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JOHN PAYNE MOTION PICTURE FILMOGRAPHY
1. 1936 * Dodsworth * JP as Harry McKee
2. 1937 * Hats Off * JP as Jimmy Maxwell
3. 1937 * Fair Warning * JP as Jim Preston
4. 1937 * Love on Toast * JP as Bill Adams
5. 1938 * College Swing * JP as Martin Bates
6. 1938 * Garden of the Moon * JP as Don Vincente
7. 1939 * Wings of the Navy * JP as Jerry Harrington
8. 1939 * Indianapolis Speedway * JP as Eddie Greer
9. 1939 * Kid Nightingale * JP as Steve Nelson ("Kid Nightingale")
10. 1939 * The Royal Rodeo (short film) * JP as Bill Stevens
11. 1940 * Star Dust * JP as Ambrose Fillmore (a.k.a. Bud Borden)
12. 1940 * King of the Lumberjacks * JP as James "Slim" Abbott
13. 1940 * Tear Gas Squad * JP as Sergeant Bill Morrissey
14. 1940 * Maryland * JP as Lee Danfield
15. 1940 * The Great Profile * JP as Richard Lansing
16. 1940 * Tin Pan Alley * JP as Francis "Skeets" Harrigan
17. 1941 * The Great American Broadcast JP as Rix Martin
18. 1941 * Sun Valley Serenade JP as Ted Scott
19. 1941 * Week-End in Havana JP as Jay Williams
20. 1941 * Remember the Day JP as Dan Hopkins
21. 1942 * To the Shores of Tripoli JP as Chris Winters
22. 1942 * Footlight Serenade JP as William J. "Bill" Smith
23. 1942 * Iceland JP as Capt. James Murfin
24. 1942 * Springtime in the Rockies * JP as Dan Christy
25. 1943 * Hello, Frisco, Hello * JP as Johnny Cornell
26. 1945 * The Dolly Sisters * JP as Harry Fox
27. 1946 * Sentimental Journey * JP as William O. Weatherly
28. 1946 * The Razor's Edge * JP as Gray Maturin
29. 1946 * Wake Up and Dream * JP as Jeff Cairn
30. 1947 * Miracle on 34th Street * JP as Fred Gailey
31. 1948 * Larceny * JP as Rick Mason
32. 1948 * The Saxon Charm * JP as Eric Busch
33. 1949 * El Paso * JP as Clay Fletcher
34. 1949 * The Crooked Way * JP as Eddie Rice (Eddie Riccard)
35. 1949 * Captain China * JP as Charles Chinnough (Capt. China)
36. 1950 * The Eagle and the Hawk * JP as Capt. Todd Croyden
37. 1950 * Tripoli * JP as Lt. Presley O'Bannon
38. 1951 * Passage West * JP as Pete Black
39. 1951 * Crosswinds * JP as Steve Singleton
40. 1952 * Caribbean * JP as Dick Lindsay (Robert MacAllister)
41. 1952 * Kansas City Confidential * JP as Joe Rolfe (Pete Harris)
42. 1952 * The Blazing Forest * JP as Kelly Hansen
43. 1953 * Raiders of the Seven Seas * JP as Barbarossa
44. 1953 * The Vanquished * JP as Rockwell "Rock" Grayson
45. 1953 * 99 River Street * JP as Ernie Driscoll
46. 1954 * Rails Into Laramie * JP as Jefferson Harder
47. 1954 * Silver Lode * JP as Dan Ballard
48. 1955 * Hell's Island * JP as Mike Cormack
49. 1955 * Santa Fe Passage * JP as Kirby Randolph
50. 1955 * The Road to Denver * JP as Bill Mayhew
51. 1955 * Tennessee's Partner * JP as "Tennessee"
52. 1956 * Slightly Scarlet * JP as Ben Grace
53. 1956 * Hold Back the Night * JP as Capt. Sam McKenzie
54. 1956 * Rebel in Town * JP as John Willoughby
55. 1956 * The Boss * JP as Matt Brady
56. 1957 * Bailout at 43,000 * JP as Maj. Paul Peterson
57. 1957 * Hidden Fear * JP as Mike Brent
58. 1960 * O'Conner's Ocean * JP as Tom O'Conner (TV movie)
59. 1968 * They Ran for Their Lives * JP as Bob Martin
60. 1975 * Columbo: Forgotten Lady * JP as Ned Diamond
John Payne was one of the tallest Hollywood icons at six-foot two inches, literally blessed with movie star looks, dark wavy hair, cleft chin, and a physique rivaling that of the fellow who was making Tarzan pictures over at MGM, Johnny Weissmuller. A further rarity for Payne was his ability to perform his own athletic stunts and fight scenes, many of them incredibly dangerous, which he did over the entirety of his career.
