One of the great "lost" autobiographies of Hollywood Babylon history, I Am Not Ashamed is the memoir of Barbara Payton, the 1950s film noir star who acted alongside greats like Jimmy Cagney and Gregory Peck – only to be fired by the studios for her wild (and very public) love-life... and ultimately walk the streets of Hollywood as an alcoholic prostitute. But, as she says throughout, she is not ashamed of her life. She achieved rare success in the Hollywood system and went down in an archconservative era, when McCarthy threatened the country’s free speech and Hollywood producers ran terrified of even a whiff of scandal. When Payton's boyfriend, actor Tom Neal, pounded a concussion into his effete romantic rival Franchot Tone, the whole incident went public and made Payton the Hollywood bad girl - too bad, as it turned out, for Warner Brothers to handle. Describing her downfall, Payton also talks about her relationships with Cagney, Sinatra, Peck and other big names.
Lost for decades after its original 1963 release, I Am Not Ashamed leapt back into the limelight when Jack Nicholson lent it to Jessica Lange to help her prepare for her part in The Postman Always Rings Twice. Now Holloway House Publications has finally released this classic Hollywood tell-all.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
What if a star like Jennifer Garner or Charlize Theron were caught by The National Enquirer in a moment of graphic violence? If E!’s cameras captured her as she watched one of her lovers brutally pummel the other in a fit of rage, giving the actress herself a black eye in the process?
How would she handle it? Avoid the press, call her publicist, contact a lawyer? She’d be unable to control the thousands of images of her horrified face flooding magazine stands and Internet sites around the world, but the publicity would undoubtedly help her win more roles and hike up her fee per picture – after all, what man wouldn’t want to see her in a half-lit love scene now that flashbulbs had fed off her denials, dresses and tear-filled apologies for months?
If that’s all true, then the times have done more than change – they’ve earned a martyr and her name is Barbara Payton.
It was Payton’s bodybuilding actor boyfriend Tom Neal who pummeled a brain concussion into the effete thespian Franchot Tone while Payton looked on in 1951 (her willingness to accept engagements from both of them for weeks no doubt fueled the men’s anger). Yet their fight ended up being more crippling to Payton in the long run.
Only a few years later, this beautiful blonde star who’d acted alongside the likes of Jimmy Cagney in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950) and Gregory Peck in Only The Valiant (1951) would be dumped by Warner Brothers for her scandalous sexual adventures (remember, the studios controlled and contracted stars in those days). Then she’d slip down the grease pole of her new profession, high-class prostitution, until she hit concrete bottom – the street – and ended up selling her body for just $5 a trick.
But was Payton’s decline really a sign of the times? If so, she could hardly have picked a worse decade in which to reveal herself as a sexual "alley cat in heat" (as Neal supposedly described her). Any sexual deviancy was considered dangerous in the 1950s, so much so that a Republican Party chairman once claimed that "Sexual perverts... have infiltrated our Government in recent years," and were "perhaps as dangerous as the actual Communists." Much post-war propaganda, fueled by fears of nuclear war and images of happy couples setting up bomb shelters, emphasized the importance of a good family – anchored by a kind, submissive, domestic woman – as the key to keeping society stable in dangerous times.
Payton couldn’t have cared less.
In 1951 her shocking publicity blitz had barely begun. Next stop on her media train was a rush of stories about her visit to Tone’s hospital – by fire escape, no less – with what looked like martinis in hand to keep him happy while he healed. They even hitched up, but their union didn’t last much longer than the cases of vodka it took to fuel it.
This odd coupling of a Mae Westian, crass, lusty woman and a classy, wealthy movie star ground to a disastrous halt after only 53 days, when Tone filed for divorce on charges of "mental cruelty." Their reconciliation and inevitable blow-out was worthy of even more press attention, when Payton hurled a telephone at Tone and allegedly tried to kill herself on sleeping pills while he looked on in horror at a New York Hotel.
Even the Kinsey Report (which revealed the dirty secrets behind white Americans’ sex lives in the late ’40s and early ’50s) would have labeled Payton’s behavior "outside the norm." Warner Brothers agreed. President Jack L. Warner dropped Payton from the studio and left her to wander through the professional abyss of pitiful B-movies like Four-Sided Triangle (1953), Bad Blonde (1953) and The Great Jesse James Raid (1953).
Yet her personal life wasn’t stable enough to sustain even a low-grade career. That same year, her violence-and-alcohol charged relationship with Neal broke up and they went their separate ways, Neal to the eventual murder of his third wife and imprisonment in California in the 1960s, and Payton to the Los Angeles nightlife, where she turned to prostitution, drugs and finally the meager survival of a hooker on Sunset Boulevard.
But was her decline really a result of the 1950s? Would she have led the sexual revolution of the ’60s instead of being its martyr, if she’d only blossomed some 10 or 20 years later? Most signs point to yes.
The public support that kept Hollywood suffocated by anti-Communist paranoia started to weaken as early as 1954, when Army attorney Joseph Welch made his famous retort to Senator Joe McCarthy, "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?" A few years later, postwar wife and mother Betty Friedan wrote her groundbreaking The Feminine Mystique, urging women to pursue careers of their own and breathe life into old ideas of female independence that had been discarded after World War II.
Soon America would be trumpeting the likes of Gloria Steinem, Shirley Chisholm, Janis Joplin, Lolita, legal abortion, the pill, the Equal Rights Amendment and on and on; surely Payton could have thrived in the glimmer of this cultural flashpoint.
But was it just that – a flash? Did that cultural revolution peter out somewhere in late 1979? Would Payton really fare much better as a sexual outlaw today, where pre-packaged stars politely parade their boyfriend du jour up fancy red carpets? Would she fit in while unapologetically pitting one lover against the other, publicly boozing it up, attempting suicide on sleeping pills and rejoicing in her bad publicity?
Maybe the old adage is as true today as it was then, that a woman has to keep her sexual adventures secret if she wants the public’s respect – while a man (like Charlie Sheen) can count his lovers in the thousands and get nothing but a blink of an eye in return, and that probably a knowing one.
But Payton would prove such stereotypes passé on today’s Planet Hollywood. She’d find herself labeled right alongside the Courtney Love/Angelina Jolie bad girls and be enjoyed for what she is. After all, Pamela Anderson’s homemade foray into pornography didn’t hamper her primetime career, and J.Lo’s star didn’t really sparkle until she was arrested with her then-boyfriend Sean "P. Diddy" Combs in connection with a nightclub shooting in New York in 1999.
Who knows? If booze and drugs were to take the shine off a 21st century Payton, she might end up another Anna Nicole Smith on reality TV or a nasty girl living it up as an "alley cat in heat" in the now-hip world of porn.
But at least she would have a reason to live.
Los Angeles, 2004
"Attention all would-be actors, actresses, musicians, singers... Don’t let Barbara Payton’s sage advice fall on deaf ears." -- Dave Patrick, Spectator Magazine, June 15-July 1, 2004
"Barbara Payton has recorded a slice of Hollywood history in this readable book, indulging the reader in sinful gossip..." -- Players Magazine, June 2004
"It's a tawdry and riveting memoir." -- Grant Menzies, Willamette Week, August 2004
"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.
Book Description Holloway House, 2008. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110870671081
Book Description Holloway House. MASS MARKET PAPERBACK. Book Condition: New. 0870671081 New Condition. Bookseller Inventory # NEW7.1400988