Pandora in Blue Jeans
I love this picture. Grace Metalious posing for Larry Smith, photographer at the Lanconia Citizen. It appears on the back cover of her 1956 debut novel, Peyton Place, along with the blurb:
Grace Metalious is the most surprising new novelist of the year. In PEYTON PLACE this Pandora in blue jeans lifts the lid off a small New England village, in the most explosive novel since KINGS ROW.
I suppose those are the proofs in the picture. I wonder if she actually wrote at that tiny table in such an uncomfortable position. But I strongly suspect the ashtray and cigarette are real.
So this (dare I say iconic?) picture of the small town girl turned best-selling author has floated through time in various incarnations. First and most valid is this image of Allison MacKenzie, played by Diane Varsi, in the 1957 movie.
Diane Varsi as Allison MacKenzie, 1957
Clearly Allison lives in a higher rent district than her prototype, and she writes in the living room instead of the kitchen, the table is fancier but smaller and there’s no ashtray in sight. She looks just as uncomfortable.
The movie, by the way, scrubbed up a lot of the events and characters as they were portrayed in the book. Worst job was on the Harringtons, father and son team of slimeballs. Leslie Harrington goes from controlling, conniving town boss to benevolent mill owner, and his complete-waste-of-skin son Rodney, instead of being every mother’s worst nightmare, who dies with his girlfriend in a drunken driving crash, is a decent guy who is killed in WWII and lauded as a war hero. Go figure.
Our next Pandora incarnation is The Girl on the Bestseller List, 1960, by Vin Packer. The ashtray is back, the table is even smaller and she looks just as uncomfortable as her predecessors in her Room of One’s Own.
From what I found at Goodreads, it’s a crime story centred around Gloria Wealdon, who writes a novel based on the people in her small town. Hmmm.
Vin Packer is actually Marijane Meaker, who has written a ton of books under a variety of pseudonyms. Vin Packer was her crime novel persona.
In 2009, Jane Hamilton, who should know better, writes Laura Rider’s Masterpiece, a fairly silly tale about a woman who engineers her husband’s affair with another woman. Yawn.
But wait, look at the cover….
Yes, it’s Grace alias Allison alias Gloria. Now she’s become Laura Rider. Yet another Pandora in Blue Jeans.
But….what about her friends? Where did they come from?
I’ll tell you. They came from Louisiana.
In 1956, the year Grace Metalious hit the big time with Peyton Place, Jack Woodford and John B. Thompson wrote Sugar Doll.
They look like nice people, though, don’t they?
Pandora in Blue Jeans just lives on and on. How about a bobblehead doll from the New Hampshire Historican Society.
No manuscript, but there’s the ashtray. Only one cigarette. I guess she’s trying to cut down.
Several years ago, a friend snapped a picture of me at the cottage, working at my laptop.
I know, I know. But I swear the plaid shirt and jeans and pose are just me. I didn’t notice the resemblance until just recently.
There’s no ashtray.
So now this brings us to Pandora’s final incarnation. As I said, I love the Pandora in Blue Jeans image. So much so, that I recreated it in miniature. (Why yes, I am a miniaturist, but that’s another persona.) Here is Grace in 1 inch scale.
Hope you enjoy the many incarnations of Pandora.
For more about this guilty pleasure, take a look at mystery writer Susan Van Kirk’s blog posting.
Or just pick up a copy and lose yourself in the world of Peyton Place.