John Howard Payne was born on May 28, 1912, in Roanoke, Virginia, one of three sons raised by parents George Washington Payne and Ida Hope (Schaeffer). His advanced schooling began at Mercersburg Academy, a private Christian boarding school located in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. John Payne’s education continued at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia and he later transferred to Columbia University in New York City to study drama and performance arts.
During these early years of the Depression, young Mr. Payne earned his tuition money in rather unusual ways, including a brief boxing career using the name, “Tiger Jack Payne.” The diversity of his talents is exemplified when it is noted that his classical voice training came at the famed Julliard School, while at the same time he was earning his spending cash as a professional wrestler in the early 1930s under the name Alexi Petroff, the Savage of the Steppes!
By 1934, at age 21, John Payne was spotted in one of his college drama performances by a talent scout for the Shubert Theaters in New York City. The young actor showed promise and was signed as a stock player for the Schubert Brothers road shows, including the musicals, “Rose Marie” and “The Student Prince.” His salary of $40 a week was indeed a rather princely sum during the Depression, when millions of Americans were out of work and standing in bread lines.
Hollywood during the 1930s and 1940s constantly scoured the Broadway stages, looking for fresh faces for the movies. John Payne was noticed by talent scout Fred Kohlmar at the Winter Garden Theatre in the play, “At Home Abroad” (1935), a lively Broadway musical with a fine ensemble cast that included Beatrice Lilly, Eleanor Powell, Ethel Waters, and staged by Vincente Minnelli. Payne also understudied for Reginald Gardiner and assumed the role for one evening. Fred Kohlmar worked for legendary producer Sam Goldwyn, and the fledgling thespian was subsequently offered a Hollywood screen test.
Shortly thereafter, John Payne made his screen debut in the William Wyler classic, “Dodsworth” (1936), as the son-in-law of Walter Huston’s title character. He made a good impression with movie fans and producers alike, and suddenly Payne was a relatively hot commodity. Over the next four years, the busy actor appeared in thirteen motion pictures and also found time for a final appearance on Broadway in “Abe Lincoln in Illinois.” Raymond Massey had the lead role of Lincoln, while Payne portrayed the President’s oldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln.
John Payne also teamed with beautiful 21-year-old vocalist Betty Grable in a series of CBS radio 15-minute programs, "Song Time," between 1937 and 1938. It was radio, of course, so the young duet crooned popular tunes of the day and quipped a series of corny jokes in-between the songs and the commercials. These two talented performers would later costar in four musical dramas when both were mega-stars with 20th Century-Fox.
Over the next four years John Payne learned the movie business starting with “Hats Off” (1936), a “B” musical comedy where he shared top billing with talented actress Mae Clarke; “Fair Warning” (1937), a murder thriller in which he received third star billing behind J. Edward Bromberg and Betty Furness; “Love on Toast” (1937), a musical comedy with Payne and Broadway actress Stella Adler sharing the limelight; “College Swing” (1938) was an all-star musical farce with George Burns, Gracie Allen, Bob Hope, Martha Raye, and directed by Raoul Walsh; the Busby Berkeley musical “Garden of the Moon” (1938) featured big star Pat O’Brien with John Payne head-over-heels for the lovely Margaret Lindsay; the Naval Air drama “Wings of the Navy” (1939) saw Payne in support of George Brent and romantically linked with Olivia de Havilland; “Indianapolis Speedway” (1939) starred Payne as a race car driver breaking speed records with ‘bad girl’ Ann Sheridan, and Pat O’Brien as his race car mentor; “Kid Nightingale” (1939) was John Payne’s first top billing as a singing waiter-turned boxer who finds romance with Jane Wyman; “Star Dust” saw Payne falling hard for rising star Linda Darnell and directed by Walter Lang; “King of the Lumberjacks” (1940) was a starring role for Payne in a great-outdoors adventure with talented actress Gloria Dickson; “Tear Gas Squad” (1940) was a police drama with Payne sharing the marquee with Dennis Morgan and once again, Gloria Dickson.
