Tinseltown addicts and cinephiles. John is here tonight to share some of the fascinating details of his work which will soon appear in a pending book. 

John, glad you could make time for us tonight. Here are some initial questions for you before I open the board up for general queries from our participants tonight. 

The Barbara Payton/Tom Neal is one of Hollywood's most notorious and tragic true-life "noir" stories. How did their saga catch your interest and briefly describe the circumstances and events that led you to write about them? 

JOHN O'DOWD: Hi, Alan, Thanks very much for asking me to visit The Blackboard. 

I was drawn to the story initially through my admiration of Barbara Payton's beauty. I first became aware of her in the early 1980s---I saw her in an afternoon TV showing of her cult horror film, Bride of the Gorilla and I was immediately struck by how gorgeous she was. I thought her face and body were beautiful and I found her very appealing. I remember thinking, "Whoever this woman is, she's hot and she has it all." I have to be honest: I had a huge crush on her when I was a teenager. 

I have long been interested in Hollywood films--especially in 1940s and 50s B-movies, and in the lives and careers of B-movie actors--and through the years, I have studied and researched and read everything I could about the genre. So, gradually, over time, I began to research Barbara's life. 

I must also admit to having an extremely strong interest in the dark side of Hollywood. The Tone/Neal fight appealed to me because it was real "down and dirty" stuff. I > t was the hushed-up, seldom discussed, underside of Hollywood--sordid and seedy and full of booze and wild sex and violence. It was the Hollywood of James Ellroy's L.A. Confidential--an after-midnight world where the industry's genteel upper crust rubbed shoulders with its most deadly bottom-feeders. The brawl seemed like it had been torn right out of a 1950s B-movie script and I could visualize it very easily. I mean, a muscle-bound, fist-happy tough guy and a sophisticated movie star dukeing it out for the affections of the beautiful and wanton girlfriend they shared? Come on, it was so over-the-top! But no more over-the-top than some of the other events in Barbara's life, which include: 

* A drug-dealing boyfriend of Barbara's beating up her elderly landlady 

* Barbara being called before a Federal Grand Jury in the shooting death of an FBI informant 

* A hotel brawl in London 

* Stolen furs 

* Blackmail attempts

* Passing out drunk on stage 

* Overdosing on sleeping pills 

* Heroin use 

* Industry blacklisting 

* Hooking in Palm Springs 

* Losing custody of her son 

* Numerous arrests for: passing bad checks, public drunkenness, shoplifting, drunk and disorderly conduct and prostitution 

* Knifings 

* Beatings 

* X-rated photos 

* Poverty 

* Homelessness 

. . the list just goes on and on. So many times I have found myself wondering, "What DIDN'T happen to this woman?" Many of Barbara Payton's trials were self-induced, yes, but it seems almost incomprehensible that any one person could have suffered that much. But Barbara did. 

ALAN:   How did Payton and Neal make their mark in cinematic Hollywood? What were some of their notable film appearances? What is your opinion of Payton and Neal as screen actors? 

JOHN: Tom Neal was born in Evanston, Illinois, the only son of a wealthy banker and his wife. He attended Northwestern University for one year before migrating to NYC where he acted in several stage plays, with varying success. While vacationing at his family's winter home in Fort Lauderdale, he was seen by an MGM talent scout who shipped him off to Hollywood for a screen test. A contract with the studio followed, as did his appearance in nearly a dozen mediocre films, however Neal eventually tangled with MGM's despotic ruler, Louis B. Mayer, and was summarily dismissed from the lot after just one year. For the next 15 years, he acted in another 60 films, with small roles in A-movies (The Flying Tigers, China Girl, and Pride of the Yankees) and starring parts in low-budget potboilers (One Thrilling Night, Klondike Kate, etc.) He freelanced at all the movie studios in town, from 20th Century Fox and RKO to Columbia and Republic, and was seen most frequently in lead or secondary roles in cheap westerns. The most widely held consensus is that Neal was a stereotypical, struggling actor who delivered respectable, if ordinary performances. 

Tom Neal's best known roles were in the World War II films, Behind the Rising Sun and First Yank into Tokyo, and of course, in the very best film ever made by P RC, the now-classic film noir, Detour. While his acting talent has often been described as marginal, I think many would concede that he expertly conveyed the ordeal of ill-fated loser Al Roberts in the latter film. As we all know, this fatalistic noir has placed Neal, costar Ann Savage, and its director Edgar G. Ulmer in a select and rarefied league of film noir icons. Detour arguably contains the definitive Tom Neal performance. 

