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Peyton Place Finds a Home at USC Libraries

Peyton Place Finds a Home at USC Libraries
A marked-up script from the fourth season of the ABC series Peyton Place

For generations of soap opera fans, the mere mention of Port Charles, Genoa City, Llanview, Oakdale or Pine Valley conjures memories of intrigue, infidelity and blackmail.

But when discussing nighttime serials of years gone by, many of these locales take a backseat to the emotional underpinnings of Peyton Place.

Writer, producer and director Walter Doniger, who directed more than 60 episodes during the show’s run, donated his personal archives of film and television memorabilia to USC. Housed in the USC Libraries’ Cinematic Arts Library, the Walter Doniger Collection includes scripts and set drawings from the production.

Based on the 1956 novel of the same name by Grace Metalious and set in a small New England town, the popular serial premiered on ABC in September 1964.

Although the critics were harsh in their reviews of the program, viewers made the series – the first successful nighttime soap opera – a regular destination.

Peyton Place so effectively captivated its audience that when the network expanded the show to three nights a week – attracting more than 60 million viewers during its heyday – the network ascended to the top of the Nielsen ratings for the first time in its history.

Devotees eagerly watched to see if teen sweethearts Rodney Harrington and Allison MacKenzie (portrayed by youthful Ryan O’Neal and Mia Farrow) could overcome the machinations of Betty Anderson (Barbara Perkins) or whether Allison’s mother, Constance (Dorothy Malone), would find happiness with Dr. Rossi (Ed Nelson) or Allison’s long-lost, wrongfully imprisoned father, Elliot (Tim O’Connor).

In adapting the TV series, the writers deviated significantly from Metalious’ book, as well as the 1957 film starring Lana Turner. Many of the book’s themes were deemed too risqué for a prime-time television audience.

The series’ writers toned down controversial plotlines and notably altered core characters. They also contemporized the show by setting it in the 1960s, though Metalious envisioned Peyton Place during World War II.

The book, film and television show have become part of the American vernacular. The phrase “Peyton Place” remains synonymous with a community consumed by libidinous and immoral behavior.

After a number of major cast defections and increased competition from programs such as Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, the show’s ratings plummeted. After five seasons and 514 episodes, viewers left Peyton Place for the last time on June 2, 1969.

For more information on the Doniger collection, contact the USC Cinematic Arts Library at (213) 740-3994 or cin@usc.edu. Copies of Metalious’ book also are available to check out through the USC Libraries.

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