Friday, December 16, 2005

John Payne is always remembered around the Christmas season because of his role as the leading man--the lawyer who defends Kris Kringle--in the holiday classic film, Miracle On 34th Street. Payne grew up in the area of Virginia I live in; his ashes were returned and scattered here following his death in California in 1989. And I now have in my home the large, heavy cast-iron fireplace grate that came out of the colonial mansion he lived in while growing up here.
We use it as a cat's bed; with padding, cushions and a spread it's just the right size for any one of our three cats to curl up in comfortably.
John Payne attended local schools and college here before heading to New York during the Depression to support himself boxing while pursuing an acting career. After moving on to Hollywood, he often appeared in musicals with Betty Grable and Alice Faye, as well as westerns and action films. He read the original Miracle On 34th Street story in a magazine and encouraged his studio to buy it and make it into the movie that has since become timeless holiday fare.
And about the fireplace grate: Payne's family homeplace here was lost to a fire in 1948 (long after he had gone on with his career). The parents of a good friend of mine were driving past the site one day and spotted this grate, saved from the fire, on the lawn of the former mansion. They asked if they could buy it, and did. It remained in their home for decades, was inherited by my friend about 15 years ago and, when he sold his house this year, he gave it to me--and the cats!


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