As for Barbara, it is my opinion that she showed more promise and raw skill as an actor than Tom Neal. While her performances were sometimes inconsistent in their quality--for instance, she shone in the 1950 crime drama, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye but was weak and one-note in 1953's Four-Sided Triangle--you somehow get the feeling that with some careful nurturing of her talent and with further training, she would have progressed nicely. When I interviewed actress Donna Martell (who worked with Barbara at Universal Studios), she told me, "A lot of people in the industry believed Barbara had the looks and talent to be as big a star as Marilyn Monroe." 

Barbara was born and raised Barbara Lee Redfield in a small town in Minnesota and later moved with her parents and her family to Odessa, Texas. She married for the first time at 16, although her parents quickly annulled the marriage. When she was 17, she married a 22-year old Air Force Captain named John Payton, but later left him and their infant son to chase a show business career in Hollywood. Though untrained in acting, Barbara snagged a contract with Universal Studios in 1948 and did a few inconsequential roles (using her married name Payton), before director Richard Fleischer personally chose her to co-star (with Lloyd Bridges) in the well-received film noir, Trapped. As the doomed, nightclub cigarette girl Laurie Fredericks, the 22-year old made a favorable impression with critics and movie fans alike, and subsequently saw her acting career take off. In 1950, James Cagney's brother William signed Barbara to a $5,000 a week contract and she co-starred with JC in her best-known film, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye. She was sexy and believable in the role of the trampy and naive Holiday Carleton and WB Studios responded by sharing her contract option with William Cagney and upping her salary to a then unprecedented (for a Hollywood newcomer) $10,000 a week. 

Although Barbara's subsequent two films for WB (Dallas and Only the Valiant) more or less wasted her in brief, throwaway roles, she tried hard in the Civil War saga Drums in the Deep South and in the inferior comedy Run for the Hills (in which she was cast as a somewhat ditsy housewife). She showed even more acting ability in 1951's Bride of the Gorilla (admittedly, a terrible movie) and, especially, in the 1955 crime-mystery Murder is My Beat. There was nuance and intelligence in these characterizations, and had her horrendous private life not interfered, I believe Barbara might have gone on to have the kind of fulfilling and esteemed acting careers that her contemporaries Virginia Mayo, Gloria Grahame, and Marie Windsor enjoyed. 

ALAN: Briefly expound on the Payton/Neal/Franchot Tone love triangle and what happened to land Tone in the hospital? Did Tom Neal accidentally kill his wife or was his manslaughter conviction a plea bargain for murder? 

JOHN: Franchot Tone first met Barbara at Ciro's nightclub in Hollywood in 1950, and was evidently blown away by her beauty. She, in turn, was most likely impressed with his millionaire status and with the fact that he was a very big movie star. Tone reportedly wooed her with daily gifts of champagne, flowers, and expensive jewelry, while Barbara reciprocated with home-cooked meals. The couple was soon engaged and was photographed often over the next year at various film premieres and nightclubs. When Tone left on a business trip to NYC in July 1951, Barbara attended a pool party in Hollywood and met Tom Neal. An inveterate romantic, Barbara was immediately swept off her feet by Neal's rugged good looks and machismo, and quickly broke off her engagement to Tone. However, as Barbara was never able to make up her mind and then be able to stick to it, she soon began seeing both Tone and Neal concurrently. Several engagements followed--to both men--and she was all set to walk down the aisle with Neal in September 1951 when, on the eve of their wedding, she dumped him for an afternoon tryst with Tone at The Beverly Hills Hotel. Tom was living with Barbara at the time, and in the wee hours of September 14, he ambushed the couple upon their return to her home. Neal was an ex-amateur boxer and a weightlifter, and he hammered Franchot Tone into the ground. Tone was rushed to the hospital with severe head injuries, and for the next 18 hours he lingered near death in a comatose state. The brawl made worldwide headlines and brought a torrent of bad press raining down on the trio. While Tone's show biz career would recover, both Barbara's and Tom's took a major hit from all the bad publicity that ensued. They essentially became persona non grata in Hollywood, and within a few years, both their film careers were over. 

 Tom Neal later moved to Palm Springs, where he eventually opened a landscaping business. In the late 50s, he married an airline stewardess named Patricia Fenton but she died of cancer the following year. Then, in 1961, he married Gail Kloke, a beautiful, dark-haired woman who worked as a receptionist at The Palm Springs Racquet Club. A Police Gazette magazine article at the time described her as "a hard-drinking, hard-living, party girl." The couple lived in a nice home in the heart of Palm Springs, but their relationship was problematic. Tom was said to be insanely jealous of his wife, especially if he saw her talking to another man. 

