John Howard Payne (May 23, 1912 – December 6, 1989) was an American film actor who is mainly remembered from film noir crime stories and 20th Century Fox musical films, and for his leading roles in Miracle on 34th Street and the NBC Westerntelevision series The Restless Gun.
Payne was born in Roanoke, Virginia. His mother, Ida Hope (née Schaeffer), a singer, graduated from the Virginia Seminary in Roanoke and married George Washington Payne, a developer in Roanoke. They lived at Fort Lewis, an antebellum mansion that became a state historic property but was destroyed by fire in the late 1940s. Payne attended prep school at Mercersburg Academy inMercersburg, Pennsylvania and then went to Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia. He then transferred to Columbia University in New York City in the fall of 1930. He studied drama at Columbia and voice at Juilliard School. To support himself, he took on a variety of odd jobs, including wrestling and singing in vaudeville. In 1934, a talent scout for the Shubert theaters spotted Payne and gave him a job as a stock player.
Payne toured with several Shubert Brothers shows, and frequently sang on New York-based radio programs. In 1936, he landed a contract at Samuel Goldwyn, and he left New York for Hollywood. He worked for various studios until 1940, when he signed with 20th Century Fox. Fox made him a star, in 1940s musicals like Tin Pan Alley (1940), Sun Valley Serenade (1941), Springtime in the Rockies (1942) and Hello, Frisco, Hello (1943). In these films, he was typically cast as a supporting player in love with the likes of Alice Faye,Betty Grable and Sonja Henie. A highlight during this period was co-starring with Gene Tierney and Tyrone Power in The Razor's Edge (1946).
To the Shores of Tripoli (1942) as the playboy son of a United States Marine Corps World War I veteran, he crosses his Marine Drill Sergeant Randolph Scott Payne's romantic interest a Navy nurse lieutenant, Maureen O'Hara. One of the top films of 1942.
Payne's most popular role may be his final film for Fox, that of attorney Fred Gailey in Miracle on 34th Street (1947). It is almost certainly his most visible role, as frequently as that film is aired during the Christmas season.
Later in his career Payne changed his image and began playing tough-guy roles in Hollywood films noir and Westerns including Kansas City Confidential (1952), 99 River Street(1953), Silver Lode (1954), Tennessee's Partner (1955) and Slightly Scarlet (1956). Payne was a contract star with Pine-Thomas Productions where he shrewdly insisted that the films he appeared in be filmed in color and that the rights to the films revert to him after several years, making him wealthy when he rented them to television.
In 1955, he paid a $1,000-a-month option for nine months on the Ian Fleming James Bond novel Moonraker (he eventually gave up the option when he learned he could not retain the rights for the entire book series).
Payne also starred as Vint Bonner, an educated, commonsense gunfighter, in The Restless Gun, which aired on Monday evenings from 1957 to 1959, prior to Dale Robertson's western series Tales of Wells Fargo. Dan Blocker, James Coburn, and Don Grady made their first substantive acting forays with Payne on The Restless Gun.
On October 31, 1957, as The Restless Gun began airing, Payne guest starred on The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford.
In March 1961, Payne suffered extensive, life-threatening injuries when struck by a car in New York City. His recovery took two years. In his later roles, facial scars from the accident can be detected in close-ups; he chose not to have them removed. One of Payne's first public appearances during this period was as a guest panelist on the popular CBSgame show What's My Line?.
Payne directed one of his last films, They Ran for Their Lives (1968). His final role was in 1975, when he co-starred with Peter Falk and Janet Leigh in the Columbo episode "Forgotten Lady".
Later in life, Payne, like former Daniel Boone series star Fess Parker, became wealthy through real estate investments in Southern California.
Payne was married to actress Anne Shirley from 1937 to 1942; they had a daughter, Julie Anne Payne. He then married actress Gloria DeHaven in 1944; the union produced two children, Kathleen Hope Payne and Thomas John Payne, before ending in a divorce in 1950. Payne then married Alexandra Beryl "Sandy" Crowell Curtis in 1953, and remained with her until his death.
He was the father-in-law of writer-director Robert Towne, who married his oldest daughter Julie.
Payne was a Republican and in October 1960 he was one of many conservative notables who drove in the Nixon-Lodge Bumper Sticker Motorcade in Los Angeles.
Payne died in Malibu, California, of congestive heart failure on December 6, 1989, aged 77.
He has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.