Grace beyond redemption

***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.

Mia marries Frank

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.

Louella and blonde friend

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.”

Eddie Cantor

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

Published in: on May 23, 2010 at 8:46 am  Comments (41)  
Tags: , , ,

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

41 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. That Eddie Cantor picture is a gem

    • Isn’t it wonderful?

  2. That photo of Mia and Frank is amazing. She looks so young!

    • I love her pixie haircut

  3. Grace sounds like a good damn time. Well, up until that ‘died of alcoholism at 39’ thing…

    • haha….. when I read about her hatred of housework I thought of you

  4. Lawd, from Frank to Woody. Eish.

    • Don’t forget Andre Previn

  5. Peyton Place – my first “bad” book. Filled out the blanks in my childhood education. Suddenly the neighbourhood was full of previously untold & unimagined possibilities!

    (in my next life, I think I’d like to take a crack at being “beyond redemption)

    • My mother wouldn’t let me read it 😦

  6. Have you ever seen The Sweet Smell of Success with Burt Lancaster? It’s about the dirty business of Hollywood gossip.

    • No but I’d like to

  7. Sweet Mia in those young days. I’d have loved to meet Grace

    • She sounds like quite the woman doesn’t she?

  8. there’s always so much to learn in your posts, NM.

    I never knew Maureen O’Sullivan was Mia Farrow’s mother. As a young lad, I was lovestruck on Maureen O’Sullivan, watching every film she was in several times. (I’ve had a thing for redheads ever since) 😆

    • Every film? According to imdb she was in 94! Though that included a few television appearances

  9. I read it decaes ago and it was indeed quite awful. So awful I had to read the sequel “Return to Peyton Place” That was even worse.

    I think this must be the only 2 book series in history where the author forgot the name of a central character between the first and second. Rossi transformed into somebody with a different name. Either that or the second bloke somehow acquired Rossi’s woman and all his memories.

    • Hah! Well, now I have an idea what I’m in for then. I have always intended to read it after seeing the movie. Nursemyra’s post reminded me of that… good thing I scrolled through the comments! 🙂

      • I’m even more tempted to find a copy now

  10. Hated housework and gave her kids peanut butter and marshmallow sandwiches? Hmmm… I wonder if my ex-wife is busily scribbling away at her own potboiler.

  11. I wish the not-wife would write something like Peyton Place….

  12. I quite like slender figures ….. the chances of losing one’s way is reduced …….

    • oh very droll daddyp

  13. Peanut butter and marshmallow sandwiches???!!!!! What lucky children! If only more mothers were like that!

    • I’d try one if it were toasted

  14. Oh and Mia’s Pixie haircut is just adorable….i’m tempted to cut it all off now!

  15. Sinatra knew how to keep his pimp hand strong.

  16. I think if I was a urologist I would go by the name Dicky Harry

  17. She sounds like she made my kind of sandwiches. I clearly had a deprived childhood.

  18. Wasn’t Ryan O’Neal in the television series? Hold for Google-ing . . . yes! 1964 – 66. It was a big hit for him. He was a charmer back in the day. Wonder if he dated Mia? Aha!

    Perhaps . . . your post opens up all kinds of interesting what-ifs, NM Fascinating.

  19. I still ask how Woody Allen was lucky enough to get Mia Farrow . . .

  20. I just *know* that I’ve seen Louella’s “blond friend” somewhere before, but I cannot place her. And for some reason I have the song “Happy Birthday” going through my head. Odd.

    • welcome to the Gimcrack Catsy

  21. i want to be a “clap doctor” to the stars.
    (i mean, who suffers from too much applause?)
    and think of all the gossip i would hear!

  22. “…the most explosive novel since King’s Row.” The King is often explosive in real life too. (one of the few images of NM’s that it is safe to click on)

    • Eddie Cantor is safe to click too queenie 🙂

      • yes, safe but SPOOKY

  23. Ah, Ms. Farrow, how I wish you could have belonged to mia! Short hair FTW.

  24. Rat Pack Confidential is a great read – it could almost have been written by you nursemyra.

    After Mia and Frank separated she sold all the jewelry he’d given her and then ran off with her sister Prudence to join The Beatles in the Maharishi’s ashram.

  25. I’m certain to read Peyton Place now. Another book for the reading list.

  26. Just goes to show you fame and fortune are not the magic bullet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: