Sugar and Spice and Some Not-So-Nice Ads Launch Tina Payne's Showbiz Career

updated 02/04/1980 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/04/1980 01:00AM

"Disgustingly poor taste," wrote one reader. "Sexploitation," sniffed another. The sultry, bare-chested photograph of Tina Payne—with the breathless caption, "Would you believe I'm only 10?"—shocked even Hollywood when it ran in an entertainment trade paper late last year. Not surprisingly, the fifth grader doesn't understand the fuss. "In that picture, nothing was showing, so I don't see why it's nasty," says Tina, now 11. "When I think of nasty, I think of—oh, dirt on the sidewalks."

But just a week after the ads for Tina appeared in the Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety, the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement slapped her mother, Dorothy, 42, with a $1,100 fine for, among other things, allowing "indecent photographs of a minor." She is appealing the decision and, unhappily, the campaign doesn't seem to have hurt Tina's career. She recently landed a plum job as a 12-year-old Southern belle in the upcoming NBC miniseries Beulah Land. Executive producer David Gerber claims that he did not realize Tina was the notorious nymphet when he gave her the part. "I really didn't like the ad campaign at all," says Gerber. "I think if anyone had mentioned to me that it was that Tina Payne waiting outside, I'd have said, 'Screw it, I won't see her.' It's lucky I didn't know, because she's a natural. She's scary, she's so good."

Tina's ambition is as powerful as her talent. The daughter of a wealthy Houston chemical plant contractor, Tina arrived in Hollywood last September with mother Dorothy and sister Tammy, 9. "We only moved out here because I wanted to be an actress," Tina explains. Her resume was already impressive. At 3, she entered her first beauty pageant, and soon graduated to baton-twirling contests. At 9, she won the "Our Little Miss" competition in Miami Beach, singing—significantly—"High Hopes." After six months of lessons at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute in New York, Tina was ready. "The move to Los Angeles was planned by the whole family," her mother explains. "Tina was always great at entertaining—even as a little bitty girl, whenever we picked up a camera at home, she would start posing. She is very competitive."

Retaining publicist Tom Masters, mother and daughter decided to strike hard and fast, leaving papa Joe and brother John, 6, back in Texas. "The Paynes are making a big sacrifice by being out here, splitting up their family," says Masters. "We wanted to cut through the long process of getting Tina known, so we set out to be deliberately controversial." They invested $7,500 for ad space and another $2,000 for glossies by photographer Harry Langdon. Langdon says he reacted with "chagrin, disappointment and anger" when he saw the ads, insisting that he never coached Tina to project sex appeal. "I simply told her to look confident," he recalls. "She wasn't sure what that meant, so I told her it was like going in for your test at school when you knew all the answers beforehand. She understood that."

So she does. Tina is the president of her class of 13 at Hollywood Professional School, and so far she's gotten straight A's. After school, she likes to rollerskate or watch television (Dallas, Eight Is Enough and Diff'rent Strokes are three favorites). But Tina wants to do more than watch other people on TV. "I'd like to be in a TV series by next year," she says, and the sexy self-confident look flits across her face. "I'm very competitive, and I'm going straight for it."

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