Actresses Other, CMF Execlusive Interviews

John O’Dowd talks Barbara Payton bio 2nd printing

OdowdbookcoverI have been privileged to know John O’Dowd, the author of a definitive biography of the tragic life of actress, Barbara Payton for many years. We first became associated when John asked me to help him build a website for the book he was in the process of writing: “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, The Barbara Payton Story.”

The purpose of having a web site about Barbara was to publicize the book and, after several months of collaboration, prior to the books printing, the site was launched in 2004. During that time John and I became good friends and even though he lived half a state away from me, he even travelled to my house to deliver his collection of Barbara Payton photographs that he wanted me to scan for the website. He told me that he just didn’t feel safe sending them in the mail and it was also a good opportunity for us to meet.

When the book was close to being published, John asked me to design the book cover, which I was honored to do and the book was finally released in 2007. Then, recently in 2013, I designed another website for John to feature all of his writings which can be seen at John-odowd.com.

John’s book has received very favorable press and is very aptly described on Amazon.com: 

The heartbreaking saga of the wild and free-spirited actress, who hit Hollywood in the late 1940s. Equipped with little more than a suitcase full of dreams, a ravenous hunger for fame, and a devastating beauty, all her dreams were destroyed by a disastrous private life that led her straight through the gates of Hell. Gutsy, vulnerable, and doomed Barbara Payton blazed across the motion picture stratosphere in record-time, only to collapse in a catastrophic free-fall from which she would never recover.

A second volume on Barbara’s life and career, BARBARA PAYTON: A LIFE IN PICTURES, is now in progress. It will contain over 250 rare and previously unpublished photos of Barbara, along with commentary by John O’Dowd, Barbara’s son, John Lee Payton and family member Jan Redfield.

Recently, I wrote to John asking him if he would be interested in answering a few questions about his book for Classic Movie Favorites, now that the book will soon have it’s second printing. Below are his answers to some of my questions where he talks about the writing and reprinting of the book and the sad ending of this beautiful star.

When did you first learn about the actress, Barbara Payton?

I first became aware of Barbara when I saw her in a Saturday afternoon TV showing of her film “Bride of the Gorilla” when I was about eight years old. At first glance, I was absolutely awestruck by her beauty. Truthfully, she never totally left my consciousness after that. When I was in my late teens, I started learning about what happened to Barbara during her life, and I remember being very mesmerized by her story. I guess you can say that it both shocked and captivated me. When I decided in my 30’s to pursue a career in writing, Barbara’s life story was the one I wanted to tell first.

Can you tell our viewers what made you write about Barbara Payton in the first place?

As I said, it was Barbara’s immense beauty that first drew me to her, but in time, it was definitely the unfulfilled promise she showed as an actress that really hooked me. She had so much talent and potential, and yet she threw away every opportunity that was ever handed to her. I found that to be unbelievably sad, and I wanted to try to find out why she was so steadfastly self-destructive.

Was it difficult to get the book published and how long did it take?

Yes, it was extremely difficult to find a publisher for Barbara’s book. For several years, I contacted dozens of publishers, and they all said the same thing: that Barbara was “a total unknown”, and that people wouldn’t be interested in her story. For some reason, I kept all the rejection letters I got, and I still have them. Some of them are quite funny. One very condescending book editor who did write back to me (many didn’t), said something along the lines of, “If Barbara Payton is known today at all, it’s because of her various exploits in the beds, bars and streets of Hollywood, and not for her so-called acting career. I am sorry, but I cannot stand behind what she did with her life, and I have no interest in representing your project.” I was angry when I first read that letter, but now I find it an absolute hoot. I must admit that the self righteous, tight-asses of the world have always amused me. Obviously, I don’t think the way they do!

Now that there is to be a second printing, what’s new that you might be including. When will it be published and will it be the same publisher?

Yes, the book is once again being published and distributed by BearManor Media. There will be no new information in the book. Some cosmetic changes have been made, and a few of the photos have been cropped, or resized. I could not make any changes to the book’s original content as that would require that a new ISBN number be issued to the book, and my publisher would rather not do that. There were some misplaced commas in the book’s first printing that I fixed, and a few other things. I’m not certain if the original book was proofread or edited by anyone other than me, and as all writers will tell you, we ALL need our work reviewed and edited by a pair of eyes that are separate from ours.

Will you be participating in any book signings or talks about the second printing?

I doubt it, as I am totally unfamiliar with how to set these things in motion. I am always open to doing phone and print interviews, though.

