TBT: Peyton Place – The original Suburbs Have Secrets

“Fifty years ago, Peyton Place helped create the contemporary notion of “buzz,” indicted 1950s morality, and recast the concept of the soap opera, all in one big, purple-prosed book. It would spawn a sequel, a smash film nominated for nine Academy Awards, and television’s first prime-time serial. A week before it hit bookstores, on September 24, 1956, it was already on the best-seller list, where it would remain for half a year. In its first month, it sold more than 100,000 copies, at a time when the average first novel sold 3,000, total. It would go on to sell 12 million more, becoming one of the most widely read novels ever published. During its heyday, it was estimated that one in 29 Americans had bought it—legions of them hiding it in drawers and closets due to its salacious content.”

Michael Callahan, “Peyton Place’s Real Victim”, Vanity Fair,  January 22, 2007

Anyone over the age of 50 has heard of Peyton Place, Grace Metalious’ scandalous 1956 novel. The book — loosely inspired by a real-life New Hampshire murder as well as anecdotes from her town of Gilmanton, NH — ignited nationwide controversy with its tales of sex, abuse and abortion  For Metalious to suggest such wanton and immoral behavior occurred in small town America was nothing short of heresy.

“You should write a story like Peyton Place,” my mom used to say. “Take a street like ours and write about all the secrets going on inside the houses.”

I can’t tell you the number of times we had that conversation. My mom standing at the kitchen sink looking out onto the neighbors’ yards. Me sitting at the kitchen table. Peyton Place was her benchmark of a great story. No surprise, really. Peyton Place dominated the the first decade of my life.  I was born in 1964, the year Peyton Place the television show debuted. My parents were convinced people would be naming their daughters Allison after Mia Farrow’s Allison McKenzie. So much so that they changed my name from Allison Barbara to Barbara Allison. To save me from being from being one of many.

Side Note: There were at least five Barbara’s in my graduating class. There was one Allison. 

Well, I finally did what my mom suggested. I wrote my version of Peyton Place. It may not be a searing condemnation of small town hypocrisy that Metalious wrote, but I think my mom would like it.

In case you’re wondering, here’s episode 1 of Peyton Place, the show that introduced the world to Mia Farrow – and gave me a different name.

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