John Payne popular actor whose career spanned four decades


John Howard Payne was an American film actor who is mainly remembered for his 20th Century Fox musical films during the 1940s, including his leading role in “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947) and for his starring role on the television series “The Restless Gun” (1957-1959).


John Payne (May 23, 1912 – December 6, 1989)

John Payne
(May 23, 1912 – December 6, 1989)

John Payne was born May 23, 1912 in Roanoke, Virginia. Payne’s mother, Ida Hope was a singer and 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. Payne 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 Payne left New York for Hollywood working for various studios until 1940. He then signed with 20th Century Fox where he became a star in 1940s musicals like “Tin Pan Alley” (1940) with Alice Faye and Betty Grable, “Sun Valley Serenade” (1941) opposite Sonja Henie, “Week-End in Havana” (1941) with Alice Faye and Carmen Miranda, “Springtime in the Rockies” (1942) with Betty Grable and Carmen Miranda and “Hello, Frisco, Hello” (1943) opposite Alice Faye. A non-musical starring role during this period was in “To the Shores of Tripoli” (1942) with Randolph Scott and Maureen O’Hara which was one of the top films of 1942.


John Payne with Maureen O'Hara in "To the Shores of Tripoli" (1942)

John Payne with Maureen O’Hara in
“To the Shores of Tripoli” (1942)


John Payne served a two-year hitch (1942-1944) with the Army during WWII. After his discharge he went right back to work in the musical film “The Dolly Sisters” (1945) opposite Betty Grable and June Haver. Some of Payne’s best work post WWII was in non-singing roles in films such as “Sentimental Journey” (1946) with Maureen O’Hara, “The Razor’s Edge” (1946) co-starring Gene Tierney and Tyrone Power, and “Larceny” (1948) with Joan Caulfield. In what is considered by many as Payne’s most popular and famous role came in 1947 as attorney Fred Gailey in “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947) opposite Maureen O’Hara. The film also stars an eight year old Natalie Wood and has become a perennial Christmas favorite.


John Payne with Natalie Wood and Maureen O'Hara in "Miracle on 34th Street" (1947)

John Payne with Natalie Wood and Maureen O’Hara in “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947)


After Payne left Fox he began playing tough-guy roles in Hollywood film-noir movies and Westerns including “El Paso” (1949), “Tripoli” (1950), “Passage West” (1951), “Kansas City Confidential” (1952), “99 River Street” (1953), “Silver Lode” (1954), “Tennessee’s Partner” (1955) and “Slightly Scarlet” (1956). In a shrewd business move, Payne insisted that the films he appeared in be filmed in color and that the rights to many of these films revert to him after several years, making him wealthy when he rented them to television. During the mid to late 1950s Payne appeared in several television movies and series including “Studio 57”, “Zane Grey Theater”, “Schlitz Playhouse”, “G.E. True Theater” and “The Restless Gun”.


John Payne with Evelyn Keyes in "99 River Street" (1953)

John Payne with Evelyn Keyes in “99 River Street” (1953)


In March 1961, Payne suffered extensive, life-threatening injuries when struck by a car in New York City. His recovery from his leg fractures and facial scalp wounds took two years. In 1964, he co-starred on Broadway with Lisa Kirk in the Broadway musical “Here’s Love” and later he reunited with Alice Faye in a Broadway revival of “Good News”. Unfortunately he had to leave “Good News” prematurely as the dancing required was too painful on his healed leg injuries. Payne’s last feature film was “They Ran for Their Lives” in 1968. He finished his acting career on television during the 1970s appearing in “Gunsmoke”, “Cade’s County”, and “Columbo”.


John Payne with Alice Faye in "Week-End In Havana" (1941)

John Payne with Alice Faye in “Week-End In Havana” (1941)


John Payne was married three times. His first marriage was to actress Anne Shirley in 1937. The couple had a daughter together, Julie Anne Payne. They divorced in 1942.
His second marriage was to actress Gloria DeHaven in 1944. Their union produced two children, Kathleen Hope Payne and Thomas John Payne. Payne and DeHaven were divorced in 1950.
Payne then married Alexandra Beryl “Sandy” Crowell Curtis in 1953. They remained married until his death in 1989.


John Payne

John Payne


Late in his life Payne became wealthy through real estate investments in Southern California and after retiring from acting in 1975, he focused quietly on reading, writing short stories, flying and cooking.
John Payne died of congestive heart failure on December 6, 1989 in Malibu, California. He was 77 years old.
Payne has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

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