Peyton Place (novel)

Peyton Place is a 1956 novel by the American author Grace Metalious. Set in New England in the time periods before and after World War II, the novel tells the story of three women who are forced to come to terms with their identity, both as women and as sexual beings, in a small, conservative, gossipy town. Metalious included recurring themes of hypocrisy, social inequities and class privilege in a tale that also includes incest, abortion, adultery, lust and murder. The novel sold 60,000 copies within the first ten days of its release, and it remained on The New York Times best seller list for 59 weeks.

Peyton Place
Peyton Place first edition cover.jpg
First edition
AuthorGrace Metalious
CountryUnited States
PublisherJulian Messner, Inc.
Publication date
September 24, 1956[1]
Media typePrint, e-book
Followed byReturn to Peyton Place 

The novel spawned a franchise that would run through four decades. 20th Century-Fox adapted it as a movie in 1957, and Metalious wrote a follow-up novel that was published in 1959, titled Return to Peyton Place, which was filmed in 1961 using the same title. The original 1956 novel was adapted again in 1964, in what became a prime time television series for 20th Century Fox Television that ran until 1969, and the term "Peyton Place" entered the American lexicon describing any small town or group that holds scandalous secrets.[2]

A daytime soap opera titled Return to Peyton Place ran from 1972 to 1974, and the franchise was rounded out with two made-for-television movies: Murder in Peyton Place and Peyton Place: The Next Generation.


The story starts in 1937 and continues through the years following World War II. While never mentioned explicitly by name, the novel does make several references that suggest Peyton Place is located within the state of New Hampshire: Vermont can be seen across the Connecticut River;[3]: 189, 191  Lake Winnipesaukee is a short drive from the town;[3]: 146  a nearby New England town is called White River;[3]: 189, 197  a character is spoken of as attending the New Hampton School for Boys;[3]: 196  and several mentions are made of a lake called Silver Lake,[3]: 199, 200  of which there are four located in New England, three in the state of New Hampshire, in the cities of Harrisville, Hollis and Madison.

The fictional Peyton Place also appears to be a composite of several real New Hampshire towns: Metalious' hometown of Gilmanton, as well as Gilford, Laconia, Manchester and Plymouth, where at least some of the work was written at the Plymouth Inn on Main Street (the inn has been torn down).[citation needed]

Grace Metalious and her husband George first considered Potter Place (the name of a real community near Andover, New Hampshire). Realizing their town should have a fictional name, they looked through an atlas and found Payton (the name of a real community in Texas). They combined that with Place and changed the "a" to an "e". Thus, Peyton Place was created, prompting her comment, "Wonderful—that's it, George. Peyton Place. Peyton Place, New Hampshire. Peyton Place, New England. Peyton Place, USA. Truly a composite of all small towns where ugliness rears its head, and where the people try to hide all the skeletons in their closets."[4]

Characters and storyEdit

The main plot follows the lives of three women: lonely and repressed Constance MacKenzie, her illegitimate daughter Allison, and her employee Selena Cross, a girl from across the tracks or "from the shacks". Several characters and events were drawn from events in nearby towns and people that Metalious actually knew. Selena Cross was based on Barbara Roberts, a 16-year-old girl from the village of Gilmanton Ironworks, who murdered her father Sylvester after years of sexual abuse and buried his body under a sheep pen. In the novel, Selena kills her stepfather because incest was considered too taboo for readers at the time. Metalious' editor Kitty Messner made the change, much to the author's dismay and disapproval.[5]

Constance leaves Peyton Place for New York City at a young age and meets a man in the fabrics business named Allison MacKenzie, who already is married with children. Constance becomes pregnant with MacKenzie's child. MacKenzie dies a few years after his daughter, also named Allison, is born. Constance and her daughter adopt Allison's last name before returning to Peyton Place as a "widow" and child, and Constance alters her daughter's birth date to make her appear legitimate.

With the money she's saved as well as what she received from her late lover's will, she opens up an apparel store called the Thrifty Corner.

In Peyton Place, Nellie marries Lucas Cross shortly after their daughter Selena's birth, although Selena is not Lucas's child. Paul, Lucas's son and Selena's stepbrother, left Peyton Place after accusing Lucas of stealing his money. Nellie and Lucas later have a child together: Joey, who lives with the couple and Selena in "the shacks", a poor section of town. When Selena turns 14 years old, Lucas begins to abuse her, impregnating her and leaving the local doctor in a troublesome situation in which he decides to perform an abortion. The doctor makes Lucas leave town, and after she discovers this, Nellie commits suicide by hanging. Leslie Harrington, the richest man in town, is shattered when he loses his only son, Rodney, in a car accident.

