|Born||Marie Grace DeRepentigny
September 8, 1924
Manchester, New Hampshire
|Died||February 25, 1964
|Notable works||Peyton Place|
Grace Metalious (born Marie Grace DeRepentigny, September 8, 1924 – February 25, 1964) was an American author, best known for her controversial novel Peyton Place, which stayed on The New York Times bestseller list for 59 weeks. It sold 20 million copies in hardcover and another 12 million as a Dell paperback.
She was born into poverty and a broken home in the mill town of Manchester, New Hampshire, writing from an early age. At Manchester Central High School she acted in school plays, and after graduation, she married George Metalious in a Catholic church in Manchester in 1943, thus becoming a housewife and mother. The couple lived in near squalor but she continued to write. With one child, the couple moved to Durham, New Hampshire, where George attended the University of New Hampshire. In Durham, Grace Metalious began writing seriously. When George graduated, he took a position as principal at a school in Gilmanton, New Hampshire.
At the age of 30, she began work in the fall of 1954 on a manuscript about the dark secrets of a small New England town. The novel had the working title The Tree and the Blossom. By the spring of 1955, she had finished a first draft. However, she and her husband regarded The Tree and the Blossom as an unwieldy title and decided to give the town a name which could be the book's title. They 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 town in Texas). They combined this with Place and changed the "a" to an "e". Thus, Peyton Place was born, 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." Father Peyton was popular on the radio at that time saying "The family that prays together stays together." The family in her novel Peyton Place never prayed together.
She found an agent, M. Jacques Chambrun, who submitted the manuscript to three major publishers before it was accepted at the end of summer 1955 by the small firm of Julian Messner, Inc., owned and operated by Kathryn G. Messner. Another key figure at this juncture was Leona Nevler, formerly with Little, Brown and Lippincott, but best known in 1950s publishing circles as the person who saw the potential of Peyton Place. While still working as a manuscript reader for Lippincott, Nevler read the Metalious novel, realizing that it had too much steamy content for Lippincott. She passed it on to Kathryn Messner, who immediately acquired the novel and asked Nevler to step in as a freelance editor for final polishing before publication. Nevler would go on to spend 26 years at Fawcett Publications, becoming the publisher of Fawcett Books and also launching Crest Books.
In the summer of 1956, the Metalious family moved into a new hilltop house, and a publicity campaign was launched for the book, published September 24, 1956. Dismissed by most critics, it nevertheless remained on The New York Times bestseller list for more than a year and became an international phenomenon.
The town of Peyton Place was a combination of three New Hampshire towns: Gilmanton, the village where she lived (and which resented the notoriety); Laconia, the only nearby town of comparable size to Peyton Place and site of Metalious' favorite bar; and Alton, the town where a few years previously a daughter had murdered her sexually abusive father. Hollywood lost no time in cashing in on the book's success—a year after its publication, the heavily sanitized movie Peyton Place was a major box office hit. A prime time television series that aired on ABC-TV from 1964 through 1969 was a ratings success as well.
Metalious was promoted by her publisher in a photo captioned "Pandora in Blue Jeans". Commenting on her critics, she observed, "If I'm a lousy writer, then an awful lot of people have lousy taste," and as to the frankness of her work, she stated, "Even Tom Sawyer had a girlfriend, and to talk about adults without talking about their sex drives is like talking about a window without glass."
Her other novels sold well but never achieved the same success as her first. Return to Peyton Place (1959) was followed by The Tight White Collar (1961) and No Adam in Eden (1963), about Manchester mill workers.
Suffering from cirrhosis of the liver from years of heavy drinking, Metalious died on February 25, 1964, age 39. "If I had to do it over again," she once remarked, "it would be easier to be poor. Before I was successful, I was as happy as anyone gets." She is buried in Smith Meeting House Cemetery in Gilmanton. Hours before her death she was convinced by her final lover, John Rees, to sign a will leaving her entire estate to him, with the understanding that he would take care of her children. Her family was able to invalidate the will, but her estate proved to be insolvent from years of lavish living, overgenerosity towards "friends", and embezzlement by an agent. At the time of her death she had bank accounts totalling $41,174 and debts of more than $200,000.
After her death, Peyton Place resurfaced as the setting for eight novels by Don Tracy (1905–1976), writing as Roger Fuller, including Evils of Peyton Place (1969) and Temptations of Peyton Place (1970), but this series had only routine sales.
In 2005, novelist Barbara Delinsky used Grace Metalious and Peyton Place as a springboard for Looking for Peyton Place, her novel about the impact of Metalious' book on a small New Hampshire town, Middle River, where residents believe Peyton Place is about people in their community.
In 2007, the Manchester Historic Association and the University of New Hampshire at Manchester honored Metalious with an in-depth examination of her life and most famous book. The celebration, which included lectures, readings of her work and screenings of the 1957 film, marked the area's first public acknowledgment of its native daughter.
- Lent, Robin (2002). "Grace Metalious". St. James Encyclopedia of Pop Culture. Retrieved 2008-08-07.
- Metalious, George and O'Shea, June. The Girl from Peyton Place, Dell, 1965.
- Fox, Margalit. "Leona Nevler, Editor, Dies at 79; Shepherded Peyton Place". The New York Times, December 15, 2005
- http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/15/arts/15nevler.html Fox, Margalit. "Leona Nevler, Editor, Dies at 79; Shepherded Peyton Place". The New York Times, December 15, 2005
- AP: "50 Years Later, Peyton Memories Remain" at the Wayback Machine (archived March 16, 2006)
- Garner, Dwight (July 31, 2005). "Inside the List". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-07.
- Simpson, James Beasley (1998). Simpson's Contemporary Quotations. Houghton Mifflin. p. 311. ISBN 0-395-43085-2.
- Toth, Emily (2000). Inside Peyton Place: The Life of Grace Metalious. University Press of Mississippi. p. 309. ISBN 1-57806-268-3.
- Delinsky, Barbara. "Summary and Contents"
- "Bullock to star as 'Peyton Place' author". msnbc.msn.com. March 9, 2006. Retrieved 2008-08-07.
- Boston Globe, April 8, 2007.
- Find a Grave record for Grace Metalious (1924–1964)
- Vanity Fair article "Peyton Place's Real Victim" by Michael Callahan March 2006
- Grace Metalious at the Internet Movie Database
- Loren Coleman: "Peyton Place: A Contagion Model"