Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! Over a month ago, I covered ten of the most memorable moments from the first season of Peyton Place (1964-1969, ABC), the first successful 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 included 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 the genre.
The second season, which aired three times a week from September 1965 to September 1966, technically (based on air dates) spans from 115 to 267, the last episode in black-and-white, and features two major story lines. The first, which lasts over 85 episodes and is considered among the series’ finest, is the trial of Rodney Harrington for the murder of Joe Chernak. Every single character is involved — from the perjurious Stella Chernak, who falsely claims Rodney threatened to kill her brother, to our darling Allison, who is the victim of a hit-and-run accident perpetrated by the district attorney’s philandering wife. During this time, Doris Schuster takes Kim back to New York, Martin Peyton comes back to Peyton Place with housekeeper Hannah Cord, Connie learns she’s pregnant, and Rita and Norman elope. Once Rodney is freed, the last 60+ episodes of the season revolve around an incident that occurred 17 years prior, when Ann Colby (now the widowed Ann Howard) allegedly pushed Chris Webber off Sailor’s Bluff, blinding him. Back in town to get answers, Ann romances Michael Rossi and arouses the ire of mechanic Lee Webber, Chris’ brother — the real culprit. During this time, Betty and Steven are wed, Julie goes back to George, Rodney and Allison become lovers and then split, and Hannah Cord reveals that Steven and Ann are siblings, and that the late Brian Colby, or Brian Cord, is their father. When Allison finds Ann Howard’s lifeless body on the beach, a mystery is launched. Who pushed her off the bluff? Was it one of the Webber brothers, or Hannah Cord, who’d revealed (most of) the truth to Ann and quarreled with her that very morning? Or perhaps, suicide? It all becomes too much for Allison and she walks out of town without saying a single goodbye.
In today’s post, I’m sharing twelve of what I thought were the most memorable moments (in chronological order) from the second season of Peyton Place, which is arguably the series’ strongest. I don’t consider these scenes to be the best and/or most exciting moments from the season, but they’re the ones that have stayed with me for some reason or other. By 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 shows 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. Some episodes, at the time of this writing, can be found on YouTube. (Season Three will not follow next week, but anticipate a post on it within the next month or so.)
01) Episode 140: Kim kills her doll (Aired: 11/09/65)
After testifying at Rodney’s hearing, an unhinged Kim returns home and alerts Anna Chernak that her son is dead (in case she didn’t know). Kim then breaks her doll, insisting that it is now dead. Doris dissolves into tears and resolves to take Kim back to the institute, while David will stay on in Peyton Place. Powerful end to this beautifully strange storyline.
02) Episode 153: Betty tells Julie that she wants everything (Aired: 12/09/65)
After almost 100 episodes of Betty playing the role of nice girl nurse (in an attempt to atone for her scandalous reputation as a hussy), the bad girl Betty of the early days returns in full force, as she verbalizes her hungry ambitions for “everything” to her bewildered mother. Betty is officially back — and this excellent scene marks her return.
03) Episode 157: Betty meets Martin Peyton (Aired: 12/20/65)
The series outdoes itself with the introduction of Martin Peyton, and his interactions with Betty (wife to two of his three grandsons), who will become his caretaker, are always enjoyable. Their first meeting is particularly rewarding, as Betty refuses to take any of the old man’s guff. One of the season’s most amusing moments, and the start of a fun relationship.
04) Episode 170: Steven questions Rita on the stand (Aired: 01/18/66)
Although Lee Grant won an Emmy for her performance of Stella, the best testimony in Rodney’s trial is Rita’s, as Patricia Morrow gives an almost unbearably raw performance while recounting her relationship with Joe Chernak and how she was “passed around” his gang. It’s the most chilling moment of the entire storyline and maybe the best courtroom episode.
05) Episode 177: Rossi and Stella ride in the ambulance (Aired: 02/03/66)
Lee Grant, as has been noted elsewhere, is a phenomenal actress, and all her scenes are memorable. This one, which takes place in the ambulance that contains her deceased father, sticks out to me the most. Before her dad’s death, she’d confessed to Rossi that she lied about Rodney. But as he tries to convince her to come clean at the trial, she vows to stick by her father.
06) Episode 182: Allison cuts her hair (Aired: 02/15/66)
Much has been written about this moment, which was the result of a real life incident in which Mia Farrow went to her trailer and cut off her hair in the middle of a shooting day — with no warning. The way that the writers made this work for the series (by turning it into an act of self-hatred because of her illegitimacy) is brilliant. Still shocking to this day.
07) Episode 195: Jensen catches up with Stella (Aired: 03/17/66)
Steven finally dredges up Stella’s past. It’s Richard Jensen, a scary guy (even nastier than Stella) who threatens her if she doesn’t comply to his demands and steal “two years worth” of drugs from the hospital. This scene is great because while we want Stella punished, we also care for her — and don’t want to see this creep get the best of her. Lee Grant is divine.
08) Episode 205: Rodney and Allison go sailing (Aired: 04/12/66)
Rodney and Allison officially reunite on a sailing trip following Steven and Betty’s wedding. As a hardcore “shipper” of this couple, it’s wonderful to see them back together again, even if it is relatively short-lived. Also, this is the moment in which the pair officially becomes lovers. It’s a terribly sweet moment; worth waiting for over 200+ episodes.
09) Episode 227: Sandy and Betty have a dance-off (Aired: 06/06/66)
This scene takes place at the Shoreline Cafe, where Sandy Webber tries to get back at her jealous husband by dancing with Rodney. Meanwhile, Betty notices, and when Steven leaves the dance floor, she engages Sandy in a dance competition — clearly for Rodney’s attention! It’s wild, mid-’60s fun, as the three subject’s partners look on in shock. Peyton Place’s sexiest moment?
10) Episode 229: Hannah slashes Catherine’s painting (Aired: 06/09/66)
The reserved Hannah Cord finally loses her composure when she takes a knife and slashes into the painting of Catherine Peyton, which was painted by her husband (and Catherine’s lover), Brian Cord. It’s a deliciously melodramatic moment — certainly one of the most memorable, and probably the first time we really get to see Hannah Cord flip out.
11) Episode 254: Allison finds Ann’s body (Aired: 08/08/66)
Although I enjoy the whole Ann storyline, I think some parts were obvious. The only thing that isn’t predictable is Ann’s shocking death, which is never fully explored or explained. The moment in which sweet little Allison, who had befriended Ann, finds her lifeless body is shockingly horrific, and serves as a jolt of energy to the series, which needed a boost.
12) Episode 263: Allison leaves Peyton Place (Aired: 08/29/66)
Not a favorite, this moment occurs four episodes before the switch to color. Allison leaves the hospital and walks out of town, remembering all the words and people that had hurt her. It’s a melancholic and strange end to the character who served as Peyton Place‘s center. Her departure marks a turning point in the series — the end of consistently great writing.
Other memorable moments from this great collection of episodes include: Kim speaking to Allison about what she saw at the wharf in Episode 119 (09/23/65), Nurse Choate catching Betty with Stella’s file in Episode 149 (11/30/65), Stella being left alone with an amnesiac Allison in Episode 169 (01/17/66), Steven proposing to Betty in Episode 200 (03/29/66), and Ann Howard (a.k.a. Ann Colby a.k.a. Ann Cord) confronting the woman she thinks is her mother, Hannah Cord, in Episode 253 (08/04/66).
Come back next Wednesday for another Wildcard post! And tune in tomorrow for more Xena!