I sometimes wonder how many tourists have visited New Hampshire looking for Peyton Place…
only to realize it does not exist… or at least not by that name.
In 1956 the Gilmanton area of New Hampshire was made warily famous, [actually infamous at the time], thanks to Grace Metalious, author of the then-scandalous book “Peyton Place“. It was on the New York Times bestseller list for more than a year, although condemned by ministers and most literary critics. Reportedly, Metalious never recovered from her sudden notoriety– Her marriage fell apart, her three children were harassed, and she received hate mail and threats.
In 1957 a motion picture based on the novel was produced. It was a major box office hit, and the second highest grossing film of 1958. From September 1964 to June 1965 “Peyton Place” was a primetime television serial which aired 514 half-hour episodes.
The scenes in the book raised local suspicions, as they appear to be taken from a combination of places, including Gilmanton NH where she lived, and nearby Laconia NH and Alton NH. A murder similar to one she describes in her novel– a young woman killing her abusive father and hiding his body –had happened in Gilmanton Ironworks just 10 years before.
Peyton Place film buffs will recognize Camden Maine’s Whitehall Inn and Mount Battie (where characters Norman and Allison kiss) as much of the 1957 film version of Peyton Place was actually filmed in Camden Maine. Camden’s High Street stood in for Peyton Place’s Main Street. When the film was originally shot, several other towns, including those in New Hampshire, had turned down the movie studio. Times have definitely changed. Now Camden Maine is celebrating “Peyton Place” nostalgia with film festivals and tours.
Although the novel may seem “tame” by today’s standards, Grace wrote about incest, abortion, sex, rape, adultery, lust and other topics–all the secrets of small towns in New England and anywhere. These topics had not been discussed before in a then-very-conservative United States. The book influenced American society in many ways, and the term “it’s a regular Peyton Place” or similar statements were used to describe any small town where interpersonal vices were rampant. According to one account, Grace said “these towns look as peaceful as a picture postcard, but if you go beneath the picture it’s like turning over a rock with your foot. All kinds of strange things crawl out.”
According to an August 1999 issue of the Boston Globe, at the time, Manchester Union-Leader editor William Loeb wrote that the book revealed “a complete debasement of taste and a fascination with the filthy, rotten side of life that are the earmarks of the collapse of civilization.”
The author of Peyton Place, Grace Metalious, was born Marie Grace DeRepentigny, 8 September 1924 in Manchester New Hampshire. She was the daughter of Alfred Albert & Lorette M. (Royer) Derepentigny. She married George Metalious, her high school sweetheart, while still a teenager.
George Metalious was born on 5 April 1925, in Manchester, to Theophanes “Tom” Metalious and Lena Klardie, and died 31 December 2015 in Rye, New Hampshire. According to his obituary in the Manchester Union Leader, “He served as a field artillery medic with the U.S. Army in France, Holland, Belgium and Germany during World War II. He was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for his unit’s extraordinary heroism in action.He earned his master’s degree at UNH. His life work was in education.George took pride in his gardening (what strawberry crops!) and enjoyed hunting, bowling and golfing.He is survived by his wife, Priscilla (Rogers) Metalious, and six children.”
They divorced Feb 1958 and she married on March 1, 1958, Baltimore, Md to a disc jockey, T.J. Martin.
She divorced Martin after 2 years, remarried George Metalious, and then separated from him. She had three children by George Metalious–Christopher “Mike”, Cindy and Marsha. She died 25 February 1964 of cirrhosis, at the age of 39. She is buried in Smith Meeting House Cemetery in Gilmanton, NH. A white marble tombstone, with the simple inscription, “METALIOUS, Grace, 1924-1964,” is all that marks the grave.
In March of 2006 AP reported that actress Sandra Bullock will produce and take the lead role in a film called “Grace,” about Grace Metalious’life and death, but as far as I know, no such movie was made.
Additional internet reading:
-A Novelist and Her Ethnicity:Grace Metalious as Franco-American (PDF)-
[Editor’s note, this blog post updated 10 November 2014]