blackbirdonline journalFall 2015  Vol. 14 No. 2

Peyton Place: A Haiku Soap Opera


Peyton Place: An Overview
Editor’s commentary by Gregory Donovan

Peyton Place
—the very first American prime-time soap opera—which mesmerized and often disturbed television audiences from 1964 to 1969, previously had been a scandalous 1957 film (starring Lana Turner and Hope Lange) and before that a scandalous 1956 novel by Grace Metalious that, although it was considered trash by many critics, made for spicy reading and sold more than twelve million copies. As a TV program, Peyton Place spawned controversy along with the lasting celebrity status of several of its central cast members, most notably Mia Farrow (who scandalously married the much older Frank Sinatra and soon after left the cast, then married composer André Previn, with more scandal, and then began a long relationship with Woody Allen that would end with still more scandal when he took up with her adopted daughter, Soon-Yi) and Ryan O’Neal, who, like Farrow, went on to film stardom—although his career stalled by the end of the 1970s because, according to his agent of that era, “It was hard to cast Ryan—he was too beautiful—and I think a lot of men were jealous of him.”

The Peyton Place plotlines, like the real-life dramas of its stars, featured scandal, as it was one of the first televised programs in the U.S. to deal frankly with sexual themes, which revealed the hypocrisy and masked immorality beneath the misleadingly peaceful façade of small-town American life. Ultimately, Peyton Place entered the national lexicon as the emblematic name for a newly unveiled social phenomenon: the sexual misconduct and criminal activity that lurked beneath the surface of what formerly had been considered “perfectly normal.” Unbridled passion, madness, dark secrets, domestic violence, poorly disguised racism, and even murder were the staples of the drama of Peyton Place.

In David Trinidad’s Peyton Place: A Haiku Soap Opera (Turtle Point Press, 2013) he has whipped up a haiku concoction to respond, with an energy both antic and erotic, to each of the over 500 episodes of the complete run of the television program. Reading this series of poems, carefully constructed within the confines of a taut form yet unleashing a sardonic and often laugh-generating appreciation of the oddities of a now-dated television drama, one is struck by an experience on the page that brings the television series back into the mind’s eye with a pointed mix of humor, pathos, and social critique.

Meanwhile, the imaginative adaptation by John Bresland, collected, edited and enhanced into an equally layered, genre-challenging video essay, employs actual clips from the television program with the texts of Trinidad’s poems superimposed and narrated. Bresland builds upon Trinidad’s frank exploration of the many dimensions of “the male gaze” and further examines the looking generated not only by the camera’s eye, but also by our own changed vision of a set of cultural moments and icons that time and history have inescapably altered. Bresland’s video piece provides its own unique experience that arises from the atmosphere generated by Trinidad’s book while also plunging us into an even more pointed sense of the absurdities and strange possibilities of realization available in the now transformed and reconstituted images of what was once, and is now again, Peyton Place.  

return to top