Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! Today we’re continuing our casual coverage of 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 Four, which aired twice a week from September of 1967 to September 1968, technically consists of 92 episodes (based on air dates, not any designed structure), going from 369 to 460, and is best divided into two sections. The first, which lasts for about 35 episodes, continues the stories began in Season Three — most notably the impending marriage of Martin Peyton to Gena Rowlands’ Adrienne Van Lyden, whom Peyton has brought about to seduce Steven away from Betty. He succeeds in splitting them up, but Adrienne receives an even worse fate: death from an accidental fall down the stairs. Meanwhile, Leslie hires Eddie Jacks to take out Martin Peyton — a detail that Martin uses to bring about the death of Lee Webber, who was shot first by Leslie and then killed by Steven. Following this incident, Martin Peyton leaves town and sells the mill. The second part of the season, which begins around the same time, ushers in the NEW mod Peyton Place, in which most of the older characters are purged in favor of new characters designed to shake up the show. Unfortunately, this period of adjustment marks a definite comedown and quality, as some of the newer characters lack the multi-dimensionality of those we’ve met earlier.
The first new face belongs to Jill Smith, a young woman who shows up with a daughter whom she claims is Allison’s. But Joe Rossi, Mike’s brother, knows the truth: the kid is actually his with Jill. The shock of giving up another baby is too much for Connie, and she and Elliot decide to leave town — for good, marking the official end of Peyton Place‘s origins. Their departure comes just after the surprise goodbye of Eddie Jacks and the phasing out of Leslie Harrington, during which the show introduces Tom and Susan Winter, a minister and his alcoholic wife, who hopes to tempt him away from the ministry by using Jill as bait. Around this time, we’re also introduced to Carolyn Russell, a teen, whose mother, Marsha, has just filed for divorce from her husband and is embarking on a relationship with Dr. Rossi. Meanwhile, Betty and Steven’s divorce means that she’s free to marry Rodney — but a motorcycle accident several months after the wedding threatens to jeopardize their marital bliss.
In today’s post, I’m sharing eight of what I thought were the most memorable moments (in chronological order) from the fourth 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. As of this writing, every episode is also available on YouTube. (Season Five will not follow next week, but anticipate a post in it within the next month or so.)
01) Episode 379: Eddie argues with Ada about Rita’s upbringing (Aired: 10/16/67)
Eddie Jacks is a complex character because we’re predisposed to dislike him, yet the actor plays him in a way that makes him half likable (but not completely). His argument with Ada in this episode is probably his best scene of the entire series, as two of Peyton Place‘s most interesting characters try to assign blame for Rita’s oft-discussed past.
02) Episode 392: Betty and Adrienne have a confrontation, leading to the latter’s death (Aired: 12/07/67)
The Adrienne Van Lyden storyline, which truthfully drags on, is finally brought to a conclusion in this dramatic sequence in which she and Betty get into a war of words, culminating in her melodramatic fall down the stairs following an unsuccessful swing she takes at Betty. It’s shockingly soapy — but it jumpstarts the show again.
03) Episode 399: Martin calls Leslie to warn him about Lee (Aired: 01/01/68)
The year’s most exciting story is probably Leslie’s attempt to kill Martin. But it’s never more shocking than when, after taking Lee into his “confidence”, Martin arranges to avenge his granddaughter’s death by allying with the man who just hired a hit man (Eddie Jacks) on him. It’s perhaps Martin Peyton’s most brilliantly calculated move.
04) Episode 415: Betty tells Rodney she refuses to raise Allison’s baby (Aired: 03/11/68)
After learning of Jill’s claims about Allison, it is deduced that Rodney must be the father. Betty takes little time to tell her soon-to-be husband (again) that she doesn’t intend to have anything to do with Allison’s baby, proving once again that 150 episodes after her departure, Allison remains Peyton Place‘s most important character.
05) Episode 424: Rita seeks counsel from Tom (Aired: 04/22/68)
Although the whole story involving Rita’s association of Joe Rossi with Joe Chernak is a bit trite, it does allow for this fine scene in which her feelings of unworthiness, exacerbated by her recent miscarriage (which she expected), come to a head. She seeks council from Reverend Tom Winter, who offers her some harsh, but effective and deserved, words.
06) Episode 428: Connie confronts Jill about her lies (Aired: 05/06/68)
This is the angriest we’ve ever seen Connie, and it’s such a treat. Not only is she totally justified in her unyielding treatment of the chronically dishonest Jill, but because her lies relate to Allison, we, as viewers, are even more attuned to Connie’s rage, which is all the more exciting because of its relative novelty.
07) Episode 434: Tom and Susan argue in his church (Aired: 05/27/68)
Alcoholic Susan Winter, Diana Hyland, is probably the craziest character at this point in the series, and as we’re still trying to figure her out, the writers give us a big juicy scene in which she fights with her husband — in his own church — and questions the existence of God. It’s meaty stuff; definitely one of her most memorable moments.
08) Episode 450: Betty refuses to give Steven an update on Rodney (Aired: 07/25/68)
While Rodney’s motorcycle accident largely seems like a vehicle to give Ryan O’Neal less to do, it does bring about some better stories (more on that in Season Five). In this scene, the ever-soapy Betty tells her ex-husband Steven that he’s just killed the “only man” she’s ever loved! Parkins’ total conviction gives the scene its unforgettable bite.
Come back next Wednesday for another Wildcard post! And tune in tomorrow for more Xena!