The Infamous, Unforgettable 'Peyton Place'

By Barbara F. Dyer | May 10, 2018
Barbara Dyer and Russ Tamblyn pose for a photo at the Camden Film Festival, 2000.

This morning I had a call from a lady who was writing about the filming of the movie “Peyton Place” in Camden. It happened 61 years ago this month. I have lost track of the number of calls and visits I have had in that time from people wanting to talk about it, the most popular topic of any in our town.

To begin with, I was a working girl then, and my boss had read the book. When he finished the book he handed it to me and said, “This is great literature. Take it home and read it.” I did, but only read a few pages and could not believe what was in print. I took it back to the office the next day and indignantly said, ”It may be your literature but not mine.” (Up to that time all books and movies were censored. I remembered everyone was shocked because in the movie “Gone With The Wind,” Clark Gable said, “Damn.”) The Camden Librarian had the book, but kept it under lock and key in her office. If someone insisted on taking it out, she had to give it to them.

Shortly after, I heard they were going to film it in Camden. Many people were excited about it happening, but I thought it was going to spoil the reputation of our pretty little town. It was true that they were going to film it here, and it would take place in May of 1957. I did not want to see any of the action.

Many people signed up to get a part, and they did need many, especially in the scenes of the “picnic at Harrington Mills.” The Knox Woolen mill was used and the new sign went up, “HARRINGTON MILLS.” We had a quartet of men, who had wonderful voices, but they were told to sing off-key. Many young people were in rowboats near the Knox Mill on the Megunticook River, and some even received their Social Security number, so they could work. They and many adults thought it to be very exciting to be in the movies. The good part about it was we were trying to raise money for a new hospital and Fox Movietone donated a sum of money toward it, and some adult extras, who really did not do it for the money, donated their pay for the new hospital.

It was filmed in a very short period of time. It turned out to be a popular movie. The all-star cast was nominated for nine Academy Awards. Nominated were: Best Picture; Best Actress, Lana Turner (who never did come to Camden); Best Supporting Actor, Russ Tamblyn; Best Supporting Actress, Diane Varsi; Best Supporting Actor, Arthur Kennedy; Best Supporting Actress, Hope Lange; Best Director, Mark Robson; Cinematography, William Mellor and for writing the screenplay, John Michael Hayes. The movie also had Lloyd Nolan and Lee Phillips. The book was written by Grace Metalious, who did not live to know how popular the book became. I heard that her husband was a school teacher and was fired because of it; she was treated badly and with disgrace.

The Camden Theater had the premier showing, but no star from the movie was present. So Bette Davis, who summered in Maine, represented Hollywood. I think the whole population from Camden (except me) was there.

In the year 2000, Camden decided to have a film festival and feature “Peyton Place.” I was asked to be on the committee. I said “No, I did not want it filmed here; you don't want me.” They thought that was so funny and insisted that I join them, so I did. There were many meetings to plan it. We could use the front part of the Knox Mill, where a museum had been. Someone from away loaned us large posters of “Peyton Place” that he had in his collection, and other memorabilia was loaned. I borrowed pictures that Fox Movietone had given to a couple of places in town that were in the movie and that the paper-backing was worn, so I said, “Let me borrow them and I will have them re-framed,” which they did. I made copies for the scrapbook that was going to be on display and then given to the Camden Public Library. Someone from New York loved the movie so much, he asked me to locate the buildings, etc, used in the film, and take pictures of how they looked in the year 2000. Two churches and the school were filmed in Belfast. The County Court House was in Rockland and the Camden scenes were easy to find. In the beginning of the movie, Lee Philips was a teacher driving to Camden and it showed railroad tracks. I had no idea where they were, but knew they were not in Camden. I did know that Rockland and perhaps Thomaston had some, so I went for a ride following railroad tracks and finally found the crossing sign. Also there was a house in the background that had a chimney all the way down the back and a tree. That was it! But the tree had grown quite a bit. I sent the man from New York a copy of all those pictures and kept one copy for the scrapbook that was on display at the festival.

On the stage of the Opera House, a University of Maine professor gave a short speech about what great literature that book was. My job following her speech was to introduce the Camden extras to talk about their experience as a movie extra. Of course, I started it by telling them how I was one of the few who did not want it filmed here, and then did the introductions.

Russ Tamblyn was the only one of the movie stars that came to the film festival, and everyone liked him. We were in the lobby of the Opera House and people were gathering around him hoping to have their pictures taken with him. Maine Public Broadcasting was there and asked me to answer some questions. Mark Haskell was there taking pictures and said, “Barbara, would you come over here as soon as you get through with MPB.” So I did and he snapped the picture with “Norman” (Russ Tamblyn). We then went to the Whitehall Inn for lunch, as some scenes had been shot there. It was a pleasure to sit with him and his wife for a nice meal.

The Walsh History Center at the Camden Public Library was given the original script and they have three scrapbooks of it in their archives.

I later bought a tape (VCR) to see the scenes of beautiful Camden and the people I knew who were in it. Then, after watching it, I wondered why I was so upset to think it was going to be filmed here, but times have changed and nothing is censored now in books, movies or television. It seems one flows with the tide and now, I must have been brain-washed. I even say many people loved the movie and some moved to Camden after seeing its beauty depicted in the scenes.


Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | May 10, 2018 15:55

Good read Barbara! I did not get caught up in the hype at that time as I had my hands full with twins and farm work. I used to wonder how people had time to go to the movies let alone gawk at celebrities. Time sure do change.

Mary "Mickey (Brown) McKeever

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