Tom's years of quiet anonymity ended on April 2, 1965 when he was arrested for shooting Gail to death during a lover's quarrel. The murder trial opened on October 11 and lasted seven weeks, with Neal giving contradictory and confusing testimony throughout. The prosecution was intent on proving that Tom had murdered Gail out of jealo! >  usy and called in eight witnesses to testify against him. Their testimonies were apparently so persuasive, the prosecution quickly rest its case. After the jury pondered the verdict for two days, Neal was convicted of involuntary manslaughter on November 18, 1965, and was sentenced to serve a prison term of one to fifteen years. He spent the early part of his prison term behind bars at Soledad State Prison and was paroled from the work furlough program at the State's Institution for Men at Chino, in December 1971, after serving six years of his sentence. Just eight months later, Tom Neal died in his sleep of an apparent heart attack. Although he was only 58, he looked like a man in his 80s. At the time of his death, Neal was living with his 15-year old son in the low-rent Gene-Ray Apartments, a Googie-styled architectural complex in Studio City. 

According to Neal's nephew, Walter Burr, none of the Neal family ever doubted that Tom murdered Gail. He had a long history of violence and lived with such tremendous anger inside him, they felt right from the start that Gail's death was not accidental. 

ALAN: Payton ended up as a hopeless alcoholic in the most wretched circumstances imaginable while Neal went to prison for killing his wife. While Hollywood has had numerous pioneers of self-destructive behavior, what made these two people, who seemingly had it all, come to such horrific outcomes? 

JOHN: That question is one I have asked myself for the past four years. How did these two reasonably smart and attractive people land in what author Nathanael West once called, "the dream dump of Hollywood"? With Barbara, I strongly believe her childhood and her pre-Hollywood life held some very dark secrets. There is evidence that there may have been incidents of sexual abuse in her adolescence (and perhaps, at an even earlier age than that.) As I said before, Barbara had a difficult time setting boundaries in her life. I know enough about psychology to know that people who have a difficult time saying "No" and enforcing limit! >  s in their lives often have been violated in some manner, resulting in some serious self-worth issues. I believe that whatever happened to Barbara in her formative years left her feeling unworthy and unable to ever say "No" (this applies to her vacillating so often between Tom Neal and Franchot Tone, as well. The more I attempt to analyze Barbara and her inner motivations, the more I feel that the situation with those two men was more about her wanting to please both of them and not wanting to let either one of them down, and less about her being the kind of sex-crazed, man-eating barracuda that Hollywood legend has always painted her to be). I think Barbara was racked with such self-doubt, shame, guilt, worthlessness, and insecurity (yes, insecurity--hidden deep beneath the brash exterior) that she allowed herself to be put in compromising positions time and time again. 

My research of Tom Neal's early life hasn't revealed anything too out of place. His nephew, Walter Burr, with whom Tom was fairly close, states that Tom's upbringing was "normal and relatively uneventful." However, I don't believe he looked at the women in his life as being anything more than "sex toys"--his son says he was known in town as "a love machine"--and his ill behavior toward women in general suggests he was a misogynist. That the man also had a tremendous ego and a penchant for violence is obvious, but previous reports that he was an alcoholic during his association with Barbara now appear to be inaccurate (if anything, he alone tried to curb Barbara's out-of-control drinking, according to Walter Burr, who lived with the couple for four months in 1952). 

Over time, Tom did seem to develop a highly unstable nature and when I interviewed film producer Bob Lippert, Jr., he told me, "Tom was always a little bit touchy. If you looked at him sideways, you were asking for trouble." Author John Gilmore, who also knew Neal, echoes that sentiment. He admitted to me that Tom seemed "a bit psychotic at times," especially when under the influence of pills. Tom Neal became a Christian Scientist in the late 50s and I think he was constantly trying to outrun whatever demons were inside him. "He really did look at life as a film noir movie," says his son, Tom Neal, Jr. "And I agree. It can be a real b###h with more bad than good in it." 

ALAN: Please tell us a bit about your work including when your Payton/Neal book is anticipated to be on the market and your ongoing project with actress Yvette Vickers.

