Please note: A few parts of this review have been pulled from my Amazon and Goodreads reviews of the book. As a fan, I am not ashamed to promote this on multiple platforms!
I read this book back in January of 2013 when I was insatiable for old Hollywood biographies. I was going through them almost weekly and had a wish list on Amazon about a mile long. One instantly caught my eye, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye: The Barbara Payton Story by John O’Dowd. I had never heard of Barbara Payton, but I was intrigued. The cover of the book was of a gorgeous blonde, but the summary on Amazon hinted that the contents were a cautionary tale, a true Hollywood tragedy. I ordered it immediately.
Since reading it that first time, I have gone back to it about 10 more times. It is, in truth, one of my favorites.
Barbara Payton started as most Hollywood hopefuls did: She grew up in small town America, married young, had a son who she adored, grew restless in her life and marriage and eventually left to give Hollywood a try.
A gorgeous blonde and a talented actress, Barbara should have skyrocketed to the top. In fact, she was set up to do so, her combination of looks and acting chops impressing none other than James Cagney who put her in his movie Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, where she shone. She was exactly the right fit for the studio she ended up signing a contract for, Cagney’s home studio of Warner Brothers, who loved a hardboiled blonde when they saw one. In the end, young and fun-loving Barbara was her own worst enemy, choosing to focus on nightclubbing, booze, and affairs over her career, which set her up for a series of unfortunate events that would ultimately end it. A love triangle between Barbara and actors Franchot Tone and Tom Neal that ended in violence ended up being one of the last straws for Hollywood and it was finished with her before she had even turned thirty.
I give great credit to author John O’Dowd who manages to present the many sides of the elusive Barbara Payton, without glossing over any of the unpleasant aspects of her life, but also not omitting the kind, generous, and loving sides of her. She was a proud mom, she was a party girl, she was a talented actress, she was an alcoholic. The book is a true character study of an enigmatic woman who fell from grace…hard. Barbara Payton would eventually slide into a life of drugs and prostitution, becoming one of Hollywood’s most infamous cautionary tales.
This biography is, at times, brutal to read. You have the desire every now and then to just reach through the pages and shake her, fix her, help her. A great deal of attention was paid to every aspect of her life, including wonderful interviews from family, coworkers and friends. Barbara’s own beloved son John Lee Payton writes the forward of the book. I greatly admire him for his participation, especially considering that some of the material must have been hard for a son to read, but I think I understand why he did, too. There is a warmth the book exudes for Barbara Payton, without putting her on a pedestal. To me, this is the truest form of love, the one that seeks to understand, to tell the truth without judgement. It recognizes that you can love someone who is flawed.
This book is exactly the right mix of personal information and filmography. It has behind the scenes information from her films, goes into great detail about her personal relationships, and is loaded with interviews from people who knew her. The photo section is vast and filled with some truly wonderful images (I have just found out, while writing this, that O’Dowd released a new book last month of Barbara’s life in pictures).
Overall, this is a 10 out of 10 book. No area is lacking. I started as someone who had never heard of Barbara Payton and now, because of this book, there is no way I can forget her.