Dec. 11, 1957: The iconic film “Peyton Place,” whose title entered the English language as a synonym for a community full of tawdry secrets, holds its premiere in Camden, where much of it was filmed.

The Camden Theater hosts a capacity crowd of 610, including celebrities chased by searchlights, for two showings of the movie, which is based on the best-selling novel by New Hampshire native Grace Metalious.

Husband-and-wife actors Gary Merrill and Bette Davis, who do not appear in the movie but who are both Maine residents, introduce the celebrities, including Camden doughnut queen Ellen Cooper.

The movie stars Lana Turner, Diane Varsi, Lee Miller, Hope Lange, Lloyd Nolan and Arthur Kennedy. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., which is distributing the movie, granted the premiere as a fundraiser benefiting the Camden Community Hospital.

Diane Varsi and Tab Hunter at the Academy Awards presentations at the RKO Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles on March 26, 1958. Varsi was nominated in the best supporting actress category for her role in “Peyton Place.” Associated Press file

The movie was shot in Belfast, Camden, Rockland and Rockport. Locals who attend the premiere say they are less awestruck by movie stars in the audience than they are amused by the juxtaposition of places in the movie that in reality are far apart from one another. For example, one scene shows characters walking from what the audience recognizes as Main Street in Camden to the front door of Belfast High School in a matter of minutes.

After the first showing, Merrill presides over a charity auction at the high school gymnasium, where the “Peyton Place” script used in Camden and director Mark Robson’s chair go on the block. A Rockland woman, Adelaide Adlmann, puts in a winning $41 bid for the chair. George Pew of Falmouth Foreside wins the script with a $195 bid and announces he will donate the artifact to the Camden Public Library.

According to the Portland Press Herald, Merrill says he hopes the “Peyton Place” filming experience will “convince Hollywood and television that Maine is a great place for picture-making. It would save me 3,000 miles of traveling every time I have to go to work.”

Joseph Owen is an author, retired newspaper editor and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. Owen’s book, “This Day in Maine,” can be ordered at islandportpress.com. To get a signed copy use promo code signedbyjoe at checkout. Joe can be contacted at: [email protected]


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