JOHN: Regarding my work with actress Yvette Vickers, she and I collaborated on a recently published, two-part interview/article on her life and career for Filmfax magazine, which we hope will set the stage for our full-length book project (now underway). Yvette is one of the finest human beings I have ever known and I am greatly enjoying working with her on her biography. A self-professed veteran of the Hollywood wars, she has come through the fire with both her warmth and intellect wonderfully intact. Yvette is sharing some terrific stories with me about her work in the noir films Sunset Boulevard and Short Cut to Hell (a 1957 remake of Alan Ladd's classic This Gun for Hire), among others, and we will cover them all in the book. However, since we are still at the outset of this project, it will obviously be some time before it's finished. 

As for the Payton book project, it too is "currently in progress" (although much further along). I began to seriously gather research material on Barbara, Tom Neal, and Franchot Tone in mid 1999. I now have stacks upon stacks of newspaper clippings, written correspondence, cassette interviews I have transcribed, and binders stuffed with nearly 300 photos piled high in my office! Thankfully, I also have a manuscript that is about 80% to 85% finished.

Truthfully, I have come up against a lot of detours and dead-end leads throughout this project and it's made the journey very frustrating at times. For instance, you wouldn't believe the number of people who have absolutely refused to talk to me about Barbara (and of course, there are others--like Gregory Peck and Bob Hope--whom I was strongly advised not to approach, due to their advanced years and ill health.) It seems that Barbara Payton has somehow remained a pariah in Hollywood--all these years after her death. To me, that's very telling (and sad.)

That said, I'm still driven to tell Barbara's story and I will continue to work on this project until I feel satisfied that I have told it the absolute best way I can. I have been putting a lot of effort into rewriting, editing, and constantly tightening what I've written and it makes the project advance very slowly at times. As for a publisher, Gary Svehla at Luminary Press in Maryland has expressed an interest in the book based on the several chapters and photos I sent him a year ago, but of course, right now that's all in abeyance until I finish the book and submit it to him.

There's one thing I need to mention. I hope to go with a publisher that will allow me to utilize most of the 200-plus images I have collected for the book. I have scoured the most obscure photo archives both here and in England for rare shots of Barbara, Tom Neal, and Franchot Tone, et al., and many of the images I've found have never been published before. They're tremendously evocative of that whole era and many of them almost look like outtakes from a 50s noir! There are lots of crime scene photos, Barbara's post-arrest photos, location shots of her various homes and haunts, dozens of movie stills and many candid photos of the trio (which to me, are the most desirable of all as they tend to show the subjects real character). I've paid a pretty penny in licensing fees for these photos and they're all set to be used--so now all I need to do is finish the book! Ideally, a coffee-table type book would be a great showcase for this project as it is so heavily pictorialized, but I seriously doubt if that will ever happen. Coffee-table books are designed for people like Marilyn Monroe or Grace Kelly, not Barbara Payton--if you know what I mean. But I can dream, can't I. 

In all honesty, I am not overly worried about the future of my manuscript. There are times when I definitely feel Barbara's hand on this project and I think she's guiding me along at the proper pace for me. For instance, after a long and frustrating search, I have recently found Barbara's younger brother, Frank Redfield, and her fourth husband, Tony Provas. A part of me really believes Barbara helped orchestrate that. It is important to me that I tell this story as fairly and as responsibly as I can and now that I am in frequent communication with both Frank and Tony (two fine gentlemen, by the way) I have even more reason to do so. If it's taking a while for it to all come together, then I guess that's the way it has to be for now. 

One thing I want to stress is that far and above everything else, I want to do right by Barbara. There's a connection there that I can't fully explain, but I have long been haunted by the heartbreak and pathos of this woman's life. It's a real tough balancing act at times relating the lurid aspects of Barbara's story and then trying to temper that with restraint and compassion, but I am doing my best. I must say, I like the Barbara Payton I have come to know, and I have a great deal of empathy for her, too. So, I will continue to do all I can to bring attention to her story and to see that this sad, fallen angel has her posthumous "moment in the sun." For all the suffering Barbara endured in her life, I think she deserves that much. 

ALAN: John, thanks for your candor, detail and passion. There is certainly a lot of detailed information and insights in your answers- greatly appreciated.

The Board is open to pose any questions to John about his work. Thanks again. 

JOHN: Thank you, Alan. I really appreciate you sharing this forum with me. 

MICHELE ANASTASIO: How did you first become aware of this fascinating and in all due respect dark creature? 

JOHN: Hello, Michele. I first saw Barbara in her cult flick, Bride of the Gorilla. She was in a tight sarong and with that beautiful blonde hair, gorgeous face and knockout body, I definitely noticed her! 

