John Payne (actor)

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John Payne
Payne in Kansas City Confidential (1952)
BornJohn Howard Payne
(1912-05-23)May 23, 1912
Roanoke, Virginia, U.S.
DiedDecember 6, 1989(1989-12-06) (aged 77)
Malibu, California, U.S.
OccupationActor, singer
Years active1934–1975
Spouse(s)Anne Shirley (1937–1942)
Gloria DeHaven (1944–1950)
Alexandra Crowell Curtis (1953–1989) (his death)
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Not to be confused with John Wayne.
John Payne
Payne in Kansas City Confidential (1952)
BornJohn Howard Payne
(1912-05-23)May 23, 1912
Roanoke, Virginia, U.S.
DiedDecember 6, 1989(1989-12-06) (aged 77)
Malibu, California, U.S.
OccupationActor, singer
Years active1934–1975
Spouse(s)Anne Shirley (1937–1942)
Gloria DeHaven (1944–1950)
Alexandra Crowell Curtis (1953–1989) (his death)

John Howard Payne[1] (May 23, 1912 – December 6, 1989)[2][3] was an American film actor who is mainly remembered from film noir crime stories and 20th Century Fox musical films, and for his leading roles in Miracle on 34th Street and the NBC Western television series The Restless Gun.


Payne was born in Roanoke, Virginia. His mother, Ida Hope (née Schaeffer), a singer, graduated from the Virginia Seminary in Roanoke and married George Washington Payne, a developer in Roanoke. They lived at Fort Lewis, an antebellum mansion that became a state historic property but was destroyed by fire in the late 1940s. Payne attended prep school at Mercersburg Academy in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania and then went to Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia. He then transferred to Columbia University in New York City in the fall of 1930. He studied drama at Columbia and voice at Juilliard School. To support himself, he took on a variety of odd jobs, including wrestling and singing in vaudeville. In 1934, a talent scout for the Shubert theaters spotted Payne and gave him a job as a stock player.


John Payne in uniform (1943)

Payne toured with several Shubert Brothers shows, and frequently sang on New York-based radio programs. In 1936, he landed a contract at Samuel Goldwyn's studio and he left New York for Hollywood. His first role in Dodsworth (1936) presented him as an affable, handsome character actor. Following this he was the leading man in the light musical Garden of the Moon, which showcased his smooth, harmonious tenor voice. He worked for various studios until 1940, when he signed with 20th Century Fox; Fox made him a star in musicals such as Tin Pan Alley (1940), Sun Valley Serenade (1941), Springtime in the Rockies (1942) and Hello, Frisco, Hello (1943). In these films, he was typically cast as a supporting player in love with the likes of Alice Faye, Betty Grable and Sonja Henie. A highlight during this period was co-starring with Gene Tierney and Tyrone Power in The Razor's Edge (1946).

To the Shores of Tripoli (1942) as the playboy son of a United States Marine Corps World War I veteran, he crosses his Marine Drill Sergeant Randolph Scott Payne's romantic interest a Navy nurse lieutenant, Maureen O'Hara. This was one of the top films of 1942. During World War II Payne served as a flight instructor in the US Army Air Forces.

Payne's most popular role may be his final film for Fox, that of attorney Fred Gailey in Miracle on 34th Street (1947). It is almost certainly his most visible role, as frequently as that film is aired during the Christmas season.

Later in his career Payne changed his image and began playing tough-guy roles in Hollywood films noir and Westerns including Kansas City Confidential (1952), 99 River Street (1953), Silver Lode (1954), Tennessee's Partner (1955) and Slightly Scarlet (1956). Payne was a contract star with Pine-Thomas Productions where he shrewdly insisted that the films he appeared in be filmed in color and that the rights to the films revert to him after several years, making him wealthy when he rented them to television.[4][5]

In 1955, he paid a $1,000-a-month option for nine months on the Ian Fleming James Bond novel Moonraker (he eventually gave up the option when he learned he could not retain the rights for the entire book series).

Payne also starred as Vint Bonner, an educated, commonsense gunfighter, in The Restless Gun, which aired on Monday evenings from 1957 to 1959, prior to Dale Robertson's western series Tales of Wells Fargo. Dan Blocker, James Coburn, and Don Grady made their first substantive acting forays with Payne on The Restless Gun.

On October 31, 1957, as The Restless Gun began airing, Payne guest starred on The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford.

In March 1961, Payne suffered extensive, life-threatening injuries when struck by a car in New York City.[6] His recovery took two years. In his later roles, facial scars from the accident can be detected in close-ups; he chose not to have them removed. One of Payne's first public appearances during this period was as a guest panelist on the popular CBS game show What's My Line?.

Payne directed one of his last films, They Ran for Their Lives (1968). His final role was in 1975, when he co-starred with Peter Falk and Janet Leigh in the Columbo episode "Forgotten Lady".

Payne again teamed up with Alice Faye in a 1974 revival of the musical Good News.

Later in life, Payne, like former Daniel Boone series star Fess Parker, became wealthy through real estate investments in Southern California.