Novelist Barbara Delinsky, author of the fictional Looking for Peyton Place (2006), summarized the storyline of Peyton Place on her website:

Peyton Place opens in 1937. With the introduction of the small New Hampshire town and its characters, the social strata are clearly defined. Most noted among the well-to-do are Leslie Harrington, owner of the local woollen mills, and his spoiled son Rodney, the good-hearted doctor Matthew Swain and upstanding Seth Buswell, owner of the town's newspaper. The town's middle class is represented by the book's two main characters, Constance MacKenzie and her daughter Allison. The impoverished of the town are represented by Selena Cross and her family. The town is a character itself, a seductively beautiful facade that hides a plethora of ills... Constance, who gave birth to Allison in New York after an affair with a married man and then returned to Peyton Place pretending to be a widow, lives in fear that the truth of Allison's illegitimacy will come out. Allison, who has few friends, dreams alternately about her wonderful father and about being a famous writer. Meanwhile, Peyton Place's power elite gather to discuss ways of manipulating zoning laws to rid the town of tar-paper shacks. And Lucas Cross, owner of one such shack, is abusive toward his stepdaughter Selena. Allison, who is desperate for a friend, grows close to Selena, who is equally desperate to escape Lucas and poverty. But the two girls have many differences. While Allison wants Selena to share her love of bucolic little spots like Road's End, Selena wants only to spend time at Allison's mother's dress shop and, increasingly, to talk with boys. Moreover, when Allison finally gets a look inside the shack where Selena lives, she is horrified by the squalor and the violence she sees in Lucas. Eventually, Allison and Selena grow distant because of Selena's closeness with Ted Carter. At the same time, a new high school principal arrives to catch the eye of Allison's mother, Constance, and to dredge up forbidden thoughts.[6]

Adaptations and character portrayalsEdit

Peyton Place was first adapted as a film in 1957 and entirely recast for its 1961 sequel Return to Peyton Place. It was followed by the soap operas Peyton Place (1964–1969) and Return to Peyton Place (1972–1974), and the made-for-television movies Murder in Peyton Place (1977) and Peyton Place: The Next Generation (1985).

Character Peyton Place
Return to Peyton Place
Peyton Place
Return to Peyton Place
Murder in Peyton Place
Peyton Place: The Next Generation
Constance MacKenzie Lana Turner Eleanor Parker Dorothy Malone
Lola Albright
Bettye Ackerman
Susan Brown
Dorothy Malone
Allison MacKenzie Diane Varsi Carol Lynley Mia Farrow Katherine Glass
Pamela Susan Shoop
Michael Rossi Lee Philips Robert Sterling Ed Nelson Guy Stockwell Ed Nelson
Selena Cross Hope Lange Tuesday Weld Margaret Mason
Matthew Swain Lloyd Nolan Warner Anderson
Rodney Harrington Barry Coe Ryan O'Neal Lawrence P. Casey
Yale Summers
Betty Anderson Terry Moore Barbara Parkins Julie Parrish
Lynn Loring
Janet Margolin Barbara Parkins
Leslie Harrington Leon Ames Paul Langton Stacy Harris
Frank Maxwell
Norman Harrington[a] Russ Tamblyn Christopher Connelly Ron Russell Christopher Connelly
Eli Carson Frank Ferguson
Elliot Carson Tim O'Connor Warren Stevens Tim O'Connor
Ada Jacks Evelyn Scott Evelyn Scott
Rita Jacks Patricia Morrow Patricia Morrow
Steven Cord James Douglas Joseph Gallison David Hedison James Douglas
Hannah Cord Ruth Warrick Mary K. Wells Ruth Warrick
Stella Chernak Lee Grant Stella Stevens
Jill Smith Joyce Jillson Joyce Jillson


  1. ^ Character is originally known as Norman Page in Peyton Place (1957), before being written into the Harrington family in subsequent adaptations.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Books Published Today". The New York Times: 25. September 24, 1956.
  2. ^ Haralovich, Mary Beth (1999). Television, History and American Culture. Duke University Press. p. 77. ISBN 978-0-8223-2394-5.
  3. ^ a b c d e Metalious, Grace (1956). Peyton Place. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9784871876162.
  4. ^ Metalious, George and O'Shea, June. The Girl from Peyton Place, Dell, 1965.
  5. ^ Farrell, Joelle. "'Pandora in blue jeans' lives on", Concord Monitor, March 26, 2006.
  6. ^ Delinsky, Barbara. "Peyton Place Primer" Archived 2010-12-09 at the Wayback Machine

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit