Home Arts and Leisure Peyton Place – A Town, Its Scandals and the Woman Who Told the World

Peyton Place – A Town, Its Scandals and the Woman Who Told the World


The dirty novel Peyton Place landed like a bombshell in 1956, a surprise hit by an unknown author. The critics panned it, the public loved it, the town it pictured resented it – and for the next 13 years it was a staple of American entertainment.

Grace Metalious

Grace Metalious

Peyton Place became shorthand for secret scandals, mostly involving sex. Its author, Grace Metalious, was a New Hampshire schoolteacher’s wife whose own scandals were anything but secret. She was a mother of three and, by all accounts, a lousy housewife who drank, swore, wore baggy jeans and cheated on her husband.

She based some of Peyton Place on the town she lived in with her family, Gilmanton, N.H.

“To a tourist these towns look as peaceful as a postcard picture,” Metalious once said.  “But if you go beneath that picture, it’s like turning over a rock with your foot — all kinds of strange things crawl out.”

The people of Gilmanton felt victimized by Peyton Place, but it was Grace Metalious who was the book’s real victim.

Grace Metalious

Metalious was born Grace de Repentigny on Sept. 8, 1924, to poor Franco-American parents in Manchester, N.H. Her father, a merchant seaman, left the family when she was 10.

She graduated from Central High School, married George Metalious at 19, and gave birth to three children. Since her childhood she dreamed of being a writer. She began writing Peyton Place at 30, while George taught school in Gilmanton.


Scene from Peyton Place, the film

The fictional town of Peyton Place has shady streets, white church steeples, traditional New England houses and brick mills along the Connecticut River. But beneath the bucolic surface lurk ugly secrets.

In the book, Rodney Harrington, a rich kid, dies in a car crash while ogling a topless women driving with him, and Constance MacKenzie lives in fear that the illegitimacy of her daughter will be discovered.  Metalious based the character of Selena Cross on a woman from Alton, N.H., who killed her father after he raped her. The story was uncovered by crusading reporters including a young Ben Bradlee.

She insisted Peyton Place was based on several places in New Hampshire – including Durham, where her husband attended the University of New Hampshire; Gilmanton, where he taught school; and Laconia, where her favorite bar was located.

Peyton Place, The Book

The book Peyton Place, published in 1956, was a smash hit, selling 100,000 copies in the first month. The average first novel sold 3,000 copies — if the author was lucky enough to get it published.


Promo for the film Peyton Place.

Critics trashed the book. Manchester Union-Leader publisher William Loeb called it ‘filthy sewage.’ Grace Metalious responded,  “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.”

Peyton Place was one of the most widely read novels in American history. One in 29 Americans read it (mostly in secret), according to one estimate.

“If I’m a lousy writer, then an awful lot of people have lousy taste,” Metalious said.


Peyton Place was followed in 1957 by a hit movie of the same name starring Lana Turner and set in Camden, Maine. As many as 500 locals appeared as extras.

Lana Turner and betty Field in Peyton Place.

At first Peyton Place didn’t attract many moviegoers, but then Lana Turner’s daughter stabbed Turner’s boyfriend, Johnny Stompanato, and the film took off. It received nine Academy Award nominations.

The book and the movie made Grace Metalious rich — and reckless. She carried on a stormy affair with a Laconia DJ, divorced her husband and burned through millions of dollars. She took a floor at the Plaza hotel, ordered champagne by the case and flew chartered flights to the Caribbean.

Downward Spiral

Grace Metalious wrote three more books, none of which sold as well as Peyton Place. For the last five years of her life, she drank a fifth of liquor every day.

Grace Metalious in 1957

She dumped her Laconia DJ, reunited with George Metalious and parted again. Then she had an affair with a married British journalist. On a trip to Boston, she collapsed and ended up in Beth Israel Hospital. Grace Metalious died days later on Feb. 25, 1964, of cirrhosis of the liver.

Hours before she died, she changed her will to leave her entire estate to her British lover, who promised to take care of her children. Her family successfully contested the will, but it turned out she had $41,174 in the bank and debts of more than $200,000. Years of high living, gifts to friends and an embezzling agent left her insolvent.


Promotional photo showing the cast of Peyton Place in 1968.

In 1964, seven months after Grace Metalious died, ABC aired a prime-time soap opera based on the novel. (The producer refused to call it a soap opera, instead calling it a ‘high-class anthology drama.’) It launched the careers of Mia Farrow and Ryan O’Neal, among others. Peyton Place ran until 1969.

This story was updated in 2022. If you enjoyed this story about Grace Metalious, you may also want to read about other Franco-American writers here. If you’re interested in towns with hidden scandals, you may want to read Bar Harbor Babylon by the authors of this post. 


The Little Canadas of New England - New England Historical Society November 17, 2015 - 11:01 am

[…] had perhaps the most well-known Little Canada on its west side, where Peyton Place author Grace Metalious and Revlon founder Charles Revson grew up. West Sider Rene Gagnon participated in the most […]

The History of Indian Summer - New England Historical Society October 21, 2016 - 4:34 pm

[…] England writers still used Indian summer imagery in the 20th century. Peyton Place, by New Hampshire’s Grace Metalious, starts with, “Indian Summer is a woman.” It’s ‘ripe, […]

Married to a Murderer, H.W. Mudgett - New England Historical Society February 13, 2017 - 1:46 pm

[…] Webster Mudgett was born in Gilmanton, N.H., on May 16, 1861, a month after the Civil War broke out. His parents, Levi Horton Mudgett and […]

Six Places New England Films Were Shot - New England Historical Society August 12, 2017 - 8:42 am

[…] Place was based on New Hampshire writer Grace Metalious' best selling novel of the same name. The story was about sordid secrets – about adultery, sexual abuse, murder and […]

6 Famous Franco-American Writers from New England - New England Historical Society January 17, 2018 - 8:47 am

[…] Grace Metalious led a short tragic life that began in 1924 on the largely Franco-American West Side of Manchester, N.H. Born Grace de Repentigny into a poor family, she married George Metalious, a school teacher in Gilmanton, N.H. She was a lousy housewife who drank, swore, wore baggy jeans and cheated on her husband. Grace Metalious rocketed to fame with her first novel, Peyton Place, […]

Classic Movies Shot in New England, 13 Award-Winners - New England Historical Society March 5, 2018 - 8:24 am

[…] film premiered in Camden two days before everyone else saw it. Peyton Place didn't do well at the box office for the first four months. Then, Lana Turner's daughter killed her […]

Comments are closed.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest artciles from the New England Historical Society

Thanks for Signing Up!

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join Now and Get The Latest Articles. 

It's Free!

You have Successfully Subscribed!