Payton, Barbara (pulp fiction writer)



Barbara Payton’s I Am Not Ashamed, a sordid autobiography of lurid self-revelation, a warts-and-all (and then more warts) expose of the starlet’s rise and fall, is one of the eternal classics of pulp Holly-woodiana. Payton, a statuesque blonde from Clo-quet, Minnesota, was discovered by studio talent scouts in the late 1940s, and by 1950 she was acting opposite such stars as Gary Cooper (Dallas) and James Cagney (Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye). Pay-ton looked great on screen, but she got more attention from her famous suitors than she did from moviegoers. She found herself in a tempestuous love triangle with two actor beaus, the sophisticated leading man Franchot Tone and burly B-pic-ture lead Tom Neal (best known as the star of the 1945 film Detour). The men fought over her, and Tone ended up in the hospital with a brain concussion. She later married him, briefly. She then went back to Tom Neal, but this relationship did not last, either. Whether because of the bad publicity she had received, her lack of magic on the screen, her penchant for self-destruction, or just bad luck, her career jumped off the tracks. Unemployable, a boozer, money gone, looks gone, Payton’s life spun out of control with surprising rapidity and she landed in the gutter as a street prostitute, turning tricks for a couple of dollars or free drinks.

It happened that one of Payton’s regular watering holes was a dive not far from the offices of a low-budget paperback developer named Holloway House. Not yet having begun to specialize in the “Black Experience” novels of iceberg slim, Donald goines, and other writers, the owners of Hol-loway House were then in the market for exposes and exploitable showbiz stories. Payton, who had already told many of the lurid details of her life in a notorious article in Confidential magazine, now agreed to tell even more of them in a paperback topic.

Working by dictation, Payton spewed her story, from the first days in the movie capital, dating the likes of Gregory Peck and other big stars, through each stage of her decline and fall: the casting-couch incidents, producers peddling her sexual favors to get funding for a sinking B-picture, and the final slide into Skid Row alcoholism and hooking. Payton’s story was so sordid and her viewpoint so distorted by booze and bad luck by the time of the topic’s creation that her idea of a ray of hope in her life is the time a john helped her find a pimp:

One night I realized I was in bed with a Negro. He was gentle and kind to me. “You aren’t capable of running this kind of operation. You need a protector, a pimp. Someone who watches out for you, pays your rent, collects money for you.” He gave me five dollars. Five dollars! Then he gave me a name he suggested I call . . .

The pimp does right by her, at least by Payton’s diluted reasoning: “I never saw any money but he kept me eating and drinking. I was grateful for that. When I had time I would write poetry and my pimp liked it. He was proud of my writing. I had crying spells though and once a John knifed me because I wouldn’t do what he wanted. Thirty-eight stitches from my fleshy belly down . . .”

I Am Not Ashamed was released in 1963. The topic apparently sold reasonably well, perhaps nowhere better than in the movie capital itself, where, for a time, Payton’s outrageous revelations enlivened the chitchat on the Hollywood party circuit. The actress/memoirist wandered down to Mexico, where the effects of alcoholism and other ailments took their toll. She died at the age of 40.


  • I Am Not Ashamed (1963)

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