When John Payne signed with 20th Century-Fox in 1940, he hit the big time and the big movie contract. During the previous four years of his ‘apprenticeship’ he had worked for several brilliant directors including William Wyler, Raoul Walsh, Busby Berkeley and Walter Lang. He had also learned the acting trade from some of the great actors of Hollywood, including Walter Huston, Pat O’Brien, George Brent, Dennis Morgan, Bob Hope and George Burns, while romancing (on-screen) Hollywood stars Ann Sheridan, Olivia de Havilland, Linda Darnell, Jane Wyman, Margaret Lindsay, and Gloria Dickson.
Payne’s career under his Fox contract began a rapid climb upward with “Maryland” (1940), a superb drama in which he becomes involved with a young woman (Brenda Joyce) who is the daughter of the family horse trainer (Walter Brennan), under the objections of the young man’s demanding mother (Fay Bainter). “The Great Profile” (1940) was an opportunity for Payne to learn under the inimitable John Barrymore in a Walter Lang classic film, also starring Mary Beth Hughes and Anne Baxter.
John Payne firmly established himself as a major Hollywood star in “Tin Pan Alley” (1940), the first teaming of Payne and Alice Faye in a musical drama which also starred Betty Grable and the gifted comedian, Jack Oakie. For the year 1940, Alice Faye was the number one female box office attraction in America, and this particular film was one of 20th Century-Fox’s finest musicals of all-time. These four talented actors would be united in many of Fox’s best musical dramas over the next few years. At this point the movie-going public couldn’t get enough of Alice Faye, John Payne and Jack Oakie, and they were immediately teamed again in “The Great American Broadcast” (1941), a top notch musical that featured the singing of Faye and Payne, along with comedy, music and dancing from the Nicholas Brothers, the Ink Spots, and the Wiere Brothers.
Payne and Alice Faye were also together in “Weekend in Havana” (1941) and “Hello, Frisco, Hello” (1943), which featured the classic song, “You’ll Never Know,” the most famous and beloved song of Alice Faye’s career. Payne was teamed once again with Betty Grable in “Footlight Serenade” (1941) and “Springtime in the Rockies” (1942), musical comedies that featured humor, music and… Betty Grable’s world famous legs!
20th Century-Fox paired Payne with its most beautiful and marketable female stars, which also included Sonja Henie in “Sun Valley Serenade” (1941), and “Iceland” (1942), snow and skating escapades that featured music and romance. Sonja Henie was the Olympic champion skater in 1928 at age fifteen, and then repeated this amazing feat in both 1932 and 1936. After signing with Fox in 1936, she was one of the studios most marketable stars for the next decade. Two of her most popular films were these skating extravaganzas in which she was teamed with John Payne.
Fox also made good use of John Payne’s serious acting skills in the Henry King drama, “Remember the Day” (1941), in which Payne was romantically involved with Claudette Colbert, who had won the Oscar for Best Actress in “It Happened One Night” (1934). Another fine wartime drama was “To the Shores of Tripoli” (1942), with Payne sharing top billing with Maureen O’Hara and Randolph Scott.
After serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II as a flight instructor, it was back to an upbeat musical drama with Betty Grable and June Haver in “The Dolly Sisters” (1945), in which Payne portrayed Harry Fox, a young singer who discovers two sisters with immense talent. The actor would also be teamed with June Haver in “Wake Up and Dream” (1946), a family drama.
