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Best Book of the Year - Classic Images, 2007
Best Cover of the Year - Classic Images, 2007

Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye: The Barbara Payton Story is the heartbreaking saga of the wild and free-spirited actress who hit Hollywood in the late 1940s, equipped with little more than a suitcase full of dreams, a ravenous hunger for fame and a devastating beauty---only to see each one of her dreams destroyed by a disastrous private life that led her straight through the gates of Hell.

Gutsy, vulnerable--and doomed--Barbara Payton blazed across the motion picture stratosphere in record-time, only to collapse in a catastrophic free-fall from which she would never recover.

BearManor Media is proud to announce the long-awaited second edition of the authoritative and popular biography, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye: The Barbara Payton Story. Even against a backdrop of today's celebrity excess, Payton remains unchallenged as Hollywood's quintessential cautionary tale. Her public escapades, scandals, wrong turns, and eventual tragic demise still fuel articles in print and on the Internet, but John O'Dowd's riveting biography remains the gold standard for detail and authenticity. O'Dowd spent over ten years researching, interviewing, writing and aggregating a huge photo archive on the tragic, stunningly beautiful film noir actress.

Early on, Payton was considered by critics to have acting talent that could have made her a major star. During her steep rising trajectory, she was the mink-swathed lover of Bob Hope, Marlon Brando, George Raft, Guy Madison and many others. She co-starred with James Cagney in the hit film, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, but the irascible Jack Warner also punished her with the title role in Bride of the Gorilla (the film remains a cult classic, thanks to Payton's smoldering beauty and dead-on game performance).

Eventually, Payton's mythic, self-directed fury destroyed all opportunities and second chances. Alcohol addiction and lurid concurrent affairs with tough-guy gigolo Tom Neal (Detour) and suave second-leading man Franchot Tone delivered mortal career wounds. She provided reliable cover grist for the sleazerag Confidential and managed to attract the predatory wrath of all three "hag columnists," Hedda Hopper, Louella Parsons and Florabel Muir. Within a few years, Payton had plummeted from $10,000 per week stardom to $5-a-trick prostitution along the boulevards of Hollywood's "dream dump." As her descent deepened, she dictated a rambling, barely coherent autobiography, I Am Not Ashamed, to a hack writer in exchange for a few cases of rotgut wine. At age 39, her road dead-ended from liver and heart failure.

John O'Dowd pulls no punches in covering an often appalling story, but he reinforces lurid facts with an insight and empathy that Barbara Payton would have doubtless appreciated deeply while she lived.A second volume on Barbara's life and career, titled Barbara Payton: A Life in Pictures is now in progress. It will contain over 250 rare and previously unpublished photos of Barbara, along with commentary by John O'Dowd, Barbara's son, John Lee Payton, and family member Jan Redfield. 

A film project based on the BearManor Media book, KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE: THE BARBARA PAYTON STORY, is currently underway in Los Angeles!!

BOOK POINTS by Laura Wagner

Forget everything you’ve previously read about actress and party girl Barbara Payton. Throw aside your preconceived notions about her personality and motives. After reading John O’Dowd’s dramatic, fair and insightful Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye: The Barbara Payton Story, with a foreword by Barbara’s son, John Lee Payton ($29.99, BearManor Media softcover), you will have to do some serious rethinking.

This could not have been an easy task for Mr. O’Dowd. Today, Barbara Payton (1927-67) is not remembered for her accomplished performances in Trapped (1949) and Cagney’s Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950), or her camp classic, Bride of the Gorilla (1951), or, even, that she acted alongside Gregory Peck (Only the Valiant, 1951). No, as good as Payton was in these films, her reputation rests on two things: the Franchot Tone/Tom Neal brawl for her affections, and her outrageous 1960s memoir, I Am Not Ashamed, where it was revealed that she became a prostitute when her movie days ended.

But to base your judgment of Payton on these two things would be too narrow-minded, too simplistic. She wasn’t evil, as many have made her out to be. She was human. She made mistakes.