MICHELE: Do you, with all your research, believe that this woman could actually live the way she did and not know that she was wreaking havoc on other people's lives? 

JOHN: Michele, I truly don't think that Barbara ever gave that notion the slightest thought. She often seemed oblivious to anything outside her own little sphere of existence. 

MICHELE: I must admit that I have followed your writings on Barbara and have found that you have really done your homework. I consider myself a feminist, and I should not feel sorry for her. But you have made her very human. Will there be a movie made about her and will you write the screenplay? 

JOHN: Hi, Michele. Thank you for your interest. A female film producer in LA is shopping the idea to several companies out there, but she has told me that it may take a while for them to bite. Her feeling is that Barbara is an unknown quantity to most people and while her story is compelling, it is also a complete downer and would depress most audiences. What do you think? 

BOB: Her life might have ended badly and she is relatively unknown but then Francis Farmer wasn't a household name until Jessica Lange took up the role. Lange read the autobiography of Barbara when making The Postman Always Rings Twice and modeled Cora on her. 

JOHN: Bob, I agree with you (obviously). I believe in this story's potential to touch an audience, and I always will. And in this day and age, you would think there would be a built-in audience for this kind of story! 

BOB: {Dorothy} Stratten's story is good, mixed-up girl meets bad guys goes to Hell, Barbara Payton story is good, mixed-up girl meets bad guys goes to Hell . . . Seems like a sure winner . . . Would Paul Schrader work with you on it? 

JOHN: Hey, Bob, do you know Paul Schrader? If so, tell him about Barbara and give him my number! :) Thanks for the idea. Schrader would be the right one for Barbara's story (anything but a TV movie on Lifetime!). 

BOB: I don't know him but judging from his screenplay work, his downbeat view of life and the obtuse and obscure subjects that he directs he would be ideal. Its a period piece (he hasn't done one of them), a downer, and involves famous Hollywood people, he might very well be interested . . . Of course it's a little close to Auto Focus, but this project will probably take a few years anyway. You could try Joe Eszterhas but that would be the bottom of the barrel. 

A. ROSCOE: Interesting comparison, although Stratten seemed a naive innocent, whereas Babs seems selfish and manipulative, a truly tough cookie. 

BOB: Barbara Payton: A Lifetime Special. On this the "guy-hating" channel, Barbara would come off as a complete innocent used and destroyed by men but able to come back at the end (they would change the story to a happy ending). 

LIZ HARPER: I can relate and am deeply touched by your connection to Barbara and sense of committment. Imagine if everyone had someone who came along and truly noticed, cared and then did something about it.  Thanks for sharing with us. I was always a big Neal fan . . . loved that face. 

JOHN: Liz, thank you very much for that wonderful comment. I appreciate it more than you know. Yes, Tom Neal sure weaved his spell on the ladies! 

LIZ: He didn't have to zig, he had me on zag. 

STEVE: Why do you suppose Barbara's parents were not of more help in her struggling life? 

JOHN: Hello, Steve. Unfortunately, Barbara's parents struggled with alcohol abuse as well and thus felt entirely powerless to do anything to help Barbara, even in the final weeks of her life. 

A. ROSCOE: John, I recently picked up a paperback copy of I Am Not Ashamed, Barbara Payton's autobiography. I have not had a chance to read most of it yet, but have flipped through and read a few passages here and there. Would you say that Barbara's rendition of events is accurate, or do you think she made up or embellished a lot of the anecdotes in order to sensationalize the book and sell more copies? 

JOHN: Hello, A. Roscoe. Barbara's book was ghostwritten by a Hollywood paperback publisher named Leo Guild. He plied her with cheap bottles of wine and audio taped her memories in the rundown Hollywood motel room she was living in at the time. I would say that 90% of the material in the book was fabricated and nothing more than garbage conjured up by Leo Guild himself. By the way, Barbara was paid $1,000 for doing the book, which she promptly used to buy booze. 

A. ROSCOE: Thanks for the response. There are some interesting photos of her in the book during her last years. The one with her laying on the couch, with a coiffed wig and puckered lips, is truly grotesque and sad, really a parody of someone trying to look "glamorous". Do you think she realized how absurd she looked? Was she schizophrenic or just desperate for any kind of limelight and attention? 

JOHN: Barbara was mentally ill at the time that book was issued. He ex-husband Tony Provas feels that she would have done just about anything at that poi nt "for a bottle and some drugs." The photo you referenced is a true abomination. Barbara appeared wild-eyed and looked like she had been pickled in a vat of booze. For me, it resonates with a haunting and heartbreaking pathos. I think that in her mind, though, she was back on the beach at Malibu, posing for Andre de Dienes . . . . 

