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John Payne
Payne in Kansas City Confidential (1952)
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 (1937-1942)
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.


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, and he left New York for Hollywood. He worked for various studios until 1940, when he signed with 20th Century Fox. Fox made him a star, in 1940s musicals like 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. 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

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 married his oldest daughter Julie.

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]

He has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.


Year Title Role Co-starring
1936 Dodsworth Harry McKee Walter Huston
1937 Fair Warning Jim Preston Betty Furness
Hats Off Jimmy Maxwell Mae Clarke
Love on Toast Bill Adams Stella Adler
1938 College Swing Martin Bates George Burns, Gracie Allen, Martha Raye, Bob Hope, and Betty Grable
Garden of the Moon Don Vincente Pat O'Brien
1939 Kid Nightingale Steve Nelson aka Kid Nightingale Jane Wyman
Wings of the Navy Jerry Harrington George Brent and Olivia de Havilland
Indianapolis Speedway Eddie Greer Ann Sheridan
The Royal Rodeo Bill Stevens
1940 Star Dust Ambrose Fillmore aka Bud Borden Linda Darnell
Maryland Lee Danfield Walter Brennan
King of the Lumberjacks James 'Jim'/'Slim' Abbott Gloria Dickson
The Great Profile Richard Lansing John Barrymore and Anne Baxter
Tear Gas Squad Sergeant Bill Morrissey George Reeves
Tin Pan Alley Francis Aloysius 'Skeets' Harrigan Alice Faye and Betty Grable
1941 The Great American Broadcast Rix Martin Alice Faye
Sun Valley Serenade Ted Scott Sonja Henie, Milton Berle and Glenn Miller
Week-End in Havana Jay Williams Alice Faye
Remember the Day Dan Hopkins Claudette Colbert
1942 To the Shores of Tripoli Chris Winters Maureen O'Hara and Randolph Scott
Footlight Serenade William J. 'Bill' Smith Betty Grable
Springtime in the Rockies Dan Christy Betty Grable and Carmen Miranda
Iceland Capt. James Murfin Sonja Henie
1943 Hello, Frisco, Hello Johnny Cornell Alice Faye
1945 The Dolly Sisters Harry Fox Betty Grable
1946 Wake Up and Dream Jeff Cairn June Haver
Sentimental Journey William O. Weatherly Maureen O'Hara
The Razor's Edge Gray Maturin Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney
1947 Miracle on 34th Street Fred Gailey Maureen O'Hara, Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood
Larceny Rick Mason Shelley Winters and Dan Duryea
1948 The Saxon Charm Eric Busch Robert Montgomery and Susan Hayward
1949 The Crooked Way Eddie Rice aka Eddie Riccardi Ellen Drew
Captain China Charles S. Chinnough/Capt. China Gail Russell, Lon Chaney, Jr., and Robert Armstrong
El Paso Clay Fletcher Sterling Hayden and Gail Russell
1950 Tripoli Lt. Presley O'Bannon Maureen O'Hara
The Eagle and the Hawk Capt. Todd Croyden Rhonda Fleming
1951 Passage West Pete Black Dooley Wilson
Crosswinds Steve Singleton Rhonda Fleming and Forrest Tucker
1952 Kansas City Confidential Joe Rolfe/Peter Harris Coleen Gray, Preston Foster, Lee Van Cleef, and Neville Brand
Caribbean Dick Lindsay/Robert MacAllister Arlene Dahl
The Blazing Forest Kelly Hansen Agnes Moorehead and William Demarest
1953 The Vanquished Rockwell (Rock) Grayson Coleen Gray
Raiders of Seven Seas Barbarossa Gerald Mohr, Donna Reed, and Lon Chaney, Jr.
99 River Street Ernie Driscoll Evelyn Keyes
1954 Silver Lode Dan Ballard Lizabeth Scott
Rails Into Laramie Jefferson Harder Dan Duryea and Lee Van Cleef
1955 Santa Fe Passage Kirby Randolph Faith Domergue
The Road to Denver Bill Mayhew Lee Van Cleef and Mona Freeman
Tennessee's Partner Tennessee Rhonda Fleming, Coleen Gray, and Ronald Reagan
Hell's Island Mike Cormack
1956 Slightly Scarlet Ben Grace Rhonda Fleming, and Arlene Dahl
Hold Back the Night Capt. Sam McKenzie
The Boss Matt Brady
Rebel in Town John Willoughby Ruth Roman and J. Carrol Naish
1957 Hidden Fear Mike Brent
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 Peter Falk and Janet Leigh


  1. California Death Records. - California Department of Health Services Office of Health Information and Research.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Flint, Peter B. (December 8, 1989). "John Payne, 77, Actor, Is Dead; Lawyer in 'Miracle on 34th Street'". 
  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'". 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" (subscription required). The New York Times Company. March 2, 1961. 
  7. "Anne Shirley Wins Divorce" (subscription required). Tribune Company. February 20, 1942. 
  8. "Gloria De Haven, John Payne To Wed". December 18, 1944. 
  9. "John Payne Weds Gloria De Haven" (subscription required). Tribune Company. December 29, 1944. 
  10. "Gloria De Haven Wins Uncontested Divorce" (subscription required). Tribune Company. February 10, 1950. 
  11. "Actor John Payne Weds Ex-Wife of Alan Curtis" (subscription required). Tribune Company. September 28, 1953. 

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