1 9 6 4 – 1 9 6 9 (USA)
514 x 30 minute episodes
Based on Grace Metalious’s steamy best-selling novel, this romantic and tempestuous drama was set in the small New England town of Peyton Place, a community seething with extramarital affairs and dark secrets of every kind.
It was the first major American soap, and also the first to be screened on British television.
The saga told of the lives and loves of the Harrington’s, Carson’s, Mackenzie’s and Andersons, and made complicated love affairs with breathless sex its main ingredient, and every episode ended with a corny cliff-hanger.
The link between two interweaving sagas was the town’s handsome Dr Michael Rossi (Ed Nelson).
One plotline was the pregnancy, miscarriage and loveless marriage of Betty Anderson (Barbara Parkins) to rich Rodney Harrington (Ryan O’Neal) who really loved the chaste Allison.
The other storyline was the love of full-time bookshop-owner and part-time emotional wreck Constance Mackenzie (Dorothy Malone) for Rossi, the only man who knew that Elliot Carson, the father of Constance’s illegitimate daughter Allison, was serving 18 years in prison.
Barbara Parkins made a fine foil to fey Mia Farrow’s Allison with her mane of golden hair. While Allison stood around looking little-girl-lost and squeaking in a Minnie Mouse voice, Betty set out to get Rodney Harrington by foul means or fouler and tricked him into marriage by claiming he was the father of her unborn child.
Conveniently, most of the seductions and murders had happened in the past, but the series was still tagged television’s first ‘sex opera’. Today it seems tame, with Allison Mackenzie remaining a virgin for 200 episodes.
In the course of her affair with Frank Sinatra, Mia Farrow’s hair was suddenly chopped off, leaving the show’s writers to explain why Allison now looked like Joan of Arc.
The fragile Allison eventually ‘disappeared’ mysteriously in a fog (when actress Mia Farrow continually upset producers by skipping recordings to be with Ol’ Blue Eyes).
Allison was not forgotten, however, and from time to time young girls would appear with clues to her disappearance.
The show went on. Betty, stunning but certifiable, married Steven Cord who had defended Rodney on a murder charge, then two years later remarried Rodney. Connie married Elliot, who had become the town’s newspaperman, before – in the face of dwindling ratings – Peyton Place came to an end with Dr Rossi arrested for murder, and Rodney in a wheelchair.
The town was named after patriarch Martin Peyton who owned Peyton Mill. Martin was the grandfather of Rodney but was not so aged that he was not able to marry young Adrienne Van Leyden – until her untimely killing in a struggle with Betty Anderson (an early soap-bitch).
Over its five years of production, Peyton Place employed over 100 actors and 20 writers who each took responsibility for specific characters. The set grew from a few houses around a square to include shops, a factory, a hospital, a fire station and a wharf and the plots grew so complex that new viewers could no longer follow them and the change to thrice-weekly episodes ultimately proved a mistake.
It sold to fifty countries, with eight million viewers in Britain alone. And so 8 million Britons became convinced that through the leafy backwaters of New England strutted a race of glamorous but guilt-ridden women with cupboards full of skeletons and with children fathered by the wrong men.
Peyton Place owed its existence to Britain’s Coronation Street.
In the early sixties, America considered soaps worthy only of low budgets and daytime slots, but the success of the Street in a prime-time position led American gambler-turned-producer Paul Monash to search for a similar product for the states. (He had originally considered buying Coronation Street but wisely decided that Americans would not understand Lancashire life or the accents).
Aiming for the same appeal but with richer more glamorous characters, he settled on Peyton Place, which had already seen service as a lavish 1957 feature film starring Lana Turner.
The main characters reappeared in 1972 in Return To Peyton Place (NBC), a daytime soap opera with an entirely different cast, but audiences were unimpressed and it ended after only 50 episodes.
Most of the original cast returned once more for a 1985 reunion movie called Peyton Place: The Next Generation.
Dorothy Malone (1)
Lola Albright (2)
Dr Michael Rossi
George Macready (1)
Wilfred Hyde-White (2)
Dr Robert Morton
Dr. Claire Morton
Dr. Vincent Markham
Dr Russ Gehring
Rev. Tom Winter