Even if you aren’t a movie buff, there’s a good chance you can probably rattle off at least a few iconic actresses from Hollywood’s “Golden Age.” Judy Garland. Audrey Hepburn. Marilyn Monroe. But what about Barbara Payton? The name doesn’t carry much weight these days, but in the 1950s, you could hardly walk two feet without seeing the mesmerizing blonde bombshell.
Hailed as the next big thing in Hollywood, Barbara Payton had all the tools to become as legendary as the classic starlets we know and love today. But, as her troubled, scandal-filled personal life grew to overshadow her promising career, the rising star burnt out in a tragic tale too large for even the big screen.
Born in Cloquet, Minnesota, Barbara Lee Redfield always had a wild side. She was rebellious from a young age, and in 1943, she eloped with her high school boyfriend shortly after her 16th birthday.
Her parents were quick to have the marriage annulled, but just two years later, she wed Air Force Captain John Payton and took his name. The couple ran off to Los Angeles, where John enrolled at USC and Barbara began modeling.
They welcomed a son, John Lee, in 1947, but it didn’t take long for Barbara to grow tired of domestic life. She decided to give acting a shot, and in 1948, she was signed to a contract by Universal Studios.
By 1950, her marriage to John had ended, allowing her a full taste of everything Hollywood life had to offer. She became a regular at nearly every celebrity hotspot, waltzing in on the arm of a new man each night.
Payton seemed to go from one high-profile relationship to the next, bouncing between movie stars, producers, and even mobsters. She even had a fling with Howard Hughes, and she wasn’t shy about dating married men.
But Payton’s scandalous lifestyle soon caught up with her, and her career nearly ended before it truly began. After her affair with comedian Bob Hope – who was married at the time – leaked to the public, Universal released Payton from her contract.
The Retro Set
Fortunately, Warner Brothers took a chance on the young actress, and it was there Payton starred in some of her most notable films: Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950) with James Cagney, Dallas (1950) opposite Gary Cooper, and Only the Valiant (1951) with Gregory Peck.
Pretty soon, however, Payton was back in the tabloids, having begun a relationship with recently separated actor Franchot Tone. Still, that didn’t stop her from stepping out with notorious tough guy Tom Neal.
It wasn’t long before a high-profile love triangle formed between the three, and eventually, things got physical. One particular scrap left Tone in need of complete facial reconstruction, and even Payton suffered a nasty black eye from the incident.
This relationship drama soon took a toll on Payton’s career. Fed up with headline after headline about the actress’ rocky personal life, Warner Bros. placed Payton on a temporary suspension, costing her the lead role in Lady in the Iron Mask.
Payton went on to marry Tone, though the union ended in divorce just seven weeks later. She returned to the abusive Neal, and the end of 1951 saw her star in the critically panned Bride of the Gorilla.
With her career on the decline, Payton journeyed to England in the hope of finding a new start. Yet this was not to be, as British producers – eager to capitalize on her “bad girl” image – cast Payton in a slew of clunkers, including 1953’s Bad Blonde.
Payton and Neal split later that year, and after striking out overseas she returned stateside. But work was hard to come by for the former starlet, and so with John Lee – who was now eight years old – by her side, she was off to Mexico.
It was here that she met 23-year-old furniture store executive Tony Provas, who went on to become her fourth husband. The marriage lasted only three years, and by the end, she’d lost custody of John Lee to her first husband, John Payton.
Barbara returned to Hollywood for one last shot at redemption, but by this time, the damage had already been done. When the ’60s rolled around, Payton’s career was all but dead — that’s when the drinking began.
Her struggle with alcohol only seemed to worsen as the years passed, and she soon found herself a regular in police custody. More than once, Payton was arrested for passing bad checks, public drunkenness, and even prostitution.
She was even homeless at one point, discovered sleeping on a bus stop bench along Sunset Boulevard. At the time she was found, she was covered in bruises and wearing nothing but a bathing suit and sweater.
Her looks had also changed considerably, with wrinkles and blotchy skin taking the place of her legendary beauty. She’d also put on a great amount of weight, leaving her a ghost of her former self.
But even at rock bottom, Payton’s rebellious spirit never died out. In spite of her demons, she managed to pen an achingly honest autobiography called I Am Not Ashamed in which she went into great detail about the many trials and tribulations of her young life.
Sadly, Barbara Payton wouldn’t live to see her 40th birthday, as shortly after moving into her parents’ San Diego home, she was found dead of heart and liver failure. When the authorities arrived, Payton was so transformed by her years of hard living that they had no idea who she was.
Unfortunately, tragedy is pretty commonplace in Hollywood, and not even the biggest stars are immune to it. Another Hollywood icon dealt with plenty of personal struggles before making it to the top.
It’s hard to picture Meryl Streep in any line of work other than acting, but when she was growing up, her eyes weren’t set on the red carpet. She actually had ambitions of becoming a singer, and she was taking steps to make her dream a reality.
She enrolled in voice classes with the famous soprano Estelle Liebling. The teacher was incredibly strict, and Streep didn’t enjoy all her lessons, but she felt it was pertinent to her singing career.
Streep performed in school musicals where she could unveil all the hard work she put in with Liebling. She eventually went to the Yale School of Drama but still wasn’t entirely sold on acting.
