It was 57 years ago when "Peyton Place," the 1956 novel by Grace Metalious, caused a scandal when published.
Of course, it also sold 60,000 copies within the first 10 days of release and stayed on The New York Times best-seller list for 59 weeks.
And by 1957, it was already adapted for a film by 20th Century Fox starring Lana Turner, Russ Tamblyn, Hope Lange, David Nelson and Terry Moore and then, inspiring the first hit prime time soap opera of the same name as a television series from 1964-69 launching careers of Mia Farrow, Barbara Parkins and Ryan O'Neal.
So it only makes sense "Peyton Place" could work equally well as a compelling and juicy stage drama adaption. That's just what director Paul Edwards, who has 48 productions to his credit for Northwestern University, has done with adapting "Peyton Place" for City Lit Theater, at 1020 W. Bryn Mawr, in Chicago, for a new and original run through the end of this month.
The book opens, set in 1937, at a time when people still worried about the cost of making or accepting a collect call and a high school principal could be hired to earn a salary of $2,900 a year.
When Metalious got the idea to write the novel that exposed the skeletons hidden in the closets of her neighbors and friends, it was at a time when women weren't expected to talk about taboos, let alone write about it as fodder.
As Edwards explains, this was also at a time, the fall of 1954, when Metalious was age 30 and three months behind on her car payments while living in "near-poverty." Once the book was an overnight sensation, suddenly, she was courted by Hollywood and signed a $250,000 contract for the film and TV rights to her characters and book.
It was the first novel ever banned from the entire state of Rhode Island and Canada did not allow the book to be brought to the country or sold, under a tariff provision that forbade importing books "of an indecent or immoral character."
Edwards also reminds audiences that despite the success of "Peyton Place," it never brought the author happiness. By the end of the 1950s, one of every 29 Americans owned her book. But Metalious had burned through all of her money at record speed, without setting up trust funds for her three children. Because of her book, her husband George lost his teaching job and the two divorced, leading to her drinking problem. A second marriage quickly ended in divorce and it was discovered her agent was stealing large sums of money thought to have been invested.
While the television series made $62 million for ABC, she saw none of the money since she had signed away the rights years earlier for the one-time sum.
By the time of her death at age 39 on Feb. 25, 1964 from cirrhosis of the liver, her estate was worth only $41,000 in a savings account, along with more than $200,000 in unpaid debts. Any literary rights left from her other unfinished works were auctioned, along with any remaining personal belongings, to pay creditors.
As to how "Peyton Place," adapts to stage through the eyes of Edwards, it clocks in a tad long at 2 hours and 25 minutes. But this "Peyton Place," which closes March 30, is worth a visit. Tickets are $30 by calling (773) 293-3682 or visit citylit.org.