Grace Metalious ~ A Sensational Life
Grace Metalious, American author of Peyton Place and other works, was a Yankee girl. She was born Mary Grace de Repentigny in Manchester, New Hampshire, on September 8, 1924. At the age of nineteen she married her childhood sweetheart, George Metalious. They settled in the New Hampshire town of Gilmanton, which, coincidentally, was also the birthplace in 1861 of one Herman Mudgett, who gained notoriety under the name of Dr. H. H. Holmes in the 1890s as America’s first serial killer.
Grace hated the hypocrisy, dissembling, and closed-door intrigues of small-town life. It was this atmosphere or repression that led her to write her first and most famous novel, Peyton Place.
Peyton Place was turned down by virtually every publisher in New York. Publishers found its unsophisticated prose and explicit sexuality unfit for the sanitized 1950s. Finally it was accepted by the publishing house Julian Messner, where it was so heavily edited that Grace’s authorship was called into question.
When the book was released, it became an unprecedented success, selling eight million copies in hardback and twelve million in paperback. In the 1950s it was exceeded in sales only by the Bible. It stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for over a year and made Grace Metalious a celebrity and a wealthy woman.
In 1957, Peyton Place was turned into a surprisingly tasteful and artful movie starring Lana Turner. The movie was a critical and box-office success and added to the luster of the novel and its author. A best-selling sequel called Return to Peyton Place was penned by Metalious (she used a ghostwriter for this one), published in 1959, but she was never able to duplicate the success of Peyton Place, which for her was had been the pinnacle of her success. Subsequent novels, The Tight White Collar and No Adam in Eden, were not successful.
Grace Metalious’s private life was just as sensational and interesting as any of the characters in her books—some would argue more so. She did not handle fame and fortune well. She divorced her first husband (only to remarry him and divorce him again) and had two other failed marriages. She squandered much of her wealth and drank heavily. She attracted a series of lovers who were interested in her only for her money and fame. Her self-destructive tendencies continued for the rest of her life, until she died of liver disease at the age of thirty-nine on February 25, 1964.
Grace Metalious was not an accomplished or a polished or a sophisticated writer, but she achieved the kind of success that few writers ever achieve. With the success of her books, the focus in publishing shifted from literary merit and critical praise to shrewd marketing and sensationalism. She began the trend for so-called “tell-all” books that continues to this day. For that reason, she was one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century.
Copyright © 2011 by Allen Kopp