Thom Cuell wrote a phenomenal review of Barbara Payton’s I Am Not Ashamed in Minor Literature[s] that is sure to get you excited about this unique autobiography. He emphasizes the way that Payton talks about sexuality and subversiveness in Hollywood:
The idea that female sexuality is transgressive and deserving of punishment is a long established trope of Hollywood film-making, satirised by Wes Craven in Scream (1996) which codified the unwritten law, ‘you may not survive the movie if you have sex’. For Payton, this fictional conceit became a reality: ‘I had a body when I was a young kid that raised temperatures wherever I went. Today I have three long knife wounds on my solid frame’. No stunt doubles or prosthetics here, the wounds are written on her body.
She learned early that her body was a saleable asset, and this coloured her view of relationships. It is no surprise that she uses the language of economics to describe her love life: ‘I sold, they bought, and for years the demand was way out ahead of the supply’. At first, this exchange was transacted on an unofficial basis, with her affections bought by extravagant gifts or favours. Later, as her erotic capital began to decline, the arrangement became more formalised: ‘It’s funny how supply and demand, sex appeal and talent regulate a girl’s price. I found out soon enough that my price was a hundred dollars and not a cent more’. Perhaps unsurprisingly, her most treasured relationship did not involve sex: ‘I once loved a man who was impotent and I was faithful to him. He left me after a while saying it was unfair to me. But it wasn’t and I would have loved him for the rest of my life’.
Cuell also remarks upon Barbara Payton’s wretched end, and her take on her own decline:
Payton quotes ‘a kind of saying among the hip set in Hollywood that if the pressures don’t get you the habits will’. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the pressures and the habits haven’t changed too much in the fifty-odd years since she wrote I Am Not Ashamed. She wasn’t the first starlet to come to a disreputable end, and there have been more since (although few suffered quite such a vertiginous decline in fortunes). Ultimately, there’s a lot to be said for the lack of regret or hypocritical self-flagellation which normally characterises the Hollywood exile’s memoir. And at least she doesn’t try vaginal steaming.