Whatever happened to those non-Puritan New Englanders of Peyton Place? Twenty years ago, the 1964-65 season, Grace Metalious' scandalous best-selling novel came to ABC-TV as a series, showing off an unusually classy cast of newcomers led by Mia Farrow, Ryan O'Neal and Barbara Parkins. Now, Peyton Place returns as a two-hour, 20th Century Fox television movie for NBC called Peyton Place: The Next Generation.
"It's a very good script," said Dorothy Malone, "and I understand that there are some darling young actors in it, plus many of us playing our original parts, except for Mia Farrow and Ryan O'Neal. And it's being shot in my hometown, Dallas. What more wonderful can I ask?"
In the original TV Peyton Place, it was the glamorous Malone who was the featured star. The Academy Award winner for Written on the Wind (1957) received top billing for playing bouffant-coiffured Constance MacKenzie, the tight-skirted, heaving-sweatered mother to Mia Farrow's lovestruck Allison. She again portrays Constance in the new television movie.
"I was the first movie star to plunge into night-time soap opera," Malone, 60, recalled during an interview at her favorite table at the Dallas Country Club. There, the Texan [born in Chicago in 1924] behind dark glasses is a celebrity member.
"Everybody said Peyton Place would be a mistake," she remembered. "Television wasn't prestigious. I would suffer from overexposure. Television work hours would be atrocious." Malone was so impressed with the writing on the first three Peyton Place scripts that she struck a deal. She agreed to play Constance MacKenzie for $3,000 a week less then ABC's offer of $10,000 a week if she could be home by 6 p.m. for dinner with her two daughters, and have weekends off.
"I never turned down a mother role," Malone explained. "I like playing mothers. I started out as a very young girl in Hollywood doing westerns portraying a mother with a couple of kids." Through the years, the Peyton Place cast shifted and changed, as do all soap operas. Mia Farrow cut her shoulder-length hair into a pixie, dropped out and became a movie star with Rosemary's Baby (1968). But except for a frightening hospitalization in fall, 1965, from a perilous blood clot (she was replaced temporarily by Lola Albright), Malone remained with the series until the end. The show's fifth anniversary was celebrated at Malone's Malibu beach house.
What if this spring's movie spawns another series?
"I would be very hurt if I were not in it," she said bluntly, noting her role in getting Peyton Place on television in the first place. When the pilot program was shown in 1964 to potential advertisers, "I gave a speech about Peyton Place," Malone recalled. "Then I went up to a very charming man from Brown & Williamson and told him he should sponsor it. He agreed. I feel, by golly, they wouldn't have gotten it on the air if I hadn't done that."
She was Dorothy Maloney, an 18-year-old student at Dallas' Southern Methodist University, when a scout from RKO saw her in a school play and signed her for Hollywood. With her mother, she went to California for "a vacation with pay." Dorothy Maloney specialized at RKO in nonspeaking parts."I was a bridesmaid at a wedding in one picture. In another film, I was the leader of an all-girl orchestra. The only thing I did at RKO of any note was lose my Texas accent." Then she signed with Warner Brothers. The new studio changed her name, "from Maloney to Malone. They placed my picture in the newspaper, and they gave me a raise."
Her first speaking role came in 1946 when she played the unnamed young lady in the used bookshop, her glamor hidden behind glasses, in Howard Hawks's The Big Sleep. Her audacious character shuts down her shop for the rainy afternoon, to cavort with Bogart's Philip Marlowe, who had come in ostensibly seking a first edition of Ben Hur.
"Howard Hawks saw me at a western party where I was the only one dressed as an Indian," she recalled. "I had on a really short costume, black shoe polish in my hair and dark makeup all over me. Hawks asked to be introduced, and then called me in for an interview. He liked to act outrageous. He liked to throw people off, so you had to be very sharp and a little contrary. He preferred you to be a little contrary.
"But on the picture, we stopped at 3 o'clock and had tea, with the crumpets and the pinafores. We were treated royally, and Hawks let me do what I wanted in the scene, like pulling down the window shade. And Bogart was a lovely man. I hate to use the word, but that's what he was - lovely.
"With The Big Sleep, Malone's stature rose at Warners. She played Cary Grant's cousin in "Night and Day" (1946). She was declared a star in studio publicity, and the company shipped her off to meet the king and queen in England. She traveled in style on the Queen Elizabeth, joining representatives of other studios, including Ray Milland, David Niven, and Reginald Gardner, plus vacationing members of Parliament and General Mark Clark. "That was living in the grand manner," she declared. "We had cocktail parties and I'd stay up until 5 in the morning."
The actress's personal favorite of her Warners films was One Sunday Afternoon (1948), a little-remembered remake of The Strawberry Blonde (1941). But she also enjoyed doing westerns with Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson (Two Guys From Texas, 1948) and Joel McCrea (South of St.Louis, 1949). When Malone's Warners contract ended, she agreed to B cowboy movies such as The Nevadan (1950), Saddle Legion (1952), and The Bushwakers (1952).
