Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! Today we’re concluding 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 Five aired twice a week from September 1968 to January 1969 and once a week from February to June 1969, and technically consists of 54 episodes (based on air dates, not any designed structure), spanning from 461 to 514. Most of the big stories involve the newer characters introduced in the latter half of Season Four. Following the marriage and departure of Jill and Joe with Kelly, the series crafts a big story for their first African American family, which includes Percy Rodrigues as Dr. Harry Miles, whom we met following Rodney’s accident in Season Four, and his wife Alma, played by Ruby Dee. Their son Lew went to New York and is on the run after being in the passenger seat during a hit-and-run — a detail that a pregnant New York friend uses to blackmail him into marriage. Meanwhile, Rodney’s recovery is interrupted by the death of Martin Peyton, as the family is shocked to learn that his last will left all the estate to the Peyton Foundation. Steven enlists Betty’s help in fighting the will, but Rodney, who moves to Boston to attend school (and leaves the show in 501), will only remain with Betty if she forgets his grandfather’s money.
The series ends with several unresolved stories; the biggest one concerns Fred Russell’s death, following his anger at his ex-wife’s engagement to Dr. Rossi, his attempted rape of her, and his untrue belief that Carolyn has entered a relationship with black Lew Miles. Dr. Rossi is accused of murder and his hearing takes place in the final episode, with the judge ruling that there’s enough evidence to take the case to trial. It’s implied that Susan Winter may have something to do with Fred’s death, but the series ends with Michael Rossi alone in his jail cell.
The quality of the fifth season is noticeably better than the second half of the fourth season, although it takes a while for the Russell family to become engrossing. Once the Season Four story lines are all put to bed (and Jill and Joe leave), the narrative improves. By January of ’69, however, the series really picks up steam, recapturing some of the vigor which made the initial years so exciting. The Miles family is the best of the new additions and the mystery surrounding Lew, although not as knotty as past Peyton Place scandals, is great fodder for the series, which takes the opportunity to address race relations in a very effective, and surprisingly honest, manner. Thus, Season Five, though not as beautiful and poetic as past years, is fresh and more exciting than anything we’ve seen since 1967.
So, in today’s post, I’m sharing five of what I thought were the most memorable moments (in chronological order) from the fifth 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.
01) Episode 475: Lew and Alma discuss being black (Aired: 11/11/68)
The writing for the Miles family is outstanding; unlike most African American television characters of the ’60s, their race plays a huge part in their story. This moment is one of the first in a number of scenes in which Lew grapples with what it’s like being a black kid in a white town. It’s a powerful scene, and the late Ruby Dee is, as always, marvelous.
02) Episode 475: Steven confronts Rodney in the hospital (Aired: 11/11/68)
From the same episode, this scene immediately follows the one above. Steven goes to visit Rodney in therapy, where, in an effort to motivate him into action, he’s completely direct about Betty’s current disinterest in him and his desire to win her back, which of course angers Rodney and leads to more strife in their marriage.
03) Episode 490: Betty and Rodney argue about the inheritance (Aired: 01/06/69)
After weeks of thinking she’s Peyton’s heir, Betty learns from Steven that her check for the Peyton mansion is no good, leading to her question the state of Peyton’s will. (Did he cut her out?) This naturally sparks a huge fight with Rodney, who is disinterested in the money and the house, and goes into a relapse. The scene would ordinarily be melodrama, but it’s Barbara Parkins’ best acting in the entire series.
04) Episode 502: Maggie tells Eli about her late husband (Aired: 03/10/69)
Florida Friebus (Mrs. Bakerman from The Bob Newhart Show) is introduced as a love interest for Eli. In this scene, after a few mentions of her late husband, Maggie speaks about the harsh relationship she had with him. It’s a very quiet scene, played with real truth and humanity by Friebus, who otherwise plays a lighthearted character.
05) Episode 514: Half the town testifies in Rossi’s hearing (Aired: 06/02/69)
The testimonies in Rossi’s hearing are quickly intercut with silent flashbacks of the events leading up to Fred’s death. It’s very dramatically effective. Meanwhile, the motel proprietor’s surprise reveal that Fred was with a blonde woman on the night of his death is an expertly subtle way to implicate Susan Winter, who vows to visit Rossi, as he ends the series alone in his cell.
Come back next Wednesday for another Wildcard post! And tune in tomorrow for more Hercules!