Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! Today we’re continuing our coverage on some of the most memorable moments from Peyton Place (1964-1969, ABC), the first 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.
Season Three, which aired twice a week from September of 1966 to September 1967 and was the first year in color, technically (based on air dates, not a designed structure) spans from 268 to 368, and primarily deals with both the mysterious death of Ann Howard [a.k.a. Ann Colby a.k.a. Ann Cord] and the sudden departure of Allison Mackenzie. As Steven Cord finally finds out the truth of his parentage when questioning Hannah Cord on the stand in Lee Webber’s hearing, Peyton Place is shaken up with the arrival of Leigh Taylor-Young as Rachel Welles, a young woman who wears Allison’s bracelet and is on the run from her late aunt’s abusive husband, whom Elliot is convinced had something to do with Allison’s disappearance. When Lee’s case doesn’t go to trial, he ends up working as Martin’s chauffeur, while Steven and Betty move into the house with Papa Peyton following Hannah’s flame-filled exit. But trouble erupts yet again when Betty learns that she’s Martin’s heir — only if she divorces Steven and remarries Rodney. Martin decides to speed up this process by hiring the seductive Adrienne Van Lyden (Gena Rowlands), who successfully manages to arouse Steven’s passion. And after Rachel Welles is carted off to a mental institution, Peyton Place is granted another new regular: Eddie Jacks, Rita’s scheming father.
Mia Farrow’s absence takes a toll on the series’ focus, as the show transitions from being about the scandalous happenings in an idyllic small town to a more surrealistic and soapy examination of these characters and their already established relationships. Although the golden days of Peyton Place are over, this is still a wonderfully entertaining year, filled with many great stories — and a startling consistency, no doubt made richer by the further exploration of these wonderful characters. So, in today’s post, I’m sharing ten of what I thought were the most memorable moments (in chronological order) from the third 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 Four will not follow next week, but anticipate a post on it next month.)
01) Episode 292: Rachel and Jack discuss Allison’s bracelet (Aired: 12/05/66)
Although Rachel’s connection to Allison is made explicit in her introduction, the story doesn’t really gain momentum until this scene, in which the audience learns that she found Allison’s bracelet on the floor of her alleged abuser’s car. It’s a shocking moment, building suspense that had otherwise been deflating.
02) Episode 294: Hannah Cord takes the stand (Aired: 12/12/66)
Almost the entirety of this episode is given to Steven Cord’s interrogation of Hannah, in which she reveals that not only did she see Ann after their fight that morning, but that she also saw Lee push Ann off the bluff. However, the most shocking, and deliciously soapy revelation (to Steven, not the audience) is that his mother is really Catherine Harrington.
03) Episode 301: Hannah sets Catherine’s painting on fire (Aired: 01/04/67)
The melodramatic Hannah Cord is given a grand farewell by the series as she once again destroys the copy of Catherine Harrington’s painting. This time, she sets it on fire. It’s a dramatically exciting moment that only gets better in the following episodes, in which Martin goes to the hospital and Mr. and Mrs. Steven Cord decide to move in.
04) Episode 317: Connie and Elliot fight over Rachel (Aired: 03/07/67)
One of the hardest things over which we must suspend our disbelief is Connie’s automatic affection for Rachel Welles and her seemingly forsaken desire for information about Allison. So, while the audience is probably on Elliot’s side, it’s still fascinating to see them in their first major fight about Rachel. It’s rare to see Dorothy Malone angry, and that’s what makes it fun.
05) Episode 331: Betty reads Martin’s will (Aired: 04/25/67)
The contents of Martin’s will have major repercussions and this revelation starts it off. After Betty is blackmailed by Leslie Harrington into stealing the document, she reads it — only to discover that she will inherit his estate, but ONLY if she divorces Steven and re-marries Rodney. It’s one of the show’s biggest twists!
06) Episode 342: Steven publicly talks about the Blaine report (Aired: 06/05/67)
Steven decides to air his dirty laundry in public, specifically the infamous report on Betty’s New York activities that were anonymously sent to him. It’s clear he still doesn’t believe the content to be untrue, and his attempt to turn the report to his benefit while simultaneously punishing Betty is wickedly cruel. ‘Tis the beginning of their end.
07) Episode 346: Martin tries to pay off Sandy (Aired: 06/20/67)
Sandy Webber, as played by Lana Wood (Natalie Wood’s younger sis), never lives up to her full potential. In this, her final episode, she reclaims some of her initial spark and tells of Martin Peyton when he tries to pay her to leave town and stay away from Rodney. Not one of the series’ greatest moments, but probably her character’s.
08) Episode 348: Chandler confronts Rachel about his wife’s death (Aired: 06/27/67)
Perhaps as a result of Leigh Taylor-Young’s pregnancy, Rachel’s story brings out another surprise, as Jack Chandler accuses his niece of not only being responsible for the fire that killed her parents, but also for the one that took his wife — a death that Allison claimed to have witnessed. Truly surprising moment, changing Rachel from victim to villain.
09) Episode 363: Eddie Jack returns (Aired: 08/21/67)
Eddie Jack’s name had been spoken frequently since Jack Chandler’s arrival, so it’s no surprise that his return becomes one of the show’s next stories. Dan Duryea plays him exactly right, and any story that gives us more of Ada (this show’s best character), is one I welcome. Her dislike of him is golden… and not underserved.
10) Episode 366: Steven and Adrienne kiss (Aired: 08/29/67)
The Adrienne story doesn’t really pick up steam until the following season, but her best moment in Season Three comes here, in which Steven finally gives into his impulses and kisses her on the beach. It’s utterly soapy (as is Rita’s eyewitness view of the entire embrace), but it really launches her story.
Come back next Wednesday for another Wildcard post! And tune in tomorrow for more Xena!