***Grace Metalious wrote the biggest selling potboiler of 1956. The Christian Herald described her book, Peyton Place, as “Bad – quite beyond redemption.” The fact that it was written by a young housewife made it even more scandalous.
Neighbours buzzed about her poor homemaking skills and the nickname of “It’ll Do” that Grace had given her house. There were rumours that she didn’t wash dishes and fed her children peanut butter and marshmallow sandwiches for lunch. Some of the stories were started by Grace herself such as the time she arrived at the Beverly Hills Hilton in a dusty convertible wearing an old western costume pretending to be a Texas oil millionaire. When shown to the suite she had booked, she adopted a false southern accent and expressed amazement upon discovering that hotels had indoor plumbing.
Grace hated Hollywood and the film version of her book. “All the women in Hollywood are either blondes, redheads or raven haired” she said. “Not one has plain brown hair or wears a size 32A brassiere.”
Perhaps she overlooked Mia Farrow who went on to portray the character of Allison MacKenzie in the television series of Peyton Place. Mia, who described her own slender figure as being a kind of 20-20-20, was from a Hollywood family. Her mother was actress Maureen O’Sullivan, her father was director John Farrow and her godmother was the famous and feared celebrity columnist Louella Parsons.
Like Grace, Louella also hated being a housewife. Her third husband, “Docky” Harry Watson was a Beverly Hills urologist who had gained a reputation as “clap doctor” to the stars. His friendliness with local medical labs gave Louella more than one scoop on who was pregnant or ailing in Hollywood. A popular story about the party-loving Docky told how he once fell down drunk on the floor and stayed there. When someone moved to help him up, Louella cried “Oh don’t touch him please, he has to operate at 8 o’clock tomorrow morning.” Needless to say this item was not printed in her column.
Parsons had long been known as “love’s undertaker” for her reports on celebrity breakups. When Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were quarreling she wrote impatiently that she’d like to spank the both of them for bad behaviour. Her 30th anniversary as a columnist was marked by a Masquers Club event at which Eddie Cantor candidly admitted “I”m here for the same reason everybody else is – we were afraid not to come.”
Despite her hearty public image, health problems began to plague Louella. She took comfort in prayer, kneeling on her back lawn by a 10 foot statue of the Virgin Mary which was automatically bathed in light every evening at dusk. The last few years of her long life were spent in a nursing home where she died in 1972.
The Hollywood life was kinder to Louella than Grace. She died of alcoholism at age 39. “If I had to do it over again,” she once remarked, “it would be easier to be poor. Before I was successful, I was as happy as anyone gets.”
*** excerpt from The Bad and The Beautiful by Sam Kashner and Jennifer MacNair