But I only partially agree with the author that Hollywood was mostly to blame. The town didn’t exactly chew her up and spit her out. Hollywood was brutal, and never forgave her, but her mistakes were of her own making. O’Dowd knows her faults and your wrong decisions and is unflinching about them, but the urge to make Hollywood an “evil town” springs up more than once. (“First, Hollywood takes your body. Then, it takes your soul. Once it has both of those things, it has no use for you anymore.”) Yes, Hollywood contributed to her downfall, but it wasn’t the cause.

Be that as it may, one can’t help but feel sorry for Barbara Payton, and in this book O’Dowd has done a truly remarkable thing. Other authors have taken the standard, accusatory stance, defining her character by focusing on her scandals. O’Dowd, on the other hand, seems to see into her soul, bringing out the good side so seldom (if ever) mentioned. This insight is sadly missing in other profiles of Payton. O’Dowd makes us care for this lady, so that when her downfall comes so early in her life, you feel compassion for her. Even during all the problems with the law, our sympathy is still with her. Payton is shown to be hopelessly stuck, unable to escape the life she made for herself.

O’Dowd’s ability to make us see Barbara Payton as a human being is impressive. To do this, he not only had to break out of the stereotypical mold used by others, but also he had to go that extra mile in his research and writing. His extra effort pays off big time, elevating his text far above the tabloid-style writing that dominates too many celebrity bios.

A big, big plus is the collection of interviews the author conducted in the nearly ten years he researched this book. He interviewed family members, co-workers, and acquaintances, resulting in an almost astonishing day-by-day record of what Payton was doing. I know from experience that people close to controversial subjects tend to clam up. In this day and age of sensationalized biographies, who’s to know how an author will handle the information he is given? It’s a credit to John O’Dowd’s skills as a writer, coupled with his personal sensitivity, that he was trusted with the inside stories he gets here. It says a lot that Barbara’s son, who has remained silent all these years, decided to not only be interviewed, but also wrote the touching foreword.

O’Dowd strikes a balance that is very rare, especially considering the alcohol, sex, drugs, hot tempers, suicide attempts, “frantic” searches for attention, and crime that make up much of this book. Remarkably, you never feel as if O’Dowd is exploiting Barbara. Here it is, he says, this is what happened, but, wait, here are the reasons why. It all adds up to a real page-turner, but one that is a thought-provoking, cautionary tale.

This is quite a feat for a nearly 500-page book. As good as it is, however, it is not perfect. There’s some repetition, especially near the end. After she passes away, O’Dowd goes on for almost thirty more pages so everyone who knows her can again tell us their opinions about her. It doesn’t seriously hamper the text, but it was too much for me. However, John O’Dowd is a good writer, and although I found this part superfluous, it was all very well written.

       The photos, over 200 of them, many never before published, are simply magnificent. I especially enjoyed the photos of some of the places (bars, motels, etc.) where Barbara hung out. I recall someone complaining online that Barbara wasn’t in these shots. However, I found the often-dirty-looking places eerily atmospheric and fascinating.

I couldn’t have predicted my reaction to this book. All I’ve ever known about Barbara was what others knew: She was a bad girl. After all, didn’t she destroy both Franchot Tone’s and Tom Neal’s lives? Didn’t that “vixen” play the two against each other? After reading this, however, I finally saw the whole picture. And, I must say, I saw Barbara not as the one-dimensional figure the newspapers painted of her as, but as a directionless person who just made those wrong decisions. No other book or article has managed this on Payton. Especially with her sad, heart-wrenching relationship with her son, you understand what was happening with her.

With a life like Barbara’s, a biographer could have been tempted to gloss over her work. After all, her career was not that important even to her in the beginning. But, O’Dowd discusses each film, with the right amount of details (no excessive plots, thank goodness): Silver Butte (1949), Pecos Pistol (1949), Once More, My Darling (1949), Trapped (1949), Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950), Dallas (1950), Only the Valiant (1950), Drums in the Deep South (1951), Bride of the Gorilla (1951), Four Sided Triangle (1952), Bad Blonde (1952), Run for the Hills (1953), The Great Jesse James Raid (1953), and Murder Is My Beat (1955). I like the way he handled the films, especially in regard to her performances. I disagreed with his assessment of Bad Blonde, but reveled in his lively report on the campy Run for the Hills.

