Tag Archives: reading
A Short Essay on Grace Metalious: Beyond Peyton Place
Some years ago, I was asked to put together a book proposal on the deaths of famous writers. While the book didn’t go through, I was happy with some of the essays I wrote for it. My essay on Dorothy Parker, for example, found here, is one of those.
In addition to Hemingway, Poe and Fitzgerald, and many others, I also included Grace Metalious in the table of contents. I have always been fascinated by her, her upbringing, her life in New England, her sudden burst of stardom and, just as suddenly, her decline and death.
Grace Metalious made her mark on American culture. With the publication of her book, Peyton Place, in 1956, she took her place with some of the countries best-selling writers, who were thriving in the post Korean War Eisenhower era. Writers like Mickey Spillane, whose I, The Jury, was just as salacious as Peyton Place, tempered his sex scenes with a healthy dose of violence, and Nabakov’s Lolita, with its underlying irony and comedy, made the erotic passages art.
With my purchase today of Grace Metalious’ novel, No Adam in Eden, I am now the proud owner of all four of her published novels. She isn’t a big name anymore, mostly forgotten except when brought up on the occasional moment. Sandra Bullock was developing a film biography, but that seems to have stalled, as so many film projects do.
Grace Metalious always knew she would become a writer. Her husband, a teacher, supported her and she basically gave up doing anything else and spent all her time writing. She had loved everything about the writing life, read other writers, and aspired to be with them. With the help of her best friend, Grace finished her first novel and sent it off to publishers in New York.
She heard nothing.
As luck would have it, she was introduced to an agent who supposedly represented Somerset Maugham (although Maugham had fired him for stealing royalties). He was instrumental in getting the book to Leona Nevler, an editor at Fawcett, who knew they wouldn’t publish it, but thought it had potential. She passed it on to the publisher at Julian Messner,a small New York house, who accepted it.
The book was Peyton Place. Published in 1956, it was, for a very long time, one of the biggest best-sellers of all-time. It stayed on the New York Times‘ Bestseller List for over a year and has sold over 40 million copies.
To say it took the country by storm would be an understatement. With its setting in a small, quaint New England town (an amalgamation of the towns surrounding where Grace lived); its characters devious, backstabbing and sexual; hidden secrets at every twist and turn, including rape, incest, murder and betrayal; Peyton Place was the book everyone pretended not to be reading. Adults hid it from each other and kids hid it from their parents. I know, I was one of those kids who read it late at night (probably in 1964 when it was reissued for the TV series debut), under the covers, with a flashlight.
The book was turned into a hit movie and a sequel was planned, Return to Peyton Place, published in 1959. By that time, Grace had become an alcoholic with the money coming in steadily. Her writing suffered and Return to Peyton Place, rushed to cash in on Peyton Place‘s popularity, was rewritten and polished by a ghost writer hired by the publisher. Grace wasn’t happy about this, but had little recourse. She had lost her enthusiasm over Peyton Place, since that was the only thing anyone ever wanted to talk to her about. She felt she wasn’t taken seriously as a writer, and she was right.
She got back to work and released her third novel, The Tight White Collar, in 1961. Another New England setting and more hidden secrets by its citizens made this one sell initially, but it quickly fell off the charts and sent Grace into another spiral. This was Grace’s favorite novel, but, along with Return to Peyton Place, the reviews weren’t good.
Grace’s desire to be considered a real writer continued as she worked on her fourth, and last, novel, No Adam in Eden. Published in the fall of 1963, the book is a look at three generations of sexually liberated women, who do anything to get what they want. It was written more intensely than any of her other books. With the freedom of being so explicit, the characters seem more fully realized.
Grace had turned out a very good book, but the reviews were disastrous (one reviewer said, “It purports to be a study of evil but is no more than degenerate filth.”) and this time she didn’t recover.
Grace died in February 1964, at age 36, from cirrhosis of the liver. Her estate was initially left to her lover of three months, but he decided to not fight a lawsuit brought by Grace’s children contesting the will. It didn’t matter much. Grace owed more than she had, including $40,000 to the IRS. (Later, the IRS sold all of Grace’s possessions, including the original manuscripts for Peyton Place and The Tight White Collar, for just over $5000.)
Peyton Place became a television series that fall of 1964, running for five years. Neither Grace nor her estate ever saw any money from it. The series introduced Ryan O’Neal, Mia Farrow and Barbara Parkins and starred Dorothy Malone.
Today, Grace Metalious’ work is studied in universities and she is heralded as a pioneering woman novelist of the 20th Century, paving the way (for better or for worse) Jacqueline Susann and Jackie Collins, and influencing many other writers. Some believe that Grace planted the seed of feminism into the minds of girls who were teenagers when Peyton Place was published.
I recommend the book, Inside Peyton Place by Emily Toth.
