”Indian summer is like a woman. Ripe, hotly passionate, but fickle…” With those ripe, hotly passionate opening lines, published on Sept. 24, 1956, a poor New England housewife named Grace Metalious turned small-town American life into an open book. She called her fictional burg Peyton Place, but readers just knew it was modeled after Gilmanton, N.H., where the author lived with her husband and three children. Tidbits like that made the story of Constance MacKenzie and her ”bastard” daughter Allison all the juicier, and Peyton Place was soon selling 3,000 copies a week.
The book was banned in Indiana, and all of Gilmanton boycotted it — or so they said — but Hollywood knew a good address when it saw one. A year after its publication, Lana Turner and Hope Lange starred in a sanitized screen version.
In 1961, Jose Ferrer and Carol Lynley were featured in the movie of Metalious’ sequel, Return to Peyton Place. And in 1964, Peyton Place became TV’s first prime-time serial, airing at least two nights of scandal a week for six seasons, and making stars of Mia Farrow and Ryan O’Neal.
Metalious provided as much fodder for gossip as her novel. An instant pariah in Gilmanton, the 32-year-old Roseanne Arnold lookalike took off for Hollywood in her shiny new Cadillac in 1957. She split from her husband, a junior high school administrator, married and divorced a beefy New York deejay, then married and divorced her first husband again. The press called her ”Peyton Grace.” A Gilmanton principal sued and settled out of court for $300,000 because the novel’s lusty principal was blatantly based on himself. But Metalious never stopped calling Gilmanton home. She died there of a liver ailment in 1964 at 40.
And if the shocking truth be told, the town probably missed the old girl. ”This is an eight-party line,” she once told a reporter when she heard a click on her phone, ”and it’s getting so I’m better than CinemaScope.”
Sept. 24, 1956
Elvis was alive and well on the music charts with ”Don’t Be Cruel” and ”Hound Dog.” I Love Lucy was tops on TV. Fellow Americans were reading John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage, while moviegoers watched Kirk Douglas battle demons as Vincent Van Gogh in Lust for Life.