imkittymyers at hotmail dot com
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
AIRING DIRTY LAUNDRY
I was in junior high when Peyton Place premiered on TV, "America's first truly successful primetime serial." Before the TV series, it was a movie (1957). However, it was Grace Metalious' book Peyton Place, which caused the greatest sensation because she had based her book on the town where she lived -- Gilmanton, New Hampshire -- and its residents. She aired their dirty little secrets in thinly veiled characters.
The poker players depicted in "Peyton Place" are the town's gentry and, while the book does include two haunting lakeside trysts, they involve summertime swimming, instead of ice. "Peyton Place" is not a roman à clef: It mainly distills, rather than exposes, Gilmanton. But somehow it felt like nonfiction to Grace Metalious' neighbors ; it spurred a few folks in town to murmur threats of a libel suit. And, Roger stressed, the book does culminate with a murder closely modeled after an actual killing. In 1946, a Gilmanton girl, 16-year-old Barbara Roberts, fatally shot her father, who had been molesting her for years, and buried his body in a sheep pen. In "Peyton Place," teenager Selena Cross likewise murders her incestuous rapist (in this case, it's her stepfather, Lucas Cross) and buries him in the family sheep pen.
"People talked about the dark things that went on in Gilmanton," Roger said. "They talked about them all the time, but not publicly. You don't put that stuff in a book. Seeing it in print -- that was excruciatingly painful to a lot of people."
It all seems so pale by today's tabloid standards. The book was a huge success, and the town understandably turned on Metalious.
50 Years Later, 'Peyton' Memories Remain
[I]n Gilmanton, "Peyton Place" was treated as if it had burned a letter "A" into the town's very soul. The author received threatening letters and calls and her children were taunted and ostracized.
Friends agree that Metalious was ruined by fame. She wrote three more novels, but never approached her initial success. Her marriage broke up, her finances were a disaster and her drinking took on fatal dimensions. Near the end of her in life, she became lovers with a British journalist named John Rees, unaware that he had a wife and children back home.
She died in 1964 of cirrhosis, at age 39.
Gilmanton did not mourn. Only in the 1970s did the local library stock her book and no plaques or statues are to be found in her honor. At the Smith Meeting House Cemetery, her burial spot is set well apart from the others,marked by a plainly inscribed white headstone arched sharply at the top, like a pair of eyebrows raised in anger.
Meanwhile, her novel, or at least the title, lived on. "Peyton Place" was turned into a juicy, but slightly tamed movie starring Hope Lange and Lana Turner, and later a wholly domesticated TV series, starring Mia Farrow and Ryan O'Neal.
It's all going to be headlines again now that a movie is finally going to be made about Metalious.
Bullock to Star in 'Peyton Place' Film
Sandra Bullock has agreed to star in a film about "Peyton Place" author Grace Metalious, whose million-selling novel scandalized the nation 50 years ago and eventually ruined the author's life.
[Grace] Metalious' novel of sex and scandal in a small New England town, based partly on Gilmanton, was published in the fall of 1956. Although it was banned in several cities, "Peyton Place" became one of the best-selling novels in history and led to a popular movie ...
In 1962 the little village of Morris, NY, where I lived, was consumed with a book about nearby Cooperstown and its residents. A pulp fiction writer by the name of Elaine Dorian had published "The Sex Cure," filled with titillating tales involving doctors and sex, supposedly based on actual people. The one anecdote everyone seems to recall to this day was the time a naked woman ran through town and ended up in a phone booth. I don't know if Elaine Dorian is a pen name or not, and I don't know if she actually lived in Cooperstown. Unlike Gilmanton, NH, Cooperstown still buys the book as fast as a copy appears. It was published in paperback only, and the copies are as rare as hen's teeth. It's the one book by Dorian which runs about $50 - $100 per copy. Maybe because, like "Peyton Place," it's airing people's dirty laundry.