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Barbara Payton: Trashy and Tragic

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I have written a few stories on old celebrity scandals and tragedies,but Barbara Payton may be the grimmest and the sleaziest story I have done yet. From all accounts Barbara was a looker from a very early age, and also learned at that early age how to use her sex appeal to get what she wanted. Her parents were drunks who allowed her to drop out of high school, since they didn't believe that education was important. She married at 17, but after she had her son she decided that rather than be a housewife she wanted to pursue a life a glamour and fame.

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Being the right combination of hot, easy, and marginally talented, she didn't have much problem making her dreams of stardom come true. She was said to have had affairs with most of the big movers and shakers of 1950's Hollywood, most of them married at the time. She finally met Franchot Tone, an actor who had once been married to Joan Crawford. She became engaged to Tone, but then met Tom Neal. Tom a another actor, but in smaller budget movies than Tone. Another thing Franchot and Tom had in common is that Tom had once had a fling with Joan Crawford.

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Barbara broke off her engagement to Franchot and started seeing Tom. Then Franchot and Tom had a confrontation over Barbara. Franchot Tone was severely outmatched and Tom Neal almost beat him to death. Tone had smashed cheekbones, a broken nose, and a concussion. He had to have reconstructive surgery to put his face back together. Barbara decided to go ahead marry Tone. But it was not a matter of true love conquering all. In under 2 months she had run off with Tom Neal again and Tone filed for divorce.

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This was too much of a scandal for even Hollywood to stomach. Barbara's career was basically over at this point. She got a few more acting jobs, but nothing that amounted to much. Her relationship with Tom Neal fell apart and now she didn't have her career or the man she wrecked it for. She was a heavy drinker and also started using drugs, falling into the trap of heroin. She started having sex for money, but even the appeal of buying sex with a Hollywood starlet began to fade as her looks began to decline due to her addictions. By the end she was only charging $5 a lay. She had bouts of homelessness and trouble with the law, a familiar story for junkies and prostitutes. After one court ordered hospital stay she went back to her parents to try to dry out. Unfortunately it was too late. She died of heart and liver failure. She was 39 years old.

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barbara-payton-trashy-and-tragic

Barbara has been cast as some as a pure victim. There is no doubt that she was a victim of misogyny, having to perform sex acts on many casting couches to get ahead. She was a victim of abuse at the hands of Tom Neal, who later went to prison for the shooting death of his wife. She was a victim of her own addictions which led two her decline as an actress and her eventual career as a streetwalker. But had she made other choices hers could have been a story of a woman overcoming great odds to make good. Had she had more time maybe she could still have turned things around. It wasn't meant to be though, and now she's mostly forgotten. She has her movies, and a shockingly honest ghostwritten autobiography, but when she is remembered now it is mostly for her scandals. Even those remembrances are rare.

© 2022 Gracchus Gruad

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