Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! As regular readers know, my television interests reside almost exclusively in the land of comedy. One of the exceptions to the rule is Peyton Place (1964-1969, ABC), the first major primetime serial, or soap opera, which aired two — and for a short while, three — times a week on ABC in the mid to late ’60s. With a stellar cast that includes Mia Farrow, Ryan O’Neal, Barbara Parkins, Ed Nelson, and Dorothy Malone, Peyton Place, adapted from a book that was later turned into an iconic film, really was a “novel for television.” The rich characters, intellectual dialogue, and stunningly cinematic visuals all make for a series that’s shockingly better than anything you’d ever expect of it.
I got hooked back in November and in a three week period watched all 114 episodes that make up what is referred to as the first season. (The show aired year round without hiatuses, so the seasons are broken down by the calendar year. If it were up to me, I’d stop “Season One” with episode 112, which ends on a great cliffhanger.) Major stories from September 1964 to 1965 include the return of Elliot Carson, a man jailed 18 years for the murder of his wife — a murder that he didn’t commit. Elliot, it just so happens, is also the real father of 18-year-old Allison Mackenzie, a fact that her mother Constance has hidden since birth. Meanwhile, Allison begins a relationship with Rodney Harrington, son of Leslie Harrington, who married Martin Peyton’s soon-to-be deceased daughter (the real murderer of Elliot’s wife) and operates the Peyton Mill. But Rodney’s old flame Betty Anderson, whose father is an alcoholic wife-beater and whose mother is carrying on with Leslie, becomes pregnant with his child. Later stories involve the arrival of Martin Peyton’s housekeeper’s son, Steven Cord, and Norman Harrington’s relationship with the lower class Rita Jacks, who’s being sexually and emotionally harassed by her former beau Joe Chernak. Joe’s death, witnessed by Rodney, with whom he was engaging in fisticuffs, and six-year-old Kim Schuster, the deaf daughter of the new mill operator, serves as the catalyst that launches the show into its second season.
In today’s post, I’m sharing ten of what I thought were the most memorable moments (in chronological order) from the first season of Peyton Place. I don’t consider them to be the best and/or most exciting moments from the season, but they’re the scenes that have stayed with me for one reason or another. By my discussing them, I hope potential new fans will get an understanding of the kind of expert storytelling this show was producing, and perhaps seek out episodes for themselves. Unfortunately, only the first 64 episodes have been released on DVD. I’m hopeful that the entire series will one day be released (a la Dark Shadows), but until then, you can find copies of the entire series on iOffer. (Season Two will not follow next week, but anticipate a post in it within the next month or so.)
01) Episode 4: Allison and Rodney have their first date (Aired: 09/24/64)
The two breakout stars of Peyton Place, Farrow and O’Neal, share a beautiful chemistry, enriching all of their scenes together with an ethereal warmth that personifies “youth and beauty and joy and happiness.” This quality is evident even in the pilot, but this, their first date, is an early moment in which the pair really connects.
02) Episode 27: George gets drunk and attacks Julie (Aired: 12/17/64)
One of the most interesting villains from the first few months is George Anderson, the jealous alcoholic (he’ll soon go insane) with a penchant for physically abusing his wife, played by the second Mrs. Louise Tate, Kasey Rogers. This is the most graphic of their fights, and it’s thrilling when Julie knocks him out with the phone!
03) Episode 44: Catherine’s letter links Leslie to Elizabeth Carson (Aired: 02/16/65)
SPOILER ALERT! The series’ best story in its first season is the mystery of who actually murdered Elizabeth Carson. The plot finally gains momentum here when the Peyton lawyer finds a letter from the deceased Catherine, romantically linking Leslie to Elizabeth. It’s a jaw-dropping moment.
04) Episode 45: Rodney and Betty quarrel over her time in New York (Aired: 02/18/65)
Near the end of Rodney and Betty’s ill-fated marriage, Betty decides to leave Peyton Place for life in the big city, where she essentially becomes an escort (although she refuses to sleep with her date). Leslie hires a detective to track Betty and, believing Betty guilty of infidelity, tells Rodney, who confronts her with it here. There’s a slap.
05) Episode 52: Allison and Rodney spend time at a ski lodge (Aired: 03/16/65)
Another tender Allison and Rodney moment is made unique by one of the series’ most unusual sequences, which finds the pair in a ski lodge with a bunch of teens, who are playing a folksy version of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” (By the way, this is also the episode that introduces Rita Jacks, soon to be an important character.)
06) Episode 62: Leslie confesses his wife’s guilt to Dowell (Aired: 04/20/65)
Following the incident where George Anderson shoots Elliot Carson, the show really drives into high gear, operating on full force for about a month. In this scene, towards which the series has been building since Elliot’s return to Peyton Place, Leslie finally confesses what really happened to Elizabeth Carson.
07) Episode 63: Constance tells Allison the truth about her father (Aired: 04/22/65)
Again, this is probably the moment for which viewers of the first eight months of the series have been waiting: Connie finally comes clean and reveals all about Allison being the illegitimate daughter of Elliot Carson. The Peyton Place theme (which is actually “Allison’s Theme”) swells up and Dorothy Malone acts her heart out. Worth waiting for!
08) Episode 64: Ada won’t give Paul sympathy (Aired: 04/27/65)
Ada Jacks, the barmaid and mother of Rita, may be my favorite character of the entire series. She’s a no B.S. lady and says things direct and on the line. Paul comes to her looking for an absolution of guilt for Elliot’s fatal wound (since he riled up George to go take down Leslie), but Ada won’t bite, telling him that he’s still a “mean little kid.”
09) Episode 91: The Schusters fight over Kim and Allison (Aired: 07/16/65)
The angry Schusters, who come to run the mill in Leslie’s stead, really grow as characters. Most of their fights revolve around their equally angry deaf daughter Kim, who refuses to speak to them. In this scene, my favorite and the most raw of their fights, they argue about the wife he left to be with her, and his possible fascination with Allison, the babysitter.
10) Episode 112: Joe and Stella talk for the last time (Aired: 09/07/65)
Lee Grant, this series’ only Emmy winner, comes around near the end of the first season, as Joe Chernak’s brooding sister, Stella. In their last scene together, Joe tries to blame others for the consequences of his actions. She refuses to go away with him and holds him accountable for his deeds. Little does she know, he’ll be dead in a few hours.
Come back next Wednesday for another Wildcard post! And tune in tomorrow for more Xena!