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Chapter 1

For a country girl from a small midwestern town, Barbara Payton made quite a name for herself. Born to Erwin Lee and Mabel Redfield, on November 16, 1927, in Cloquet, Minnesota, it's been said that Barbara Lee Redfield was an amazingly gorgeous baby, with hair so blonde it was almost snow-white, and the deepest, most beautiful blue eyes. "Lee" and Mabel operated a combination ice cream parlor and small restaurant in a building on the corner of Avenue C and Arch Street, in the west end of town, and it was in their modest apartment above the restaurant that their daughter Barbara and younger son Frank entered the world.

By all outward appearances, Barbara's early years in Minnesota were carefree, if nondescript. A true child of the North Country, she spent the summer days bicycling beside the crystalline lakes and lush fields that surrounded the area, and in the winter, she and her friends went sledding in the hills above the Cloquet water tower. Barbara took an early interest in cooking and decorating and soon excelled in these areas. Indeed, they were skills she would carry with her for the rest of her life. On the surface, at least, it appeared to be an idyllic life for the little girl. "She was a very bright and sweet child," says longtime Cloquet resident Mildred Golden. "A happy child. Always smiling…always laughing."

"I especially loved the winters," Barbara later wrote of her childhood in Cloquet. "The cold, crisp Minnesota winters, with a blue-black sky at night and a billion stars you could reach up and grab by the handful. I think I made a wish on every one of those stars."

Seeking to better their lives, The Redfields relocated to Odessa, Texas when Barbara was 11, and Lee and Mabel opened a motel called The Antlers Court. By the time their daughter entered Odessa Junior High, Barbara was a stunning sight to behold. Mildred Golden remembers, "Her eyes were a striking shade of crystal-blue, and she had a gorgeous complexion. Even as a young girl, Barbara turned heads wherever she went."

Barbara had an engaging, if precocious, disposition, and a wildness that first became apparent at 15, when she eloped with an older boy from high school named William Hodge. Although her parents quickly annulled the marriage, Barbara's restlessness with her small town life had taken hold and she married for the second time at 17. Her new husband was a good-looking, 22-year old Air Force Captain named John Payton. Known to his friends as "Jack", he was-according to Barbara's brother, Frank-"an upright, All-American guy whose family owned a successful automobile sales business in Rockford, Illinois." The newlyweds eventually moved west, to Compton, California, where Barbara gave birth to their son, John Lee Payton, on February 14, 1947.

Though devoted to her baby, Barbara had harbored a desire to break into show business from the time she was a child in Minnesota, and it wasn't long before she was declaring--to all who would listen--that she was going to be a movie star. This caused a great deal of dissension in her marriage, and in 1948, Barbara again succumbed to her impetuous nature and left her husband to pursue an acting career in Hollywood. (While she retained custody of her son, Barbara and John Payton remained separated and were divorced in 1950.)

Following her move to L.A., Barbara carhopped at Stan's Drive-In, on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Highland Avenue, where she made some contacts in the modeling industry. Soon afterward, she signed with Rita Leroy, a second-tier agent in town, and by late 1948 Barbara was doing a lot of print work for various businesses on the Sunset Strip. This, in turn, led to a job appearing with seven other aspiring starlets and burlesque comics Benny Fields and Henny Youngman in a baggy-pants comedy revue at Slapsy Maxie's nightclub on Beverly Boulevard in Hollywood.

It was here that William Goetz, production chief at Universal-International Studios, first saw Barbara. Impressed with her onstage poise as Benny Fields' primary foil, and beguiled by her exceptional beauty, Goetz snatched her up and, in spite of Barbara's total lack of acting experience, signed her to the studio in early 1949.

With a starting salary of $100 per week, Barbara was placed in Universal's contract stable of stock-players, which included Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis, Shelley Winters, Jeff Chandler, Donna Martell, Howard Duff, James Best, Peggy Dow and several other promising young neophytes. Over the next six months, Barbara posed for countless publicity photos in U-I's portraits gallery, and along with her fellow greenhorns, studied with the well-respected Sophie Rosenstein, the studio's resident acting coach.

Barbara's tempestuous Hollywood journey had begun…


John O'Dowd

Click here to see images from Barbara's personal life here.

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