Available here: http://www.amazon.com/Inside-Peyton-Place-Metalious-Banner/dp/1578062683/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1380476744&sr=8-1&keywords=inside+peyton+place
There is also a Facebook page devoted to Grace: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Grace-Metalious-PEYTON-PLACE/59394335817
And here was a surprise: A Grace Metalious bobblehead, sold by the New Hampshire Historical Society.
Available here: http://www.nhhistory.org/store/det.aspx?UPC=16515.
The Book Scavenger
(Starting a new series of blogs where I write about not only the books I enjoy, but how these books came into my possession. I hope to be able to share finding selected titles, the cost (because I’m always looking for a deal) and the connection a person has to his/her books.)
Books are not just items to read. In many ways, books are comfort food, ever-lasting friends and, even, trophies.
I hope you’ll enjoy reading about someone, well, reading books and I hope you’ll share with me your own experiences. We can have a dialogue on Facebook as to why the printed word, bindings and covers are so important to many of us.)
The Book Scavenger
I love books. Ever since I can remember, I’ve always enjoyed reading, and having, books. It started with the Hardy Boys, that venerable institution of boy detective stories that began its run in the mid-18th century, I believe, with its first few stories written by Benjamin Franklin. Ben fancied himself a detective ever since he solved the Mystery of the Missing Rum Barrel, at the First Meeting of the Continental Congress in 1774. (Spoiler Alert: John Adams had hidden it in the belfry so members wouldn’t be drunk by the time he was scheduled to speak near the end of the program.)
By the time I got into the series, in elementary school, I had discovered the school library, where two books stood out, Little Britches by Ralph Moody, and a biography of the great Sauk warrior, Chief Black Hawk.
Little Britches was what we now call historical autobiographical fiction. In it, Moody told the tale of his family’s move from New Hampshire to Colorado, when he was about 10. His father was diagnosed with tuberculosis and it was hoped the dry air would help his father’s breathing. Mostly the book was a story about a city kid finding his way on the ranch. It resembled Green Acres, now that I think about it. The family from the city bought the worst farm in Colorado, the Haney farm it was called. Crops wouldn’t grow. The ground was hard as a rock and they had no real water source. They had no experience being ranchers, so they were destined to fail. The difference between the Moody family and the Douglas’ was that Oliver and Lisa were incredibly wealthy and the Moody’s were poor.
But for a kid my age, roughly 9 or 10 years old, it was a great story. Because Ralph was my age during this time of the story, I related to him. He did everything I would have done. He went a got a job at one of the more successful farms in the neighborhood. He learned to farm properly, learned to ride horses and worked side by side with some real cowboys. It turned out Ralph had a real knack for handling horses and became a real expert with them. When his father eventually died from his illness, Ralph, just barely a teenager, became the man of the family, and a series of book were born.
I found out there were eight books in Moody’s series, and I tried to find them all. I found most of them at the library, but a couple have eluded me all these years. I still hunt for them at used bookstores. I believe I own four of the books in my library, and have read seven of the series.
The biography of Chief Black Hawk, founder of the hockey team in Chicago, was an interesting book to me. As a kid, I had no political leanings, other than thinking that Jackie Kennedy sure did look different than Mamie Eisenhower, but as I read the book and read about the injustices done to the American Indian, I knew that wasn’t right.
Black Hawk was the leader of the Sauk tribe in Illinois and Wisconsin. He fought against the American movement west of the Mississippi, until, of course, the white man figured out that bombing everything in sight might win them the battles. Black Hawk didn’t go down without a fight, though. He fought with the British during the War of 1812 (the enemy of my enemy is my friend) and in 1832, he played a major role in a war so big they named it after him – The Black Hawk War.
I’ve never been able to find this book, however. I have no clue as to the author, but if you run across a young adult biography of one of the greatest Native American chiefs in history, let me know.
So, back to the Hardy Boys.
The books began their publishing life in 1927 and were written by F.W. Dixon, a pseudonym for Leslie McFarlane and others, although the Hardys were created by Edward Stratemeyer, who had also created Nancy Drew and Tom Swift. All told, there are 58 original books with 38 revisions of the originals.
The books I got were revised versions with blue covers and, as I found out later, had been updated to reflect the 60’s. No, Frank and Joe didn’t burn their draft cards or smoke pot or listen to the Grateful Dead (although it wouldn’t have hurt Frank who was always uptight). They were clean cut kids, the sons of a famous private eye, and who always did their homework and were in bed by 9:00.
Now this is where the collecting part comes in. On the back covers of these Hardy Boys books, the complete list of titles was shown. I think at the time I was reading the books there were maybe 20 of the revised editions available, so I had reference to what I wanted. As a kid, I read as many as I could get my hands upon, which was a lot, because the books were priced kid-friendly and they were readily available. I also had the chance to read some of the older books because a friend of mine across the street had them. He was an older teen and had outgrown them and gave them to me. I still have them.