Many maligned Barbara during her life and after her death, can you describe what you think about that? Was it all deserved?

No, I don’t believe that all the criticism Barbara received during her life was deserved. Many times, she was simply doing what many other people in Hollywood were doing in that era: carrying on with whomever they wanted, and living very carelessly at times. Barbara, though, was her own worst enemy, by far. While other Hollywood stars knew where to draw the line in their personal lives (in terms of the excesses they indulged in), Barbara was woefully unaware or unconcerned about that. She lived her life fearlessly, recklessly and outrageously. I personally think she had a lot of guts. Too much courage, perhaps, and absolutely no internal restraints or foresight.

What about Barbara’s son first not wanting participate and then, changing his mind. How did that happen?

Barbara’s son, John Lee Payton, is now 67 years old, and over the course of his life, he has read many hurtful things about his mother that has both saddened and angered him. At first, John thought that I was just another person who wanted to denigrate Barbara in print, and it took a long time (at least several months) for him to get to know me and my true intent in wanting to document Barbara’s story. His aunt, Jan Redfield (Barbara’s sister-in-law; Jan was married to Barbara’s younger brother, Frank) was very instrumental in getting John Lee to change his mind about participating in the project. I met Jan first, and from the start, she seemed to know what I wanted to try to accomplish with the book. Jan always believed me when I told her that I wanted my work to reveal Barbara’s humanity and many positive traits, and to restore some of her dignity, too, if I could. She finally convinced John that I was committed to doing that, and once he saw what my vision was for the project, he got behind it 100%. Everything good about Barbara that was revealed in the book, is due to Jan Redfield and John Lee Payton.

What was your favorite Barbara Payton film?

Since “Bride of the Gorilla” was the first film I saw of hers, I have to admit that it holds a special place in my heart. That said, however, her crime film with James Cagney, “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye”, probably shows Barbara at her absolute best. She was excellent in that picture. She really held her own in her scenes with Cagney, and she was sexy and gorgeous. I wish she could have made many more films of that very same caliber.

Talk a bit about Barbara’s relationship with Franchot Tone and the ill-fated fight with Tom Neal.

Barbara met Franchot Tone first, at a Hollywood nightclub. He was said to be immediately captivated by both her beauty and her rather rowdy nature, while she was impressed, I think, by his lofty professional stature and immense wealth. Tom Neal, a B-movie actor in Hollywood, was a somewhat rough character who hadn’t experienced the career success that Tone had, but he was extremely macho and a rebel, and Barbara was always attracted to that type of guy. Both men appealed to two different sides of Barbara’s persona, and after a while, I’m sure she didn’t even know WHO was right for her. Her indecision and her highly fickle nature eventually caused their so-called “lover’s triangle” to explode, leaving Franchot Tone near death, and Barbara’s and Tom Neal’s careers irreparably ruined.

Now that the book has been out for a few years, are you still glad you wrote it? What has been the reaction about it? Good?

I am both grateful and proud that I wrote the book. I know I did the best damned job I could on it (I worked on it for close to ten years), and I’m at peace with both my efforts, and the way it turned out. I feel very fortunate that a lot of people have gotten what I tried to do for Barbara; i.e., to bring some understanding to her life and to who she was. When I hear that someone truly has gotten that, I just feel very grateful. It’s what I have always wanted for the book.

Feel free to add any more information that needs to be mentioned.

I believe that Barbara’s life story would make a powerful and riveting film, and I am hoping that more progress in this area will be made in the new year. Her story, if depicted accurately and responsibly, has the ability to both shake people up, and to be healing, too, I think. I am hoping it will happen one day, soon.

Purchase John’s book in it’s original paperback edition and the Kindle version along with some of Barbara Payton’s films by clicking on the links below:

Book Kindle Edition DVD DVD
Streaming Streaming DVD DVD

See our section here about Franchot Tone by clicking on the banner below:

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Lynn has an avid interest in the entertainment industry from classic movies to all things in today's Hollywood. With a background in art, she enjoys creating in Photoshop, running web sites and finds the internet an exciting place to be. Lynn lives in the LA area and attends as many Hollywood related events as she can. She has covered events in the LA area; read all about it at http://lynnpdexclusives.com.

1 Comment

  1. Love this interview! I’ll be looking out for the second print (I already had the book on my wish list!)
    I liked Bride Of The Gorilla and and also have a copy of Trapped. It’s amazing how no one wanted to know about the book at first. Classic Movie Fans really appreciate learning about many of the actors and actresses, I know I do !

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