STEVE: Do you ever feel a connection with Barbara in a spiritual sense? 

JOHN: Steve, at the risk of sounding like a whacko, yes, I do feel a bit of a spiritual connection with Barbara. In the four years I have been working on this project, I've come to know her better and sometimes I can feel her presence, or influence, spurring me on, and encouraging me to continue. She's almost like a Guardian Angel, or a sentinel, helping me to move forward with her book. 

DARK MARC: Hi, John! Thanks so much for bringing your work and research to The BLACKBOARD. Can you give us some background on Neal's childhood? Did he have a police record in his childhood? When Tom Neal was with Barbara, who was instigator? Was Neal basically a bad guy or were his early troubles in Hollywood a result of Barbara's wild temperament? 

JOHN: Hi Marc. Thanks very much for all the work you've done in preparation of my visit.  Tom Neal had a comfortable upbringing in the Chicago suburb of Evanston. His father was a banker and there were no police incidents for Tom in his youth. It appears that Barbara often toyed with Tom's emotions, as she was often inclined to do with the men in her life. "She drove the men in her life nuts" is how Tom's son put it to me. 

Tom Neal was, by all accounts, a hothead with a short fuse and it has been suggested to me that as he got older he seemed to develop a paranoia complex where he felt everyone was out to get him. 

KATHY ALLEN: John, can you tell me if Barbara had a good working relationship with James Cagney while they were filming Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye? 

JOHN: Hello, Kathy! Yes, Barbara idolized James Cagney, from the time she was a young girl. And she always said that he was very kind and nurturing to her on the set of KTG. She first met him in her hometown when she was 16. He was appearing there at a war bond rally and Barbara was introduced to him. She later said that never in a million years would she have ever thought that she would be starring with him in a Hollywood film just seven years later. 

BOB COCHRAN: Is it true the one of the primary reasons Cagney wanted Barbara for the role in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye was because he had heard she had a foul mouth (so the rumor say)? Who else was she shagging around town besides Tone and Neal? 

A. ROSCOE: I also heard she had some kind of sexual relations with Cagney's brother, William, in order to get the part. Any info on this, John? 

JOHN: Bob and A. Roscoe, while there is no evidence that Barbara and James Cagney ever had an intimate relationship, she may have slept with William Cagney to get the part in KTG. However, there is no concrete evidence of this--and since all the participating parties are now deceased, that is something we may never really know. Some of Barbara's other paramours in the late 40s and early 50s were George Raft, Guy Madison, LA asphalt baron Jerry Bialac, wealthy Chicago socialite Ted Briskin, Hollywood lawyer Greg Bautzer . . . and Bob Hope. 

A. ROSCOE: Regarding Babs and Bob Hope--I have the issue of Confidential that highlights their relationship. Supposedly, Confidential had PIs working for them who were able to get mostly accurate information. Do you believe Confidential's account? Of course, Confidential was later sued by Maureen O' Hara and others, and lost. There was also an issue of Confidential which talked about Babs and Gregory Peck. Any info on that? Also, Arthur Marx's book about Hope focuses on Hope's extramarital relationships. Hope seemed to like blondes that looked like Marilyn Maxwell, which would certainly apply to Barbara. I don't remember if Barbara was mentioned in that book or not.

JOHN: Yes, A. Roscoe, Marx mentions the Payton/Hope affair, as does author Lawrence Quirk in his recent biography of Bob Hope. It was a "not very well kept secret" in Hollywood for years.

A. ROSCOE: John, in Barbara's autobiography, she claimed she was able to sell some poems to little magazines for a few bucks. Have you seen any of these poems? If so, what did you think of them? 

JOHN: A. Roscoe, the only poem of Barbara's that I have ever actually seen was the "Love is a memory time cannot kill" one that was featured in her book. A former actor named John Rayborn, who was an ex-lover of Barbara's, told me that they would often lie around the Wilcox Hotel and write poems together. He said hers were always very spiritual and talked a lot about God and religion. I would love to see some of these poems some day but so far they haven't surfaced. 

STEVE: Are there any siblings of Barbara's out there and if so, How was her relationships with them? Also, what about her son? 