My mother didn’t seem to mind me wanting those Hardy Boys books, so I milked it and got practically every book on the list, with one exception. I never could find The Hardy Boys Detective Handbook, which purportedly, revealed how you could become a detective just like Frank and Joe. When I was in the 6th grade, I became friends with the brother of the cutest girl in my class who had a copy of the book and he had actually gotten hold of some Plaster of Paris and had made a plaster cast of a footprint! If that wasn’t detective-ing, I didn’t know what was! We hung out a couple of times trying to decide what kind of detective work we wanted to do and it kind of fizzled out when he wouldn’t sell me the book. I still don’t have that book.
But I had a Hardy Boys collection that rivaled anyone I knew. I think I stopped reading the Hardy Boys when I discovered James Bond in the early 1960’s. In 1962, the first James Bond movie, Dr. No was released and the paperback racks were flooded with reprints of the Fleming novels.
I somehow got my hands on Peyton Place by Grace Metalious. It was a giant best-seller in the late 1950’s and copies were readily available, especially after the television program launched in the early 60’s. It was certainly a different style of book for me and though I could tell the writing was a bit clunky, it was steamy enough to be interesting. I didn’t read another book of that type until Valley of the Dolls came along.
Bookstores were an anomaly to me at the time. Other than the library, I really didn’t visit any bookstore. The library was where you went to get hardbacks because every corner drug store or newsstand had a rack of mass market paperbacks that adults bought. Most of the paperbacks were 25 cents, with some costing 50 cents.
I remember the biggest department store in Cincinnati, Shillito’s, having a large book selection. Later, I went to Kidd’s Bookstore downtown, with four floors of books, and then discovered this place called Ohio Bookstore and nearly next to it Acres of Books.
Ohio Bookstore is still in existence and it can be both a treasure trove of used books, and a frustrating collection of books, depending on what you’re looking for. The guys there are great and can generally tell you where a particular book might be. They have a nice collection of paperbacks and several tables of mass markets. Prices are reasonable too.
My favorite used bookstore, back in the old days, was Bertrand Smith’s Acres of Books on Main Street in downtown Cincinnati. There were at least three floors of books. It was the kind of place I’ve always loved: Dimly lit, the musty smell of used books fragrant in the air and the chance that dust would cloud the space above your head when you touched a book that had sat there for months, even years.
I bought my first copy of Moss Hart’s Act One there. It was one of the books that changed my life. The store had at least six copies on the shelf and I had my pick of the best. The prices were very good, too. It was a feat of endurance to browse the entire store on a semi-regular basis.
(I later found out there was an Acres of Books in Long Beach. I was in Long Beach in 2010 and passed an old building with “Acres of Books” on the front. I found out that Smith had opened this store decades ago, until the space of taken for area redevelopment, the same as his location in Cincinnati.)
So where do you go for used books these days? A few places in Cincinnati are great for browsing. Dutenhofer’s in CliftonHeights is a good place to start, and although I don’t like their premium pricing, I still go there. The aforementioned Ohio Book Store is a must visit. There used to be a place in the Mohawk area on McMicken Avenue call The Bookstore and owned by a University of Cincinnati professor. The hours were so random and the store had no real days and times that it became frustrating to visit on the chance that they were open. I haven’t been there in a couple of years, so if it’s open, let me know.
Bonnett’s in Dayton, Ohio is great for book and pop culture lovers, although the store is in closed quarters, so if you’re claustrophobic, you may want to avoid it. But it has that used book smell that is as appealing as a bakery on a spring day.
Half Price Books has several stores in the area and I like to go to every single one because the mix is different at each one. They used to be better when they first opened because their inventory consisted largely of the books they bought from customers. Now, they have a ton of remainders and promotional books and, when I visited one store this past weekend, J.K. Rowling’s new book for sale in a promo shipper for 20% off regular price. (The irony is, when the book becomes a cut-out due to over printing and sells for pennies on the dollar, Half Price Books will already have the inventory in stock.) But, I can always find books to buy there, especially in their clearance section (which used to be a dollar, but are now two dollars.) Look for coupons and special days of sales, which make it worthwhile.
But I mostly love the thrift stores. St. Vincent DePaul stores are better than Goodwill, which are better than Valley Thrift. Some of the St. Vincent DePaul stores have hundreds of used books, priced at 50 cents for paperbacks and $1.00 for hardbacks. They also have specials frequently and the selection is good.
I do shop at Betterworldbooks.com and thriftbooks.com and I check out Amazon and Abebooks (owned by Amazon now).
I’m not opposed to reading books digitally. I have several books on my Kindle Fire and a couple on my laptop. If I find an interesting e-book, I will read it and then look for a hard copy.
Good luck with your book hunting because that’s the thrill of scouring used book stores. Discovery plays a big part in going to used book stores. The chance to find a book and be able to say, “I didn’t know there was a book on that!” Finding the one book that has eluded you all your life and suddenly seeing it on the shelf is a feeling that cannot be conveyed. But if I get there first, I’m going to buy it before you.