Metalious, Grace (1924–1964)

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Metalious, Grace (1924–1964)

American author who had a meteoric rise to fame with the publication of Peyton Place. Name variations: Grace DeRepentigny Metalious. Born Grace de Repentigny in Manchester, New Hampshire, on September 8, 1924; died on February 25, 1964, of chronic liver disease; daughter of Alfred Abert de Repentigny (a printer) and Laurette (Royer) de Repentigny; attended public schools in Manchester, New Hampshire; married George Metalious, on February 27, 1943 (divorced February 25, 1958); married T.J. Martin, on February 28, 1958 (divorced October 6, 1960); supposedly remarried George Metalious, on October 8, 1960, but no record exists; children: (first marriage)Marsha Metalious Dupuis ; Christopher Metalious; Cynthia Metalious .

Selected works:

Peyton Place (1956); Return to Peyton Place (1959); The Tight White Collar (1960); No Adam in Eden (1963).

Grace Metalious, a housewife from the dreary mill town of Manchester, New Hampshire, burst onto the American literary scene in 1956, setting off shockwaves with the publication of her novel Peyton Place. Considered quite sexually explicit at the time, the novel explored, questioned, and challenged both the 1950s conservative, restrictive, and idealistic view of women's place in society and conformity in general.

Grace de Repentigny was born in 1924 and spent her childhood years in the industrial mill town of Manchester, New Hampshire, with a mother who fantasized constantly about a better life and a father who was often forced to work several jobs to support the family. Lonely and isolated as a young child, and even more so after her parents divorced, Grace began writing at an early age. In high school, she met and fell in love with George Metalious, but because of his Greek ancestry her family initially refused to let them marry. The couple decided that their only option was to "live in sin," which quickly convinced both sets of parents to agree to their marriage, which took place on February 27, 1943.

During World War II, American women achieved new freedom and independence, filling many jobs and roles previously assumed by men. After the war ended, men expected women to put aside their newly gained independence and return to domesticity and conformity. When her husband returned from the war and enrolled at the University of New Hampshire, Metalious, by this time a mother, felt trapped. She continued writing, but was criticized for her unkempt appearance and for being a poor housewife and mother. Always insecure about her accomplishments and worried that she was not "woman enough" because she had been advised by a doctor not to have any more children, and that her husband would not love her because of this, she said she turned to the typewriter in order to be able to create something.

After her husband graduated from college, she became the "schoolteacher's wife," a role she hated. One of the few times she felt free and happy was when she and her family took an impromptu trip throughout the south and west. Upon their return to New Hampshire, Metalious once again felt socially ostracized for violating the traditional feminine values of a perfect mother and wife. She began writing a novel about local people (The Quiet Place) and also completed The Tree and the Blossom (which later became Peyton Place). Gilmanton, New Hampshire, where the Metaliouses lived, served as the setting for the fictional town of Peyton Place, and many of the story's characters supposedly were based on Gilmanton residents. Her submissions to publishers were rejected consistently until she selected Jacques Chambrun as her literary agent. Chambrun had a shady reputation for pocketing his clients' money, but did submit The Tree and the Blossom to several publishers, all of whom rejected it. However, freelance manuscript reader Leona Nevler , who read it while it was making the rounds of publishing houses, remembered the novel and recommended it to Kathryn G. Messner , president and editor-in-chief of Julian Messner, Inc. Messner obtained the manuscript from Chambrun, stayed home that night to read it, and the next day changed Metalious' life forever.

Messner, who took a maternal attitude with Metalious, cut the novel's long descriptions down to size and deleted some graphic passages, but left intact the tight, interlocking plot. Peyton Place was published on September 24, 1956, and, despite almost uniform unkindness from critics, stayed on the bestseller list for 26 weeks. It sold 104,000 copies in one month, breaking all records, and became the second bestselling novel in the United States up to that time. The following year it was made into a popular movie that starred Lana Turner and was nominated for several Academy Awards; it was also later the basis for the first prime-time television soap opera. Gilmanton, New Hampshire, and Metalious were the subject of a huge media blitz, and George Metalious was fired from his job as a grammar school principal. No reason was given, although it was generally acknowledged to have been the result of his wife's racy book. The barrage of publicity brought added stress to the couple's marriage, and Metalious began drinking to escape her fears. During this time, she met and fell in love with disc jockey T.J. Martin in Laconia, New Hampshire. Although still married to George, she made Martin her "manager" and traveled and partied with him extensively. She finally divorced George on February 25, 1958, and days later married Martin.

With the great success of Peyton Place, Metalious was expected to produce more work in the same vein, but she claimed that her quarrels and emotional ups and downs kept her from writing what she planned to be her next book, The Tight White Collar (finally published in 1960). Despite their violent arguments, Metalious and her new husband genuinely seemed to love each other, and for a time both gave up drinking. However, she eventually became convinced that Martin wanted to change her image, and reverted to drinking. Under increasing pressure to produce, she churned out Return to Peyton Place (published in 1959) in just 30 days.

Adding to her distress was the fact that her mother Laurette sued her after they were involved in an automobile accident together. In September 1959, her mother was awarded money and left for Florida; Metalious and her family never heard from her again. She also discovered that her agent, Jacques Chambrun, was stealing from her. The escalating pressure resulted in Metalious' disappearing for two weeks, during which time she consoled herself with alcohol.

Despondent and unable to write after her reappearance, Metalious accepted George back into her life after he convinced her to go to Martha's Vineyard with him and their children. On October 6, 1960, she divorced Martin, and supposedly remarried George two days later in Elkton, Maryland, although no record of the re-marriage exists. In March 1961, she terminated her business with her agent. September 1963 saw the publication of No Adam in Eden, supposedly the story of George Metalious' family, but by this time their marriage was faltering again. In 1963, journalist John Rees befriended Metalious and became her manager and lover. She fell ill during a trip to Boston with him, and after a brief hospitalization died on February 25, 1964, of chronic liver disease. Her will left everything to Rees.

sources:

Toth, Emily. Inside Peyton Place: The Life of Grace Metalious. NY: Doubleday, 1981.

Vasudevan, Aruna, ed. Twentieth-Century Romance and Historical Writers. 3rd ed. London and Detroit: St. James Press, 1994.

suggested reading:

Baker, Carlos. "Small Town Peep Show," (review of Peyton Place), in The New York Times Book Review. September 23, 1956, Sec. VII, p. 4.

Carbine, Patricia. "Peyton Place," in Look. March 18, 1958, p. 108.

Metalious, George, and June O'Shea. The Girl from "Peyton Place." NY: Dell, 1965.

related media:

Peyton Place (157 min. film), starring Lana Turner, Hope Lange , Arthur Kennedy, Lloyd Nolan, Betty Field, and Mildred Dunnock , released by Twentieth Century-Fox in 1957.

Return to Peyton Place (122 min. film), starring Carol Lynley , Jeff Chandler, Eleanor Parker, Mary Astor , and Tuesday Weld , released by Twentieth Century-Fox in 1961.

Jo Anne Meginnes , freelance writer, Brookfield, Vermont

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Metalious, Grace (1924–1964)

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