JOHN: Steve, Barbara's younger brother, Frank, is still living and I am in frequent contact with him. He is a very nice gentleman, in his early 70's, and he is helping me a great deal by sharing stories with me from their youth. Barbara's son, John Lee Payton, now 56, lives somewhere in the Southwest but does not wish to be discuss his mother's life. I have tried many times, but he is adamant about this. I believe he doesn't wish to revisit the pain of his childhood and I feel I must respect that.

A. ROSCOE: Do you have a projected date on when your book might be finished?

JOHN: Thanks for asking. God willing, sometime in 2003. My work on it has been somewhat slowed as of late while I await material from Barbara's brother Frank Redfield and from her fourth husband Tony Provas.

A. ROSCOE: John, in one of your posts you said you talked to Tom Neal, Jr. Did Jr. have any interesting reminiscences of his dad? What did he think about him? I saw Neal Jr. in the Detour remake. An interesting idea, but not a very good film. 

JOHN: A. Roscoe, Tom Neal, Jr. told me he feels his Dad was "a good man who made some very poor choices in his life." They were very close when Tom Jr. was a child, although obviously he didn't see his father much during the seven years the latter was incarcerated. By the way, Tom Jr. said that his stepmother Gail was never overly friendly to him. He put it to me this way: "She couldn't be bothered with children. She was more interested in going out and having a good time." 

SOPHIE COSSETTE: Thanks so much, John, for all your insights and info on Barbara; can't wait to read your book! I'm curious to know what happened to Barbara's son. Did you interview him? In a nutshell, how does he feel about his mother's notoriety? 

JOHN: Sophie, I have repeatedly tried to interview John Lee (through Barbara's brother, Frank) but he has thus far refused all my requests. As I mentioned earlier, I don't think he wishes to revist the pain. The eyes of a child see, and often remember, a lot . . . 

A. ROSCOE: John, Tom and Babs appeared in a theater production of Cain's story [The Postman Always Rings Twice]. Do you have any memorabilia from it? I heard that they were drunk and brawling during the play's run. Any other info about this production?

JOHN: A. Roscoe, I have some programs from the production. Barbara was drinking heavily during the run of the play. In fact, she went on stage drunk at The Drury Lane Theater in Chicago and passed out. Tom carried her offstage and the performance had to be canceled. Tom was often angry at Barbara during this time, to her constant drinking. Contrary to previous reports, it appears that he had a far less serious problem with alcohol than Barbara . . . however his angry and violent outbursts more than made up for it.

STEVE: John, I have heard that Barbara would carry a small statuette of St. Jude in her pocket, even in the the "bad" years. Any truth to this rumor?

JOHN: Yes, Steve, this story was told to me by Hollywood talk show host Skip E. Lowe, who knew Barbara. He alleges that while in her cups at The Coach and Horses Bar, Barbara would often take out a miniature statue of St. Jude (The Patron Saint of Lost Souls) from the pocket of her house dress and "talk to it". If true, I don't believe I've ever heard anything quite as pitiful.

A. ROSCOE: John, I've heard that Barbara liked "rough sex". Any indication of this from former lovers of hers that you interviewed? Do you think she actually wanted to be "beat up"? What do you think accounted for this? 

JOHN: I believe it is entirely possible that Barbara may have been into "rough sex". I think Barbara was racked with such self-doubt, shame, guilt, worthlessness and insecurity (yes, insecurity--hidden deep beneath the brash exterior) that she allowed herself to be put in compromising positions time and time again.

BOB: You mentioned that you were advised to avoid talking with Bob Hope and Gregory Peck about Barbara. What's the connection between these two celebs and Barbara? To my knowledge they didn't do any films together and I doubt if they ran in the same circles, so what info if any did you expect that you might get from them? Thanks.

JOHN: Barbara had a well-known affair with Bob Hope in 1949 and after it ended, tried to get him to support her financially for a time. In 1956, she went to Confidential magazine with the story of their affair and was paid $1,000 for the piece. There were rumors that Peck and Barbara carried on during the filming of their 1951 film, Only The Valiant. 

SOPHIE COSSETTE: Off the top of your head, if a biopic were to be made on Barbara's life (I only wish!), what contemporary actress do you think could do a credible job of portraying her?

JOHN: Hi Sophie! Several people have mentioned Cameron Diaz as a possible choice for portraying Barbara in a film, but . . . I don't know about that. I'm not really sure, to tell you the truth. Barbara was so unique, in so many ways. I would hope, though, that they would find someone who was both stunning and could ACT.

SOPHIE: John, could you encapsulate what REALLY happened with regards to that Palm Springs scandal involving Barbara, Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner and Lana Turner?