Another indication of the intelligence of O’Dowd’s writing is seen in his fairness to the people in Barbara’s life. Onetime husband Franchot Tone and boyfriend Tom Neal are not pitted against each other here. While others depict Tom Neal as a bad force in her life, O’Dowd treats him impartially, giving us both the good and the bad. Tone, too, could have come across as a stodgy obstacle between the love Payton and Neal’s shared for each other. Frankly, this is how these two men are always portrayed by other writers. For insight into Neal, O’Dowd interviewed his nephew who stayed with Neal and Payton. For Franchot Tone, O’Dowd had the good fortune to be assisted by his official biographer, Lisa Burks. (Lisa’s book on Tone will be released sometime in late 2008 by BearManor Media.) I was greatly impressed by the insight that both the nephew and Lisa possess.

Barbara Payton had plenty of troubles in her life. She does not need more criticism from unfeeling enemies who routinely condemn her. One author even calls Barbara “a monster” and has the audacity to compare her to Hitler! Clearly, she needs a champion, and she gets a good one in John O’Dowd.

Then you have the heartfelt words of her son, who well remembers the loving mother who was taken away from him. I am not embarrassed to say that I got choked up reading his foreword and his memories of his loving mother. “I think about her in some way, every single day,” John Lee Payton says. “In my mind there is little notice today of the tortured movie star, or the ruin visited upon her. There is only the simple love a child feels for his mother, a kind of awe and wonder, and a yearning to return once more to that sweet embrace, to feel her happy kiss and the secure certainty of being held safe within her arms. These are the feelings I have for my mother, and nothing, or no one, can touch them.”

Another family member says, “No matter how short her fame, and no matter how short her life, Barbara has had a long lasting effect on the people who really knew her.” This is the enduring message here. The beauty of this book is found in the way the author allows her family’s love to shine through the horrors of her life. I respect and admire John O’Dowd for finding the light in the darkness. Barbara Payton’s emotionally-draining life finally makes sense.

From Van Helsing's Journal

Undertaken with the complete cooperation of Payton's estate and featuring a foreword penned by her son, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye neither sensationalizes nor trivializes the life of this tormented and irrevocably damaged soul. Despite an obvious empathy for his subject O'Dowd manages to tread a fine line between partisan and impartial, and makes no effect either to moralize or sugarcoat the degradation of Payton's final years. He quotes both from extensive interviews with Payton's surviving friends, family, co-stars and associates, as well as from abundant contemporary source material, and in doing so paints the definitive picture of this singular, sad life.

O'Dowd's book is dotted with some 250 photographs, many of them extremely rare, detailing every phase of Payton's turbulent existence. Those taken in 1949 and 1950 prove a heartrending counter to later shots depicting the dissolute starlet's descent into alcoholism; gone is the confident, stunningly beautiful actress whose lasting success is all but assured, and in her stead sits a plump, waxen and slightly stunned looking figure, one who, perhaps, never fully came to terms with the cruel and unexpected twist the last decade of her life would take.

Barbara Payton spent a few all-too-short years in the limelight, and the bulk of her remaining years enshadowed in addiction and self-loathing. The present work more than atones for previous biographical missteps, such as Payton's tawdrily ghostwritten 1963 memoir I Am Not Ashamed, and is, to paraphrase its author, most definitely a book that needed to be written. Though it is a harrowing and by no means easy journey, this comprehensive exploration of the film industry's seamy underbelly ultimately stands as one of the most well-crafted and solidly researched celebrity biographies of recent memory, and a deftly compelling dissection of one Hollywood dream that more closely resembled a nightmare.

Visit this book's official website

Review from Digital Retribution

Review in the Canyon News

Another Review from the Canyon News

Watch the book trailer on YouTube

Article in The Bay Area Reporter

Review from Plan 9 Crunch blog

Article from the Standard Examiner

Jim Junot interviews John O'Dowd, author of Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye: The Barbara Payton Story

Review from BlogCritics

From the Duluth News Tribune: Cloquet native shot to fame in 1950s, then quickly fell to the depths