by Hedda Hopper
Chicago Sunday Tribune
September 14, 1952
When he isn’t making a picture he’s out meeting the public and winning friends for Hollywood and himselfBy Hedda HopperAmerican movie goers have found John Payne. With the exception of Gene Autry, I doubt whether any other star has topped him in visiting cities, meeting more people, and selling himself and his pictures. Long before Movietime U. S. A. came into being, John, usually with a troupe of entertainers, was on the road creating goodwill and understanding between Hollywood and it’s public. He’s played as many as 23 cities in 17 days, making from five to ten appearances in each town, besides giving innumerable interviews to press and radio. His shows are usually tied in with some local organization such as the chamber of commerce for a children’s hospital. On one tour of our southern states, John helped raise 670,000 for the Community Chest.
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The idea for these junkets was hatched in the fertile brains of producers Bill Pine and Bill Thomas, for whom Payne has done ten pictures—all of which made money. The “Dollar Bills” – as Pine and Thomas are known in Hollywood because of their money making prowess—know their public relations and so does John Payne.“You just can’t make a picture and retire to your swimming pool,” he says. “You’ve got to know your public. A lot of actors think they have to be aloof and mysterious to be successful. I know better from my own experience. When I was at Twentieth, I was in 12 of the most popular musicals the studio ever made, but now I get four times as much fan mail as I did then. Handling it alone costs me $600 a month.“I make fewer pictures now,” John continued, “but I make the kind I want to make. You know, the government has done the actor a great favor with increased income taxes. That’s our leveler. We can just keep so much money regardless of the salary we make. So we can afford to wait until something we like comes along. Many movie people need more money like they need a hole in the head. So my personal ambition is to do only pictures in which I believe. If you don’t enjoy your work, the results are not good.”
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“How about your future plans?” I asked.“Well,” said he, “I have three more pictures for Pine and Thomas. We’ve got a new one, ‘Caribbean,’ just going into release. I think you’ll like it. It’s strictly entertainment. Those boys don’t stint on talent. The lead character roles are played by two of the finest actors in the business—Cedric Hardwicke and Francis L. Sullivan. Don’t let anybody tell you that Arlene Dahl, who plays the feminine lead, isn’t a hard worker. I like that girl because she’s such a real beauty she doesn’t mind if her nose is smudged or her hair is used. She’ll go places.”
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“Now that you’ve plugged that one, what next?” I asked.“You’ll like ‘Caribbean,’ he said with a grin. “So I may as well start talking about ‘The Rebel,’ which is being produced now. Then I have three stories of my own, which I’ll eventually make. And, O, don’t forget to mention ‘Kansas City 117.’ Own 25 per cent of that one.””What do you do with all your dough?” I asked.“I buy lots of milk for the kids,” he said. “I sign over all my film TV rights to them. Ten years from now they ought to earn them some money. You should see my three kids. They’re so strong and healthy and I’m mighty thankful. A housekeeper, wonderful girl I’ve had for seven years, and a nurse to take care of them. I’d like you to see my new house, too. It’s Swedish modern style; the swimming pool is almost indoors. A natural stream runs thru the lawn, watering the grass and flowers. Then there’s the farm down in Malibu. I grow corn, tomatoes, and strawberries on it. Clears me around $3,000 a year.”“How did you ever get into show business?” I asked.“By the grace of God and the will of nothing.” he replied. “I wanted to be a journalist. When my father died, he left me $1,300. I went to New York and enrolled in a Columbia University Journalism class. I somehow wound up in a class of Shakespearean research.“When my money ran out, I ran the elevator, operated a switchboard, and took care of a pool room. I’d been studying voice, so I got a job on the radio. Then the Shuberts offered me a part in a road company that did such things as ‘The Student Prince’ and ‘Rose Marie.’ I told the Shuberts I could do anything. They took me at my word for $40 a week. I ended that tour with $3.20 to my name.
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“But show business was in my blood by then. I managed to hang on until I landed a job as Reggie Gardiner’s understudy in ‘At Home Abroad.’ Freddie Kohlmar found me and brought me to Hollywood for ‘Come and Get It’ for Sam Goldwyn. But I didn’t land the part. Frank Shields, the tennis player, got it. After that I was dropped so often by studios that I was bouncing until Twentieth put me under contract, and you know the rest. I couldn’t complain because of my lack of work there. Twice I was doing two pictures simultaneously, playing in one by night and the other by day. The studio wanted me for ‘The Razor’s Edge,’ and I just couldn’t see myself in the part I was supposed to do. Every week for eight months I asked for a release from my contract and I finally got it.”“How about in the romance department?” I asked.“You mean the first team or the second?” he said.“You’ve got more than one girl?””It’s safer to have four or five,” he explained. “I’ve been leading a single life for over three years and I like it. But I want to marry again. All the girls I go out with like my kids. But then my kids like everybody. You’ve got to see them, Hedda.”I promised to go out and look over the whole shebang. John rose, stretched his tall frame and said, “I’ve learned more from my children than from grown-ups. They’re a great insulation for this racket we’re in. It’s a tough business, but anything that’s good isn’t easy.” He gazed at the evening shadows gathering over Beverly Hills and continued, “People can say what they wish about this town, but I like it. To be sure the whole truth is not told about Hollywood; but neither is it told about Podunk. This place has more talent, courage, influence, heart, and more malarkey than any other community in the world.”With that he tipped his hat to me and Beverly Hills, and headed for home and the kids. Nice guy, Payne.
Note attached: Thanks for the story, sweetheart!
Hope to see you soon!