JOHN: Sophie, although it has been widely written over the years that Barbara was present when Sinatra caught Gardner and Turner together in Palm Springs, in truth, she was in England at the time, filming Bad Blonde. As her reliance on alcohol grew, Barbara bended the truth often in her later years and this was a falsehood that she made up and spread to make it appear that she was still safely ensconced in the Hollywood fold. So, while the incident occurred, Barbara was not there.

BOB: With all the information you've gathered on Neal, Tone and the underside of the B's, any plans on writing another book on either of these actors or on other failed actors/actresses? Thanks.

JOHN: Hi, Bob. No, I want to walk in the sunshine again for a while once I'm finished with Barbara's book. I have been cowriting a lot with Yvette Vickers and it is a refreshing reprieve from all the darkness in Barbara's life.

ANDIE C: Hi John, thanks for stopping by and for all your work. Continuing the thread on Tom Jr., the sister of a work colleague of mine was married to him once. She (the colleague) said Tom Jr. really admired his dad and looked very much like him, too. Did he intend the Detour remake to be a tribute to his father?

JOHN: Hi, Andie. Yes, Wade Williams, a Missouri film producer and memorabilia collector encouraged Tom Jr. to do the film as a tribute to his Dad. And you are absolutely correct . . . father and son look very much alike. Right down to the cleft chin.

SOPHIE: John, in John Gilmore's book, Laid Bare, he mentions Dennis Hopper having been one of Barbara's customers while she was soliciting. Is that something you're intending on confirming in your book, and if so, did Hopper consent to speak to you (assuming he remembers the encounter!)?

BOB: To that end, when did Barbara turn pro? Or did she slowly fall into prostitution to pay for her habit? This is pretty sad, but did the fact that she was an ex-starlet make her desirable with the Hollywood crowd? Any other famous customers or rumors of customers? Thanks.

JOHN: Sophie, I haven't yet spoken to Hopper but John Gilmore has been a big help to me with info for my project and he verifies the story of Barbara's "tryst" with Hopper (which he says took place underneath a table in a bar booth on Hill Street in LA.) That was a PITIFUL time in Barbara's life.

BOB: What are George A. Provas and John Payton doing now? (assuming the latter is still alive)? Thanks.

JOHN: Bob, Tony Provas, now 70, is retired, married and spends his time sportfishing in Mexico. John Payton is 81 and lives in a southern state. He, too, refuses all requests for interviews about Barbara (believe me, I TRIED...).

SOPHIE: John, I've heard of a limited edition bio (only 100 copies) published in 1988: The Barbara Payton Story by Michael Shepler. How accurate and well-written was it?

JOHN: Sophie, this is a 12-page book of poems about Barbara that Michael Shepler wrote as a tribute to her. We've spoken and he told me that the events in the poems were fictionalized to create a suitable backdrop for Barbara's story. 

ALAN: Thanks again, John, for a terrific Q&A. Best of luck on your book and keep us all posted on your progress.

JOHN: Thanks to you, Alan, and to everyone here. To those who posted questions to me, I appreciate you taking the time to write in and I hope I was able to share some information with you that you didn't have before. I am enjoying my time in Dark City and hope to never see light again! Thanks again, everyone.

BOB: Thanks and good luck. Follow up with Schrader.

GEORGE: John, sorry to be so late . . . graveyard shift week. One of the great pics featured at The Blackboard this week showed Barbara with what looked like painted on markings on her face...there was some mention that this wasn't a one-time thing . . . what's up (was up) with that? Thanks, and I'll be first in line (or on-line) to buy your book upon publication . . . great stuff! Best of luck! 

JOHN: Hi, George. Sorry you didn't make the chat, but it turned out well and everyone contributed a lot of great stuff. I also appreciate your vote of confidence regarding the book. As for the drawings on Barbara's face, she wore those facial tattoos a lot in the early 50s. They were kind of her trademark for a while, and I think she did it mainly to stand out from the pack. Barbara was a true iconoclast and I think she got off on stirring people up and being outrageous. I also have several photos of her where she's wearing this huge charm bracelet, and it kind of makes her look like a sideshow gypsy. In those days, I don't think there were too many around like Barbara . . . No wonder Hollywood didn't know what to do with her!

 

 
The John O'Dowd interview was copied and archived by mac. A.K. Rode led the interview before the board was opened to a question and answer session.  May 20th, 2003. 

A.K.Rode's movie reviews can be found at FilmMonthly.com

 
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