Saturday, September 6, 2008

Pugilistic Pulchritude

In my mind, John Payne was the archetypal second-tier leading man, the rather wan support to Alice Faye and Betty Grable in their string of higgledly-piggledly Fox musicals (Tin Pan Alley, Weekend in Havana, The Dolly Sisters, Springtime in the Rockies...).

In those pictures, he has the just-this-side-of-too-pretty allure of Tyrone Power, but not the charisma, and some of the insouciant charm of Don Ameche, but not, frankly, enough to be interesting in his own right.

But then I found this:

When I caught my breath, I decided it might be time for a reappraisal of Mr. Payne. I doubt either Power or Ameche could have carried off this pose, let alone those trunks.

It's a still by Hurrell from the very B-sounding Kid Nightingale, a 1939 programmer in which Payne tops the bill as a singing waiter turned boxer, supported by Jane Wyman, who by then had spent more than six years not going very far in bit parts and dreck.

I don't know that this one did much for either of them (it was six more years until Wyman really registered, in The Yearling, and Payne's years of looking yearningly at Grable before making way for another number were still before him), but it surely left behind one very compelling image.


  1. I always rather liked Mr. Payne; I thought he came off rather well in "The Dolly Sisters."

    As for this image...Yowsah!