In fact, there was a period of time she wanted to be a translator for the United Nations. For the sake of movie lovers everywhere, it was a good thing she opted not to pursue that particular career path.
The first professional theatrical bow Streep took came in 1975 for a play titled Trelawny of the Wells. Even though she felt a rush of excitement, she still wasn’t sure if she craved a life in Hollywood.
After she was turned down for a number of roles, Streep stuck with the acting. In 1976, she was in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, and that was where she fell head over heels for an actor named John Cazale.
Cazale was already a major player in Hollywood after his role in The Godfather. Streep and Cazale hit it off almost instantly, and before anyone knew it, they were living together in New York City’s Tribeca neighborhood.
The couple had been dating for about a year when Cazale was hit with a long period of illness. He finally brought himself to a doctor where he and Streep received the worst news: he had terminal lung cancer.
Streep wanted to be by his side as much as possible while he slowly succumbed to his illness. It’s said that the whole reason she accepted her Oscar-nominated role in The Deer Hunter was so she could be close to him, as he was already cast in the film.
Fortunately, the cast and crew of the film also pitched in to help Cazale. The director, Michael Cimino, played a large role in the decision to cast him, and Robert De Niro paid for the costly insurance he required.
Despite everyone making him comfortable, Cazale eventually became so weak he was transferred to the hospital. An emotionally-devastated Streep said goodbye to Cazale on March 12, 1978.
After news of Cazale’s death got out, tributes from all over poured in full of praises about the gifted actor. One of his good friends published a eulogy stating: “John Cazale happens once in a lifetime. He was an invention, a small perfection.”
Although wrought with grief, Streep returned to work. She was in demand after her role in The Deer Hunter, and the year after Cazale passed away she starred alongside Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs. Kramer.
Streep performed so well opposite Hoffman she actually took home an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress at the 1980 Academy Awards. While all this was happening, someone new had made quite an impression on her life.
A sculptor named Don Gummer, who was a friend of Streep’s brother, helped the two of them move the actress’s belongings out of the Tribeca apartment. Gummer offered Streep a place to sleep while she apartment hunted, and their relationship picked up speed.
It only took six months before Streep and Gummer exchanged vows in the backyard of her parents’ house. Friends and family were alarmed she fell so fast and were quick to chalk her decision up to rebounding.
But they proved the critics wrong. The two found true love out of Streep’s heartbreak. Although she still lived with the grief from Cazale’s passing, Gummer patiently stood by her side the whole time.
In fact, when Streep won an Oscar for her portrayal of the British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in 2010’s The Iron Lady, she opened her speech with a massive shout out to Gummer.
The couple has currently been married for over four decades and is still going strong. It’s amazing to think that out of such a dark and emotionally turbulent time after Cazale died the light of love shined through.
Meryl Streep is far from the only Hollywood star who was dealt a tragic hand on her rise to fame. Mariska Hargitay, star of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, suffered an immense amount of blows throughout her career, but she braved it all.
Her mother was the famous film star Jayne Mansfield, so drama runs in her blood. However, when her mother died tragically in a car wreck it would have an impact on the rest of Mariska’s life.
Because losing a parent isn’t hard enough, Mariska was forced to actually buy back all of her mother’s fine jewelry after her death when people sought to take advantage of the star’s premature passing. Needless to say, this was an unsavory experience.
After her mother died, Mariska struggled to overcome the tragic loss, something that became increasingly difficult to when people began spreading terrible rumors about the way her mother died. They were gruesome.
Though Mariska lost her mother when she was just an infant, it took her decades to actually process the fact that she had lost her mother and to deal with the wounds never knowing her left behind.
Just after losing her mother, Mariska also nearly lost the beloved step-mother who had become like a second mother to her and the rest of her siblings. It was a traumatic event that upset the entire family, and understandably so.
While you might look at Mariska and associate her with being on the right side of the law, that’s just TV. The truth is she once found herself behind bars! When you find out what put her there, you’ll totally relate.
Although she is considered a woman of wealth and fame today, it wasn’t always that way. In her early life, Mariska wracked up six-figures worth of total debt. There was time when she thought she would never be free.
The hits just kept coming. During what should have been the happiest days of her life, tragedy struck. Mariska was forced to endure losing her father to a very aggressive form of cancer in 2006.
Just like her father, Mariska has had health scares all her own. She was hospitalized in 2009 to receive treatment for a serious collapsed lung that had gone undiagnosed for quite some time.
After having her first child, Mariska and her husband Peter decided to try and adopt another so their son could have a sibling. The mother of the baby they were going to adopt changed her mind at the last possible minute.
The most important thing about Mariska is that, even though she has faced incredible odds, she remains positive in every single thing that she does and that message shines through in her actions.
Mariska is more than just a pretty face. While working hard at college and struggling to make it as an actress, she also taught herself to speak three languages all on her own. In addition to English, she speaks fluent French, Hungarian, and Italian.
Mariska is the founder and the president of Joyful Heart Foundation, which helps rape and sexual-assault victims. She was inspired to start it because of her work on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
While Mariska’s life has been one of countless hardships, she has also had moments of great triumph. One of those came as early as 1982 when she was crowned Miss Beverly Hills. She’s got brains and beauty!
Fame didn’t come easily. Even after shooting a starring role in the 1995 Powers Rangers movie, Mariska learned that she was being cut out and replaced with the work of another actress. Tough stuff!