“Sentimental Journey” (1946) was a somber melodrama with Payne again paired with Maureen O’Hara and supported by William Bendix. One of 20th Century-Fox’s biggest films of the decade was “The Razor’s Edge” (1946), in which Payne was billed third to Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney. Based on the play by Somerset Maugham, this Oscar-nominated drama was directed by Edmund Goulding and also starred Anne Baxter, Clifton Webb, and Herbert Marshall.
Payne’s career at Fox reached its zenith in 1947 with the heartwarming Christmas favorite, “Miracle on 34th Street,” with co-stars Maureen O’Hara, Natalie Wood, and the delightful curmudgeon, Edmund Gwenn, who won the Best Supporting Oscar for his role as Kris Kringle. This classic motion picture is just as beloved today as it was in 1947, and is also performed on the stage all over the country every Christmas season.
Around this time, Payne’s professional life took a stark turn when after months of demanding his release from his contract with Fox, his wishes were granted. Also by this juncture his close friend and costar at Fox Pictures, Alice Faye, had literally quit the movie business in protest over the lack of quality dramatic roles she was being offered by the studio chief, Darryl F. Zanuck.
Now with his acting future firmly in his own hands, John Payne could take on the roles he truly wanted over the next decade or so… Films noir, westerns, war pictures, action-adventures, and his immensely popular television western of the late 1950s, “Restless Gun.”
At this crossroads John Payne was now a free-agent, so to speak, and over the next dozen years or so he starred in no less than 27 films, many of them for Pine-Thomas Productions as well as major studios. Like at Fox, Payne was usually the top billed star, often sharing the marquee with his female costars, which included: Maureen O’Hara, Rhonda Fleming, Susan Hayward, Arlene Dahl, Ruth Roman, Peggie Castle, Jane Wyman, Marie Windsor, Joan Caulfield, Shelley Winters, Dorothy Hart, Audrey Totter, Gail Russell, Ellen Drew, Jan Sterling, Coleen Gray, Evelyn Keyes, Mari Blanchard, Joyce Mackenzie, Lizabeth Scott, Mary Murphy, Faith Domergue, Mona Freeman, Gloria McGhee, Karen Steele, Constance Ford, Anne Neyland, and Irene Hervey.
A few of Payne’s most memorable roles from this decade included the classic films noir, “Kansas City Confidential” (1952) with Coleen Gray and Preston Foster; “99 River Street” (1953) with Evelyn Keyes and Peggie Castle; “Larceny” (1948) with Joan Caulfield, Dan Duryea, Shelley Winters, and Dorothy Hart; “The Saxon Charm” (1948) with Payne sharing top billing with big stars Robert Montgomery, Susan Hayward, and Audrey Totter.
In the classic, “Slightly Scarlet” (1956), two beautiful sisters (Rhonda Fleming and Arlene Dahl) are both in love with the same man, gambler Ben Grace (Payne). Although Ben plans to take over the gambling syndicate, he also intends to put his evil boss (Ted de Corsia) permanently out of the business of murder, political corruption, and prostitution, and he puts his life on the line to do it.
Payne also made a rugged western star, and some of his best films were “El Paso” (1949) with Gail Russell, Sterling Hayden, and Gabby Hayes; “The Eagle and the Hawk” (1950) with Rhonda Fleming and Dennis O’Keefe; “Rails Into Laramie” (1954) with Mari Blanchard and bad guy Dan Duryea; “Silver Lode” (1954) with Lizabeth Scott and Dan Duryea; “The Road to Denver” (1955) with Mona Freeman and Lee J. Cobb; “Rebel in Town” (1956) with Ruth Roman and J. Carroll Naish; and a western spiced with humor, “Tennessee’s Partner” with Rhonda Fleming, Coleen Gray, and future President, Ronald Reagan.
