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THE BARBARA PAYTON STORY "Hollywood's just like Egypt. Full of crumbling pyramids. It'll never come back. It'll just keep on crumbling until finally the wind blows the last studio prop across the sands." --David O. Selznick in conversation (1949)

  1. Young Barbara Payton

evening san pedro summer of 44

yg barbara payton future filmstar

stands at the edgewater

gazing at lights of tugs

listening to lester young

"i didn't know what time it was..."

her soon to be blond brown hair

moving like a soft curtain in the warm wind

she is 17 & a yr out of school

sailors of san pedro call her BABS

whistle at her on th street

grab their crotches

an hrs ride thru compton

on the red car

she/s on central avenue

after hrs where she/d sing

then dance w/the negro hipsters

reet pleat dixie peach

bird blowing

wardell lester barbara bird

FDR stalin hitler


the second front

the goldbergs

tokyo rose

ezra pound


the dutch oven of bab's stomach

in catalia swimwear

holding a beachball

at venice

she wakes frm a dream

of falling

she is home in bed

a trailerpark

in paramount, california

her infant son cries out

in his own feverish sleep



carhopping at stan's drive-in

on hollywood blvd

the 'back dahlia' murderer

came in almost every nite

always ordering a club sandwich

& chocolate malt fm barbara

of course they never found out who he was...

32 yrs old sandyhaired bankteller

living in tarzana w/ his

sclerotic mom

he stopped coming by after

a few months

babs just didn't have

what he was looking for

but the others—



the bald producer

the hairyarmed cook

who sometimes drove her home

via mulholland

babs wd count the stars

out the back window

while he ate her

& cursed

& whimpered


Screen Test

all thru 1949

tiny organs of

little men w/

enormous cigars

& monkey gland

operations that

didnt take

passed across her

eyes endlessly

like a pornographic


til she finally got th

break she/d

been kneeling


& spitting for:

the femme lead

in a poverty-row quickie

called Trapped

barbara uber alles!!



yr test has been pirated by a man w/razorblades for eyes

it is perfect

the black screen bursts into a golden face

a pink tongue moistens a pale mushroom

it hardens, reddens

only in this theatre

are we truly alive

watching you shred the fabric of nite

languidly swallowing the semen of stars



still the new kid in town

after the fight w/ her date

she accepted a ride home

w/ a half-smart guy

who/d forgotten his real job

was to squeeze five grand

out of a pencil-moustached welcher

so they ended up 5 of them

in the black packard

moving east on sunset

to the new freeway

chet baker was on the radio

singing "i remember you"

& wind frm the open window

lashed babs' hair

against the welchers

hot fat face

the next tune was king cole

"a blossom fell"

babs hummed along

trying to ignore the flat

smacking sounds

the whimpers r

occo or guido

made the turnoff

on vermont

& 5 minutes later

he was walking her

to the door—

the perfect gent

she watched him saunter

down the walk

trying not to think

of the packard

as "the death car"

"and so to bed"

(she has an early call)

twinkle twinkle little starlet

seconal & sleepshades


Barbara Payton in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye

so many of her flick titles were
epitaphs for her life--
even Bride Of The Gorilla!

the other evening at the Meeting
i spaced a moment during mary/s
drunkalogue--wondering if babs
had ever drifted into AA

maybe she/d tried dragging tom neal
to one after he fractured franchot
tone/s skull?

the coffee/s black & strong this morning
5 mos w/out a drink

i wonder if barbara was ever involved
in armed robbery for real?

i thot how easy it cd be
w/ a cool blonde like babs
waiting behind the wheel


Summer Stock

barbara & tom
beleaguered lovers
method actors who thought stanislavsky
was a brand of cheap vodka

babs got the roles diana barrymore
was too zoned to play

tom kept mumbling what an underground
class DETOUR had been back in '45

they barnstormed the midwest
all that summer--bab/s heavy makeup
& the dim lighting helped
but tom blew his lines
missed performances


in muncie
joplin, missouri

life imitating art
barbara imitating life



it was close to a flophouse
& the jai lai sign from the
stadium flashed late
into nite

she tried to keep a full bottle
of tequila by the bed
& ignore the possibility that
a roomer had died there

yet the center held
the impression of someone
who/d lay down to sleep, then ceased
to move or be moved for quite
some time

she waited nites for enrique
to close up
listening for his steps
on the stairs

sometimes he held a rope
& a red rose-- other times
a butcherknife
it was a game he/d intuited
she/d enjoy

out the window, street noise
drowned the high sounds of
barbara/s orgasm--soft grunting,
spanish curses

morning/s alone, she/d hear him
opening the cantina
singing to himself

she/d stretch & reach for the
almost empty bottle
dreaming about the studios
across the border

or dancing at the mocambo
w/ mickey cohen
& howard hughes



the moon (as the tune used to go) was yellow
babs & i step out to buy a short dog
cruise central, turning on
to success avenue
to park & drink

she/s turning tricks out of a hotrod
lincoln, while i pump gas at a station
over in compton

"sooner or later, baby," i tell her
"our luck/s gotta change"

we drain the bottle & i ease the lincoln
back to the shooting gallery

inside, joanne has OD/d in the tub
& leon is jabbing a saltshot
in her vein

he slaps & walks her til she begins
mumbling abt AFDC, methadone & spinoza

somebody puts on "art pepper plus 11"
turns it up loud

a sweet alto & brown smack
from cocatlan
helping to build
a stairway to the stars


you sat thru tom neal/s trial
enigmatic behind foster-grants

he/d taken a wrong turn, a "detour"
so to speak--b-actor to hardmuscled gardener
who/d strangled his wife

after the verdict yr parents took you in:
barstow or banning or lancaster--
as far west as pa/s ford
managed to get
before the engine blew

you waitressed at the cafe
42, bloated, but still that
dynamite face

you collapsed one afternoon
in yr parent/s bathrm--
a shrivelled liver
or overdose of broken heart

sweating out yr last minutes on earth
on a vomitstained bathmat
while the Summer of Love
went on outside
yellowjacketed blue day
& pain


i thot i/d perfected yr death
yet last nite you stalked me
thru no-man/s land park
followed, ferret-eyed & broken-fingered
down the long path
past slides, swings & merry-go-round
circling the wind-ripped pond

spent 8 hrs in a 49 cent movie
a triple feature watched twice round

stumbled out to wintry sun
past vagrants, silent as

Michael Shepler 1988