Personal life[edit]

Payne was married to actress Anne Shirley from 1937 to 1942;[7] they had a daughter, Julie Anne Payne. He then married actress Gloria DeHaven in 1944;[8][9] the union produced two children, Kathleen Hope Payne and Thomas John Payne, before ending in a divorce in 1950.[10] Payne then married Alexandra Beryl "Sandy" Crowell Curtis in 1953,[11] and remained with her until his death.

He was the father-in-law of writer-director Robert Towne, who was married to his oldest daughter Julie until their divorce in 1982.

Payne was a Republican and in October 1960 he was one of many conservative notables who drove in the Nixon-Lodge Bumper Sticker Motorcade in Los Angeles.[12]


Payne died in Malibu, California, of congestive heart failure on December 6, 1989, aged 77.[2] His ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean.

He has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.


1936DodsworthHarry McKee
1937Fair WarningJim Preston
1937Hats OffJimmy Maxwell
1937Love on ToastBill Adams
1938College SwingMartin Bates
1938Garden of the MoonDon Vincente
1939Kid NightingaleSteve Nelson aka Kid Nightingale
1939Wings of the NavyJerry Harrington
1939Indianapolis SpeedwayEddie Greer
1939The Royal RodeoBill Stevens
1940Star DustAmbrose Fillmore aka Bud Borden
1940MarylandLee Danfield
1940King of the LumberjacksJames 'Jim'/'Slim' Abbott
1940The Great ProfileRichard Lansing
1940Tear Gas SquadSergeant Bill Morrissey
1940Tin Pan AlleyFrancis Aloysius 'Skeets' Harrigan
1941The Great American BroadcastRix Martin
1941Sun Valley SerenadeTed Scott
1941Week-End in HavanaJay Williams
1941Remember the DayDan Hopkins
1942To the Shores of TripoliChris Winters
1942Footlight SerenadeWilliam J. 'Bill' Smith
1942Springtime in the RockiesDan Christy
1942IcelandCapt. James Murfin
1943Hello, Frisco, HelloJohnny Cornell
1945The Dolly SistersHarry Fox
1946Wake Up and DreamJeff Cairn
1946Sentimental JourneyWilliam O. Weatherly
1946The Razor's EdgeGray Maturin
1947Miracle on 34th StreetFred Gailey
1948LarcenyRick Mason
1948The Saxon CharmEric Busch
1949The Crooked WayEddie Rice aka Eddie Riccardi
1949Captain ChinaCharles S. Chinnough/Capt. China
1949El PasoClay Fletcher
1950Tripoli (fr)Lt. Presley O'Bannon
1950The Eagle and the HawkCapt. Todd Croyden
1951Passage WestPete Black
1951CrosswindsSteve Singleton
1952Kansas City ConfidentialJoe Rolfe/Peter Harris
1952CaribbeanDick Lindsay/Robert MacAllister
1952The Blazing ForestKelly Hansen
1953The VanquishedRockwell (Rock) Grayson
1953Raiders of Seven SeasBarbarossa
195399 River StreetErnie Driscoll
1954Silver LodeDan Ballard
1954Rails Into LaramieJefferson Harder
1955Santa Fe PassageKirby Randolph
1955The Road to DenverBill Mayhew
1955Tennessee's PartnerTennessee
1955Hell's IslandMike Cormack
1956Slightly ScarletBen Grace
1956Hold Back the NightCapt. Sam McKenzie
1956The BossMatt Brady
1956Rebel in TownJohn Willoughby
1957Hidden FearMike Brent
1957Bailout at 43,000Maj. Paul Peterson
1960O'Conner's Ocean
1968They Ran for Their LivesBob Martin
1975Columbo: Forgotten Lady (TV)Ned Diamond


  1. ^ California Death Records – California Department of Health Services Office of Health Information and Research.
  2. ^ a b Flint, Peter B. (December 8, 1989), "John Payne, 77, Actor, Is Dead; Lawyer in 'Miracle on 34th Street'", The New York Times 
  3. ^ NOTE: The California Death Records show his date of birth as May 28, but most published biographies show May 23, as does his obituary in The New York Times.
  4. ^ Blank, Ed (January 26, 2006), "'360 Degrees of Oscar'", Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Trib Total Media, Inc.) 
  5. ^ JOHN PAYNE--the Star Who Likes People: When He Isn't Making a Picture He's Out Meeting the Public and Winning Friends for Hollywood and for Himself Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune (1923–1963) [Chicago, Ill] 14 Sep 1952: c2.
  6. ^ "John Payne Hit By Car", The New York Times (The New York Times Company), March 2, 1961, (subscription required (help)) 
  7. ^ "Anne Shirley Wins Divorce", Los Angeles Times (Tribune Company), February 20, 1942, (subscription required (help)) 
  8. ^ "Gloria De Haven, John Payne To Wed", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 18, 1944 
  9. ^ "John Payne Weds Gloria De Haven", Los Angeles Times (Tribune Company), December 29, 1944, (subscription required (help)) 
  10. ^ "Gloria De Haven Wins Uncontested Divorce", Los Angeles Times (Tribune Company), February 10, 1950, (subscription required (help)) 
  11. ^ "Actor John Payne Weds Ex-Wife of Alan Curtis", Los Angeles Times (Tribune Company), September 28, 1953, (subscription required (help)) 
  12. ^ "Framework". Los Angeles Times. 

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