John Payne (actor)

Not to be confused with John Wayne.
John Payne

Payne in Kansas City Confidential (1952)
Born John Howard Payne
(1912-05-23)May 23, 1912
Roanoke, Virginia, U.S.
Died December 6, 1989(1989-12-06) (aged 77)
Malibu, California, U.S.
Occupation Actor, singer
Years active 1934–1975
Spouse(s) Anne Shirley (1937–1943)
Gloria DeHaven (1944–1950)
Alexandra Crowell Curtis (1953–1989) (his death)
Children Julie Payne
Kathleen Hope Payne (b. 1945)
Thomas John Payne[1]

John Howard Payne[2] (May 23, 1912 – December 6, 1989)[3][4] 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 as "Alexei Petroff, the Savage of the Steppes" and boxing as "Tiger Jack Payne".[5] 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).

In 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 in the film is 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 United States Army Air Corps.

Payne's most familiar role may be his final film for Fox, that of attorney Fred Gailey in the classic holiday favorite Miracle on 34th Street (1947) with Natalie Wood, Maureen O'Hara and Edmund Gwenn.

Later in his career Payne changed his image and began playing tough-guy roles in Hollywood films noirs 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.[6][7] 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.[8] 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 Sunday night game show What's My Line?. In the December 3, 1961 episode, regular panelist Dorothy Kilgallen introduced Payne by saying "He's been in the hospital after a very bad accident. So it's good to see him fit as a fiddle and all in one piece." And regular panelist Bennett Cerf remarked "Good to see you here John. Glad to see you beat that car on Madison Avenue that bumped into you."[9]

Payne directed one of his last films, They Ran for Their Lives (1968), and again teamed up with Alice Faye in a 1974 revival of the musical Good News. He also starred in the Gunsmoke episode of "Gentry's Law in 1970. His final role was in 1975, when he co-starred with Peter Falk and Janet Leigh in the Columbo episode "Forgotten Lady". Later in life Payne, like former Daniel Boone-Davy Crockett series star Fess Parker, became wealthy through real estate investments in southern California.

Personal life

Payne was married to actress Anne Shirley from 1937 to 1942;[10] they had a daughter, Julie Anne Payne. He then married actress Gloria DeHaven in 1944;[11][12] the union produced two children, Kathleen Hope Payne and Thomas John Payne, before ending in a divorce in 1950.[13] Payne then married Alexandra Beryl "Sandy" Crowell Curtis in 1953,[14] 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.[15]


Payne died in Malibu, California, of congestive heart failure on December 6, 1989, aged 77.[3] His ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean.

He has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, in motion pictures and television.


Year Title Role Notes
1936 Dodsworth Harry McKee
1937 Fair Warning Jim Preston
1937 Hats Off Jimmy Maxwell
1937 Love on Toast Bill Adams
1938 College Swing Martin Bates
1938 Garden of the Moon Don Vincente
1939 Kid Nightingale Steve Nelson aka Kid Nightingale
1939 Wings of the Navy Jerry Harrington
1939 Indianapolis Speedway Eddie Greer
1939 The Royal Rodeo Bill Stevens
1940 Star Dust Ambrose Fillmore aka Bud Borden
1940 Maryland Lee Danfield
1940 King of the Lumberjacks James 'Jim'/'Slim' Abbott
1940 The Great Profile Richard Lansing
1940 Tear Gas Squad Sergeant Bill Morrissey
1940 Tin Pan Alley Francis Aloysius 'Skeets' Harrigan
1941 The Great American Broadcast Rix Martin
1941 Sun Valley Serenade Ted Scott
1941 Week-End in Havana Jay Williams
1941 Remember the Day Dan Hopkins
1942 To the Shores of Tripoli Chris Winters
1942 Footlight Serenade William J. 'Bill' Smith
1942 Springtime in the Rockies Dan Christy
1942 Iceland Capt. James Murfin
1943 Hello, Frisco, Hello Johnny Cornell
1945 The Dolly Sisters Harry Fox
1946 Wake Up and Dream Jeff Cairn
1946 Sentimental Journey William O. Weatherly
1946 The Razor's Edge Gray Maturin
1947 Miracle on 34th Street Fred Gailey
1948 Larceny Rick Mason
1948 The Saxon Charm Eric Busch
1949 The Crooked Way Eddie Rice aka Eddie Riccardi
1949 Captain China Charles S. Chinnough/Capt. China
1949 El Paso Clay Fletcher
1950 Tripoli Lt. Presley O'Bannon
1950 The Eagle and the Hawk Capt. Todd Croyden
1951 Passage West Pete Black
1951 Crosswinds Steve Singleton
1952 Kansas City Confidential Joe Rolfe/Peter Harris
1952 Caribbean Dick Lindsay/Robert MacAllister
1952 The Blazing Forest Kelly Hansen
1953 The Vanquished Rockwell (Rock) Grayson
1953 Raiders of the Seven Seas Barbarossa
1953 99 River Street Ernie Driscoll
1954 Silver Lode Dan Ballard
1954 Rails Into Laramie Jefferson Harder
1955 Santa Fe Passage Kirby Randolph
1955 The Road to Denver Bill Mayhew
1955 Tennessee's Partner Tennessee
1955 Hell's Island Mike Cormack
1956 Slightly Scarlet Ben Grace
1956 Hold Back the Night Capt. Sam McKenzie
1956 The Boss Matt Brady
1956 Rebel in Town John Willoughby
1957 Hidden Fear Mike Brent
1957 Bailout at 43,000 Maj. Paul Peterson
1960 O'Conner's Ocean
1968 They Ran for Their Lives Bob Martin
1975 Columbo: Forgotten Lady (TV) Ned Diamond

Radio appearances

Year Program Episode/source
1940 Lux Radio Theatre Wings of the Navy[16]
1952 Family Theater The Promise[17]


  2. California Death Records – California Department of Health Services Office of Health Information and Research.
  3. 1 2 Flint, Peter B. (December 8, 1989), "John Payne, 77, Actor, Is Dead; Lawyer in 'Miracle on 34th Street'", The New York Times
  4. 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.
  5. Victoria Wilson (2015), A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940, Simon and Schuster, p. 637, ISBN 9781439194065
  6. Blank, Ed (January 26, 2006), "'360 Degrees of Oscar'", Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Trib Total Media, Inc.
  7. 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.
  8. "John Payne Hit By Car", The New York Times, The New York Times Company, March 2, 1961, (subscription required (help))
  10. "Anne Shirley Wins Divorce", Los Angeles Times, Tribune Company, February 20, 1942, (subscription required (help))
  11. "Gloria De Haven, John Payne To Wed", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 18, 1944
  12. "John Payne Weds Gloria De Haven", Los Angeles Times, Tribune Company, December 29, 1944, (subscription required (help))
  13. "Gloria De Haven Wins Uncontested Divorce", Los Angeles Times, Tribune Company, February 10, 1950, (subscription required (help))
  14. "Actor John Payne Weds Ex-Wife of Alan Curtis", Los Angeles Times, Tribune Company, September 28, 1953, (subscription required (help))
  15. "Framework". Los Angeles Times.
  16. "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. 42 (2): 38. Spring 2016.
  17. Kirby, Walter (March 2, 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 42. Retrieved May 28, 2015 via
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