In 1930, John Payne left Salem, Virginia, where he had been studying at Roanoke College. He went to New York City to study drama at Columbia University and voice at Juilliard. To pay his way, he worked various jobs, among which was singing in vaudeville. In 1934, a talent scout from the Shubert theaters, which ran some of New York's most important theater venues, noticed him and offered him work as a stock player. He toured with some of their shows and occasionally sang on radio programs. With his star on the rise, Hollywood producer Samuel Goldwyn offered him a contract, and he relocated to the West Coast. After working for various studios, he signed a contract with 20th Century Fox. With Fox he became a star in movie musicals, often playing the love interest of actresses like Betty Grable and Alice Faye in films like "Tin Pan Alley" (1940) and "Hello Frisco, Hello" (1943). In 1947, he landed in his best known role, starring as Fred Gailey, an attorney trying to prove Santa Claus is real, in the perennial Christmas classic "Miracle on 34th Street". In the 1950s, Payne's gentle image gave way to one of the tough guy, and he started appearing in Westerns and noir movies like "Silver Lode" in 1954 and "Hell's Island" in 1955. He took on a regular role on television from 1957 to 1959, when he starred as Vint Bonner, a gun-fighting cowboy, in the Western "The Restless Gun".