Action-adventure was another genre that challenged John Payne in valiant hero roles, including “Tripoli” (1950) with Maureen O’Hara and Howard Da Silva; “Crosswinds” (1951) with Rhonda Fleming and Forrest Tucker; “Caribbean” (1952) with Arlene Dahl and Cedric Hardwicke; “Raiders of the Seven Seas” (1953) with Donna Reed; “Captain China” (1950) with Gail Russell, Jeffrey Lynn, and Lon Chaney, Jr.
“Hold Back the Night” (1956) cast John Payne as a battle-weary combat officer trying to extricate his troops from a war zone before they are slaughtered by an advancing Chinese army. This Korean War saga was helmed by Allan Dwan, who directed several of Payne’s best films of the 1950s. Another tense drama was “The Boss” (1956), written by Dalton Trumbo, with co-stars William Bishop and Gloria McGhee. "Hidden Fear" (1957) was a taut crime thriller with Payne as American cop Mike Brent who rushes to Denmark to rescue his sister (Natalie Norwick), who has been accused of murder.
John Payne had very few opportunities to use his marvelous singing voice in the various dramas of his post-Fox career, but in 1954 he accepted an offer for a two-week engagement at the famed Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. The performer crooned many of the songs he had sung in the movies during his early years in Hollywood, as well as a few of the newer popular ballads of the 1950s.
In 1957, John Payne took a break from his movie career to star in “Restless Gun,” a rugged action TV western with the actor as Vint Bonner, a former gunman previously known as “The Six Shooter.” Bonner no longer hires out his gun, instead earning his way as a trail boss, ranch foreman, and railroad troubleshooter. Nevertheless, Bonner was often forced to help former pals along the way, as well as new friends who were facing big trouble and stacked odds. With Bonner on the side of the oppressed, justice was usually served and foes were vanquished.
This outstanding western was on NBC for two seasons and 78 episodes, and Payne appeared in almost every scene of the series. He was also the Executive Producer, and thus had a hand in every aspect including scripts and production. Well-known guest stars included Peggie Castle, Chuck Connors, Johnny Crawford, Angie Dickinson, Ted de Corsia, Whitney Blake, Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams, Frank Gorshin, Robert Blake, William Hopper, Michael Landon, Dan Blocker, Virginia Christine, Royal Dano, Claude Akins, Henry Hull, James Coburn, and many other quality actors. As in his action movies, Payne did all his own stunts and fight scenes, leaving viewers excited and satisfied with this action-packed western series.
In 1960, Payne starred in and produced a TV movie, “O’Conner’s Ocean,” a drama featuring Irene Hervey, a popular leading lady from the 1930s and 1940s. Payne portrayed a retired lawyer who simply wants to sail his boat up and down the California coast, but instead unintentionally involves himself with solving the problems of folks who cross his path.
John Payne kept busy as a producer developing various scripts for television, and was in New York in the spring of 1961 pitching a new idea to one of the networks. Personal tragedy struck on the first day of March when he was run-over by a car while crossing Madison Avenue in New York City, near 61st Street. Mr. Payne suffered a compound fracture to his left leg and multiple lacerations to the head and face when he went through the windshield. His injuries were so severe that he lost 60% of the blood in his body and was on the critical list. A plastic surgeon used more than 100 stitches to close the gash on his scalp, and dozens more sewing up wounds on his forehead and chin. A long rehab period over two years included teaching himself to walk again without the aid of crutches or a cane.
When he was finally physically able to return to his acting craft in 1963, John Payne knew he needed to ‘reinvent’ himself to compensate for his damaged leg, and decided to go back to his Broadway roots. The actor felt that he could use his marvelous singing voice on stage, and began auditioning for various plays. He was rejected by producers of three major productions including “Here’s Love,” on the assumption that he could not stand the rigors of stage work on a daily basis. “Here’s Love” was based on the classic film from 1947, “Miracle on 34th Street,” so Payne was extremely disappointed when he was turned down for the lead character of Fred Gaily (his role in the motion picture).
To prove the naysayers wrong, Payne toured in the 1963 road show of the drama, “Calculated Risk,” in the lead role that Joseph Cotton had portrayed on Broadway. The production toured from Chicago to Palm Beach to Long Island and numerous stops in-between.
