The Camden Herald was there

Looking back: 60th anniversary of 'Peyton Place' Camden premiere

Dec 07, 2017
Source: The Courier Gazette

The Dec. 11, 1957, world premiere of "Peyton Place" was reported locally in The Camden Herald's Dec. 12, 1957, edition.

"Peyton Place" was filmed almost entirely on location in Camden in 1957, beginning June 6 and wrapping up June 27, according to stories in The Camden Herald. Hundreds of local residents were hired as extras for the film, mingling with stars Diane Varsi, Russ Tamblyn, Hope Lange and others.

Camden's New England architecture and scenery are the backdrop for the motion picture based on the Grace Metalious best-selling novel, considered shocking and sensational at the time. All of the film's stars, with the exception of Lana Turner, were filmed on location in Camden.

Metalious is not mentioned in The Camden Herald's Dec. 12 edition, as, by all accounts, she was not invited to the premiere. The town of Camden invited Metalious' daughters, Marsha and Cynthia, to the 50th anniversary celebration of the premiere in June 2007.

The film premiere took place at the Camden Theater on Mechanic Street, and drew 1,200 "paying customers," according to Helen Stearns, the new Associated Press correspondent for Camden. She wrote that the sun came out Dec. 11, after two days of cold rain. "Except for a couple of engineers making a last check of the special long distance lines they had run to the IGA Foodliner for a later live broadcast, it was just another morning,"

Back then, telephone numbers included letters, and Stearns' was CE-dar 6-2870 at the Herald office. The newspaper cost 10 cents.

The town of Camden turned the premiere into a benefit for the Camden Community Hospital building fund, and in fact, convinced 20th Century Fox to hold the world premiere of "Peyton Place" in Camden for this reason.

Last-minute tickets were available, and were sold at the theater's box office by volunteers from Friends of the Camden Hospital. There were two shows, with one at 6 p.m. before a packed house.

20th Century Fox threw a party in honor of the local "extras" who worked in the film in the Camden High School gym.

"The gymnasium was a colorful sight," wrote Stearns. "On the stage, the 50-piece Camden High School Band led by Chester Hammond and wearing their brilliant scarlet jackets and white trousers, entertained a crowd of several hundred with a concert to start things off. Fish nets, lobster traps, a row boat and an old sea chest provided the stage decoration, and around the walls of the big room attractive exhibits of local industries were on display."

Bette Davis and her husband, Gary Merrill, attended the premiere. Merrill ran the auction at the extras party, bringing in $41 for the director's chair, and $105 for the leather-bound movie script of "Peyton Place." The script was promptly donated to The Camden Public Library, where it still resides.

The emcees for the party and the premiere were Camden Chamber of Commerce Director Fred Crockett, who, in his later years, contributed weekly columns on vintage yachts to The Courier-Gazette, and Norman Cote, manager of the IGA Foodliner.

Crockett and Cote drove Davis and Merrill to the theater, where Crockett introduced them to the audience. The Merrills then introduced "other prominent people present."

"Finally Jim Moore of the Portland Press Herald was introduced and Miss Davis subjected him to the kind of questioning she said newpaper men frequently pull on celebrities, to the great amusement of the audience."

An NBC nationwide radio broadcast was set up at the IGA Foodliner, and that was where Agnes Gibbs of WCSH radio and TV interviewed Davis and Merrill.

"Along with the nationwide listeners, a crowd of several hundred people waiting to go to the second showing of the picture at 9:30 heard the three of them [Merrill, Davis, Gibbs] rave about the movie, its magnificent scenery and acting, and the friendliness and charm of Camden people. Then Fred Crockett, on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce, presented the Merrills with a pair of creamy white Knox blankets, and some lovely matching red Brewster woolen shirts."

Local film review

The Camden Herald ran its own review of the movie on page 10, mingling praise with a sprinkling of indignation, criticism and humor.

"Peyton Place, which had its world premier last night at the Camden Theater, was a visual treat from beginning to end. Thanks to superb color photography, the scenery in and around Camden, where much of the picture was filmed last summer, was always stunning and at times breathtaking.

"But this reporter found the same fault in the movie version that we had in the book, namely: it doesn't tell the whole story. Only a hypocrite would deny that what happens in Peyton Place could and does happen in both small towns and larger ones. And anyone who has ever been young knows what a difficulty sex can be in the teen years. Nevertheless there are still some wholesome family relationships around, we hope; and it is hard to believe that any group of young people, however curious and confused, would not take time out from petting occasionally for just plain kid fun. There was none of either in Peyton Place.

The home town audience got a good laugh when they saw the Greyhound bus supposedly heading for New York City take off up Main Street in the direction of Belfast."

The review concluded:

"Peyton Place may not be the best picture that was ever made, but it is certainly one of the most picturesque scenically. And it certainly gave our town a delightful afternoon and evening we won't soon forget."

More premiere edition stories

A story, headlined "Legion of Decency Gives Top Rating to Peyton Place," also ran on the front page.

"Peyton Place" producer Jerry Wald sent a letter to Joe Badger, spokesperson for Friends of the Camden Hospital, whose efforts were responsible for the film's world premiere taking place in Camden.

"I can think of no better place to have the world premier than Camden, Maine, and I can think of no better cause than a hospital, which takes care of us in our hours of pain.

"...I feel certain that all the people who see Peyton Place will be as pleased with it as we are, and it might interest you to know that the Legion of Decency gave us the highest possible rating for a film: an A2 rating."

Another headline "Maine Gifts Hollywood With Christmas Tree," told of Hope Lange and Barry Coe, both featured in "Peyton Place," receiving a 27-foot Maine balsam fir, a gift from then-Gov. Edmund S. Muskie, Dec. 12. The tree arrived via Flying Tiger Air Lines and was received by Lange and Coe at the Burbank Airport in Los Angeles County, Calif.

Throughout the year of 1957, there were many stories about the filming of "Peyton Place" in The Camden Herald. In fact, on June 14, 2007, these original stories, along with photographs, new feature stories, and reminiscences from some of the extras, were published in a 12-page special souvenir supplement to the newspaper.

Courier Publications assistant editor Susan Mustapich can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at

Comments (1)
Posted by: VALERIE ANN ORR | Dec 08, 2017 10:49



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