International Jewel Thief Doris Payne Does It Again! New Doc On Her Life + Halle Berry Film Update
Photo Credit: S & A

International Jewel Thief Doris Payne Does It Again! New Doc On Her Life + Halle Berry Film Update


She’s at it again! Talk about ballsy! 

Despite the fact that she was released from prison earlier this year after serving 2 1/2 years of a 5-year sentence (apparently she was let out early for good behavior), 83-year-old international jewel thief, Doris Marie Payne, who for 60 years robbed some of the world’s finest shops, was arrested last week Wednesday after allegedly trying to steal a diamond ring from a Palm Desert, California jewelry store.

Payne was charged with felony larceny and is being held on a $45,000 bond. 

I laugh at this only because of her age, and I suppose it’s easy to simply brush it off as something not to be taken seriously. But this woman is no joke. She’s been at this for decades, has been caught several times, done short prison sentences, released, only to do it all over again. 

Waaaay back in 2008, before S&A was born, some of you might remember the announcement (I posted it on my old personal blog, The Obenson Report) that Halle Berry had signed up to star in a project called Who Is Doris Payne, a Eunetta Boone-scripted, fact-based film about the international jewel thief, whose career spanned some 60 years, and who, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, happens to be black and a woman!

At the time, I noted how Payne’s real life story could make for a potentially riveting scripted feature film, and a plump role for Halle, in the hands of the right director.

A recap for those unfamiliar with the Doris Payne story… in short, she began her “career” as an international diamond thief in her late teens – this was in the 1940s. 

Her reasons? Partly to please and take care of her mother.

When I first heard about her story, I was reminded of a 2001 film called Lift, which starred Kerry Washington in a very similar role – an intelligent, young, African American woman who shoplifts from upscale, high-end department stores, mostly to please her very critical mother.

As noted previously, Doris Payne was caught, and served successive sentences in different states where she committed theft, which, I presumed, would likely continue until her death. But the authorities continue to release her for good behavior, and likely also because she’s now 83 years old.

As recently as 2005, at 75 years old, she served a 2-year sentence in a Nevada jail, on charges that she stole a diamond ring from a Neiman Marcus store in Palo Alto, California, and sold it in Las Vegas.

Following her term in Nevada, she was transferred to a prison in Denver, Colorado to serve a 4-year sentence for a similar crime elsewhere, and so on.

From what I’ve learned about Payne, she seems to relish this questionable, yet likely thrilling life she has led as a jewel thief for almost her entire life. Certainly, she has some regrets; but, at over 80 years old today, she’s seen the world, stealing from jewelers in places like Paris, Monte Carlo, Japan and more, and lived the kind of life many of us can only dream of, given how prolific a thief she was, stealing countless diamonds, costing tens-of-thousands of dollars each, and selling them for tidy sums.

What’s even more fascinating about all this is that, she was able to do this for decades, as a black woman, beginning in a time in our history when black people were already under intense, conspicuous “surveillance” and scrutiny.

Reading between the lines of some of Doris Payne’s statements, she will likely do it all again, if she’s set free again!

So what happened to the Halle Berry project? It probably died. At the time of the announcement, there was no word on when it would go into production, nor who its director would be.

It’s still listed on IMDB, but with no one attached in front of or behind the camera, with status listed as “in development.” 

I doubt it’ll ever happen; and if it does, it likely won’t be with Halle Berry anymore. 

In the meantime however, you should be aware of this upcoming new documentary on Doris Payne’s life, titled The Life And Crimes Of Doris Payne, directed by Matthew Pond and Kirk Marcolina

Here’s their summary of the feature:

A glamorous 81-year-old, Doris Payne is as unapologetic today about the $2 million in jewels she’s stolen over a 60-year career as she was the day she stole her first carat. With Doris now on trial for the theft of a department store diamond ring, we probe beneath her consummate smile to uncover the secrets of her trade and what drove her to a life of crime. Stylized recreations, an extensive archive and candid interviews reveal how Payne managed to jet-set her way into any Cartier or Tiffany’s from Monte Carlo to Japan and walk out with small fortunes. This sensational portrait exposes a rebel who defies society’s prejudices and pinches her own version of the American Dream while she steals your heart.

Not that I condone stealing, but I think this is an absolutely riveting story, far more interesting than some of the fiction that makes it to theaters these days; and while I’m certainly interested in seeing the documentary, I’d really love to watch a scripted narrative film, with the right talent and budget, on Payne as well. 

In addition to Lift (the Kerry Washington drama), the story also reminds me of Chameleon Street – another film about a real life African American con.

The documentary from Pond and Kirk made its world premiere at the Hot Docs documentary film festival, much earlier this year, and continues to travel the film festival and screening series circuit.

I’ve yet to see it unfortunately. I don’t think it’s screened in NYC yet, but I’ll be watching for it.

Check out its trailer below:

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