Grace Metalious, the author to one of the most notorious and best-selling novels in American history was born Marie Grace de Repentigny on September 8, 1924 in Manchester, NH. Her family was poor, a situation that was made worse when her father walked out on her mother when she was 11. She graduated from Central High School, where she met George Metalious, whom she married in 1943 against the wishes of her family. George attended the University of New Hampshire on the G.I. Bill and they moved to Durham. In Durham, Grace began to write extensively. After he graduated, her husband was offered a job as a principal at a school in Gilmanton Iron Works, which was said to be the model for the fictional "Peyton Place." The couple had three children.
It is believed that Grace wrote the first draft of Peyton Place over 10 weeks in 1955. It was tentatively titled The Tree and the Blossom. The book was accepted for publication in 1956 by a small New York publishing house, Julian Messner, which was owned and operated by a non-conformist Kathryn Messner.
The book, which took place in a small New England town, became an instant best-seller in the 1950's, selling 100,000 copies in its first month. By the end of the fifties, it had sold over 10 million copies, making Grace a very wealthy woman and changing the face of small town America. It exposed the secrets and scandals that took place behind closed doors, at a time when America was prim and proper and the nuclear family was revered. The story was based on an incident that occurred in New Hampshire, where a girl shot her father who had been molesting her and buried him in the barn.
Peyton Place was panned by critics and banned in several cities, but the book was such a huge hit that it was made into a film starring Lana Turner. The film was nominated for 9 Academy Awards in 1957. The movie rights were purchased from Grace only a month after the book was released by producer Jerry Wald for $250,000. She eventually earned $400,000 in profits from the film. Grace hated the movie version, considering it a "sanitized" adaptation of her book, and although she was hired as a consultant to work on the film, she ultimately did very little to contribute to it. The film became one of the highest grossing films of 1958. The film was turned into an evening soap opera starring Mia Farrow and Ryan O'Neal, which ran from September 1964 to June 1969.
Metalious earned the nickname "Pandora in Blue Jeans" because the book opened up a "Pandora's Box," and Grace was known for wearing overalls at a time when women generally dressed more femininely. Because of the racy content of the book, Grace's husband was fired from his job and she and her children were taunted and threatened. Though the book spawned a sequel, Return to Peyton Place, her private life soon fell apart. She and George divorced. She married a local disc jockey and began to drink heavily, spent her money freely, and settled in the town of Meredith.
She remarried George in 1960 and wrote two more novels, The Tight White Collar and No Adam in Eden, but developed cirrhosis of the liver and passed away on February 25, 1964 at the age of 39. She is buried in Smith Meeting House Cemetery in Gilmanton.