Born 1927 in Cloquet, Minnesota, American actress Barbara Payton first gained notice in the 1949 film noir Trapped co-starring Lloyd Bridges.
After being screen-tested by James Cagney and his producer brother, William, Payton starred with Cagney in the violent noir thriller Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye in 1950. William Cagney was so smitten with Payton’s sensual appeal and beauty that her contract was drawn as a joint agreement between William Cagney Productions and Warner Bros. at a salary of $5,000 per week, a large sum for an actress yet to demonstrate star power at the box office.
Her portrayal of the hardened, seductive girlfriend, whom Cagney’s character ultimately double-crosses, was praised in newspaper reviews of the movie. Her acting skills were recognized and her significant screen charisma widely acknowledged.
Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye was the high point in Payton’s career. Her screen appearances opposite Gary Cooper in Dallas (1950) and Gregory Peck in Only the Valiant (1951), both westerns, were lackluster productions that did little to highlight her skills as an actress. Payton’s career decline began with the 1951 low-budget horror film Bride of the Gorilla, co-starring Raymond Burr.
Payton was best known for her stormy social life and battles with alcoholism and drug addiction. Her life has been the subject of several books, including Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye: The Barbara Payton Story (2007) by John O’Dowd, L.A. Despair: A Landscape of Crimes and Bad Times (2005) by John Gilmore and B Movie: A Play in Two Acts (2014) by Michael B. Druxman.
In her brief life, she married five times. She died in 1967 at her parents’ home of heart and liver failure at the age of 39.
Take a look at these gorgeous photos to see the beauty of Barbara Payton in the 1950s.