John Payne caught a lucky break when the actor playing Fred Gaily, Craig Stevens, decided to leave “Here’s Love” in the summer of 1964. The role was subsequently offered to Payne, who assumed the Fred Gaily character for the final month of the Broadway run, which totaled 334 performances. Also in the cast were Janis Paige, Laurence Naismith, and Fred Gwynne. Payne stayed with the play when it moved to the west coast for the road show.
In March of 1965, John Payne was cast in the lead role in “A Sign of Affection,” a romantic comedy with Lesley Ann Warren during a two-week trial run at the National Theater in Washington, D.C. This play was what they call a “flop” in the theater world and did not advance to a Broadway run. Payne also starred in the stage comedy, “Timid Tiger, Lusty Lamb,” in June of 1966 at the Little Theater on the Square at Eastern Illinois University.
Over the next few years John Payne appeared in a handful of special guest star roles on television, including “The Name of the Game” with Tony Franciosa (1968); “Gunsmoke” with James Arness (1970); “Cade’s County” with Glenn Ford (1971); and a solitary motion picture, “They Ran for Their Lives” (1968), a drama that Payne himself produced.
As fewer acting roles came his way, John Payne at age 60 focused his creative energy on his highly successful career in real estate and business investments. According to one of his daughters, her father had a genius-level I.Q., which guided Payne to make shrewd decisions not only concerning his career, but also his money matters.
However, when his former dance partner, Alice Faye, asked him to join her for a one-year road show tour of “Good News,” he happily acquiesced. The musical comedy featured Alice Faye as Professor Kenyon, John Payne as Bill Johnson, and Stubby Kaye in the role of Pooch Kearney. “Good News” was based on the MGM musical from 1947 that starred June Allyson and Peter Lawford in the lead roles. This updated stage version toured across America from December 1973 to December 1974, with more than 400 performances along the route of the road show. One of the song and dance routines from the show, “You’re the Cream in My Coffee,” is saved for posterity in a You Tube video from a 1974 performance of the musical.
“Good News” was great fun for both former movie stars and a major success, but the dancing was painful for John Payne and his bum leg. The actor had to reluctantly retire from the show at the end of his one-year contract. When “Good News” moved to Broadway at the St. James Theatre on December 23, 1974, Gene Nelson had replaced Mr. Payne and the show lasted only 16 performances before being cancelled. One can only assume that the play may have had a much longer run if the team of Faye and Payne had been able to stay together for the Broadway engagement. The incredible chemistry of John Payne and Alice Faye still existed three decades after the heyday of their 20th Century-Fox musicals.
John Payne’s final acting role was on a 1975 episode of “Columbo,” in which he butted heads with Peter Falk’s rumpled detective. Janet Leigh was the other guest star, and her character Grace Wheeler and Payne’s ‘Ned Diamond’ were former movie dance partners, "Diamond & Wheeler," and still close friends some 30 years later. When she is considered the prime suspect in the murder of her elderly husband (Sam Jaffe), Payne vehemently defends her until the truth is revealed and the crime is solved.
Now at age 63, Payne joined an exclusive club of 1930s great actors who retired from the acting business rather than accept minor roles or ‘cameos.’ These other gentlemen actors included Cary Grant, Jimmy Cagney, James Stewart, Randolph Scott, and Joel McCrea.
His retirement years were well-funded by business investments as well as movie and TV royalties. Payne was able to fully enjoy his diversions such as playing the guitar, singing (of course!), writing short stories (several published), reading poetry, and studying Greek philosophy and Jungian psychology. Other hobbies included flying his own plane, skin diving, horseback riding, health and fitness, and exploring exotic dishes as an amateur chef.
John Payne died of natural causes on December 6, 1989, at the age of 77, survived by his wife of 35 years, Alexandra (Sandy) Crowell Curtis. He was also the father of three children, Julie Anne, Kathleen Hope, and Thomas John. Payne previously had been married to actress Anne Shirley from 1937 to 1943, and actress Gloria De Haven from 1944 to 1950.