"I loved westerns," she said. "I loved to get all dusty and ride horses and plant potatoes and cotton. My stand-in and I would be the only women on the set." Later, Malone appeared in one prestige western, The Last Sunset (1961), opposite Rock Hudson and Kirk Douglas. But she deeply regrets, even now, that she was too shy to audition for The Big Country (1958), made by her favorite director, William Wyler.
At the time of The Big Country, Malone had gone through an anxious period and lost 20 pounds. "I thought I looked like a witch," she remembered, so every time her agency, MCA, arranged an appointment with Wyler, she wouldn't show up. "I found out later that Wyler wanted a skinny actress. Instead, he cast Carroll Baker, who didn't tell him she was pregnant. He had to shoot her in closeup. That was my big boo-boo in films - stupidity on my part and an inferiority complex."
At the thought of the now-deceased Wyler, she sighed. "I get crushes on directors because they are so brilliant. There is so much down-to-earth living knowledge that a director must have that I fall in love with their minds.
In 1955, it was another esteemed director, Raoul Walsh (he had used her in One Sunday Afternoon), who made Malone famous "overnight" in Battle Cry (1955). He chose her over 19 others to play Marine Tab Hunter's frustrated and somewhat trampy wife - and suddenly Malone was a Hollywood siren and sexpot.
That same successful year, 1955, she apeared in Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis's Artists and Models (Martin told her, "I like the way your bone structure is structured"), and she was Librace's woman in Sincerely Yours. (Malone: "He asked me out. I liked him a lot.") Then she was cast by cult favorite Douglas Sirk in her most enduring role, as the chain-smoking, fast-driving, self-destructive, oil baroness in the flamboyant Written on the Wind (1957). Her Academy Award. "An agent kept calling me that there is a director from Europe who wants you and only you," Malone recalled. "Sirk was every woman's dream of a director. He was very Prussian, wore a scarf, and maybe he even had a walking stick. If he liked you, he was so much fun. I found him utterly charming. But it must have been terrible if he didn't like you."
Malone was reunited with Sirk and fellow Written on the Wind stars Robert Stack and Rock Hudson for The Tarnished Angels (1958), a moody, melancholic adaptation of William Faulkner's early novel, Pylon. Many critics consider The Tarnished Angels the best version of Faulkner on film, but Malone remembers more how miserable she was making it. A stunt pilot was killed during the shooting. And they would film all night after Malone had toiled all day on another picture, Tip on a Dead Jockey (1957).
Malone said: "We were all down at San Diego beach. It was raining, cold and damp. Sirk was mad at the cinematographer [Irving Glassberg], and the cinematographer was mad at Sirk. The cinematographer would light everybody. Sirk would come in and say, 'I don't like the way it is lit,' and change it all. They hated each other at this point."
Malone was cast as a barnstorming stunt parachute jumper, but she was scared to perform the stunts. She was traumatized at having to jump off airplane wings to a matress far below. Worse, Sirk had her hang for hours from the ceiling, suspended on wires, while the crew rehearsed and technicians lit the film's sexiest scene: the barelegged Malone descends via parachute through the air, her skirt blown high by the wind. (In actuality, two freezing fans.)
In recent years, Malone has suffered the fate of many still-active, mature Hollywood actresses: nobody is writing good roles for which she would qualify. The decent female parts go to the very young. "I want to work," Malone said emphatically. "I need to work." Unfortunately, she has had to make do with such instantly forgotten pictures as Abduction (1975) about the Patty Hearst kidnapping.
"I played Patty's mother. I can't remember who played Patty's father. He must have been the star. The picture showed us around the Hearst mansion worrying a lot." Her all-time low was The Man Who Could Not Die (1975). "I did that one in Puerto Rico. I was in one shot. I was stabbed in the stomach and that was it. They used my name in the credits."
One exception to the dubious level of Malone's 1970s films was Winter Kills (1979), director William Richert's loveably crazy melodrama starring an estimable cast of idiosyncratic Hollywood personalities, including Sterling Hayden and Orson Welles. Malone played a loony lady. "That was fun," she said, smiling. "I owned a sickly little Yorkshire which I killed when I turned over in bed."
Malone appeared also in a series of made-for-TV movies, but, ultimately, her best-loved roles were in the studio era. In Hollywood. "I acted three times with Fred MacMurray, three times with Martin and Lewis, four times with Rock Hudson. Three times with Glenn Ford."
Her best romantic interludes were in Hollywood too. "Sinatra asked me out," she said, bragging a bit. "He saw me at Romanoff's one night. I went to a telephone one day at the beach and called my exchange. They said, 'Frank Sinatra called.' I said, 'Oh my God, heaven help us.' We finally met on the set of Young at Heart. I loved him. I just loved him."
Isn't she the only person in the world to have dated both Sinatra and Liberace? Malone nodded, and beamed. "And Adlai Stevenson," she added proudly. "And Rock Hudson."
(The Toronto Globe and Mail, April 15, 1985 - Composite Interview: The Chicago Tribune, May 13, 1985)