Scandalous romances have been a fiber of the Hollywood tapestry since the era of silence. Few, however, have approached the jaw-dropping level of behavior like the steamy affair between actors Barbara Payton and Tom Neal in the early 1950s. alcoholism and murder ended their careers and led to a tragic downfall.
Former model, brassy blonde Payton made her screen debut in the 1949 film noir “Trapped.” She specialized in femme fatales, notably opposite James Cagney in 1950’s “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” but the following year she was starring in B-grade movies like “Bride of the Gorilla.” During this period, Payton dated Tom Neal, an actor whose best-known feature was the film noir “Detour.” However, she broke off the relationship after getting engaged to actor Franchot Tone.
In 1951, Neal sent Tone to the hospital after being badly beaten. Payton and Tone were still married, but she left him 53 days later for Neal, effectively killing their Hollywood careers. After their separation in 1953, Payton descended into alcoholism, drug addiction and arrests for check fraud and prostitution, much of which was detailed in his 1963 ghost-written autobiography “I Am Not Ashamed”. . She died of heart and liver failure at the age of 39 on May 8, 1967.
Neal moved to Palm Springs and ran a landscaping business, but didn’t seem to stay out of trouble. He was convicted of the shooting death of his wife, Gail Bennett, in 1965. Although he claimed it was an accident, Neal served six years in prison for the crime before his release paroled in 1971. A year later he died of a heart attack. attack at the age of 58.
If you or someone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).