Cast & Crew
New Englander Anne Welles arrives in New York City and accepts a secretarial job with a leading theatrical law firm. On her first day, she is present at a Broadway rehearsal when hard-boiled musical comedy star Helen Lawson discharges a talented newcomer, Neely O'Hara, because she threatens to steal the show. Lyon Burke, an associate in the law firm, gets Neely a spot on a TV show that leads to stardom in Hollywood. At the same time beautiful but untalented Jennifer North falls in love with nightclub singer Tony Polar and marries him despite the objections of his sister, Miriam. Eventually Anne and Lyon quarrel over his refusal to marry; Lyon quits the law firm to resume his writing; and Anne appears in a series of TV commercials. As time passes, Neely finds herself incapable of adjusting to fame: two unsuccessful marriages (to press agent Mel Anderson and costume designer Ted Casablanca) have led to both alcoholism and drug addiction. Neely is persuaded to enter the same sanitarium where Tony is dying of an incurable disease. Jennifer, who has been paying Tony's bills by making nudist films in Europe, learns she has breast cancer and commits suicide. After Anne and Lyon have reconciled their differences and then broken up again, Neely gets the chance for a comeback on Broadway; but she is still emotionally incapable of facing an audience. Too drunk to go on, she collapses in the theater alley after her understudy has scored an opening night triumph. By now Anne is back at her New England home. One day Lyon pays her a visit and pleads with her to marry him. Anne can only kiss him affectionately and reject his offer.
Robert H. Harris
L. B. Abbott
William H. Daniels
Emil Kosa Jr.
Walter M. Scott
Jack Martin Smith
Valley of the Dolls
In 1962, the Mansfield-Susann union was at its lowest ebb, with husband between jobs and wife dealing with the diagnosis of breast cancer. Desperate to make her mark on the world, and perhaps feeling as if she had nothing to lose, Susann began outlining a novel, a roman-à-clef detailing her show business experiences behind the scenes and between the sheets. Initially titled The Pink Dolls - Susann's slang for the stimulants and depressants needed by entertainment industry players to stay on top of their game - the book was rechristened Valley of the Dolls and rejected by every respectable publisher - but one. Bernard Geis Associates had already published Susann's first book, Every Night, Josephine!, a featherweight love note to her own pet poodle, but the staff of the independent publishing house nearly mutinied over Geis' decision to run with Valley of the Dolls. "She is a painfully dull, inept, clumsy, undisciplined, and thoroughly amateurish writer," complained editor Ronald Preston, tasked with getting the novel ready for the printer. "I really don't think there is a page of this [manuscript] that can stand in its present form. And after it is done, we will be left with a faster, slicker, more readable mediocrity."
The success of Valley of the Dolls after its publication in 1966 remains the stuff of legend, with over 30 million copies sold within the space of a year. Succeeding Grace Metalious' Peyton Place and Helen Gurley Brown's Sex and the Single Girl as the book to hide in a bureau drawer and read on the sly, Valley of the Dolls was named a New York Times bestseller by millions of readers dying to know the real-life counterparts to Susann's coterie of desperate characters. It was generally surmised that "Helen Lawson," a vainglorious but aging movie star, was inspired by Ethel Merman (with whom it was rumored that Susann, an admitted bisexual, had been involved romantically) while doomed starlet "Jennifer North" was a combination of Susann's late friend Carole Landis (another whispered sexual conquest) and the recently-deceased Marilyn Monroe. The tragic decline of the novel's protagonist, "Neely O'Hara," was based on the career, torturous personal life, and sad decline of Judy Garland, with shadings as well of the derailed stardom and institutionalization of Frances Farmer. Catapulted onto the international A-list, Susann was paid $1.5 million by 20th Century Fox for the movie rights to her next book, prompting shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, then courting the widowed Jacqueline Kennedy, to quip "I picked the wrong Jackie."
Assigned to oversee Fox's adaptation of Valley of the Dolls (1967) was Mark Robson, a former RKO editor turned director, who had handled Fox's adaptation of Peyton Place (1957). Robson proctored a slew of rewrites from several writers (among them, Harlan Ellison, who demanded that his name be removed from the credits) before production got underway in the late spring of 1967. Though Fox had paid handsomely to acquire Susann's novel and would invest in a lavish, transcontinental publicity campaign, producer David Weisbart (who would die of a massive stroke mid-production while playing golf with Robson) played it conservative in casting Valley of the Dolls. While Susann had wanted friend Bette Davis to play Helen Lawson, Weisbart instead cast Judy Garland. (Suffering the debilitating effects of a dependence on both Ritalin and Seconal, Garland lasted ten days on-set before being let go and replaced by Susan Hayward.) The plum role of Neely O'Hara was rejected by Jane Fonda and given instead to Patty Duke, then transitioning from ingénue to adult roles, while the balance of the principal cast was filled with TV actors (Barbara Parkins, from the Peyton Place TV series) and relative unknowns (fashion model Sharon Tate, who had played small, decorous roles in J. Lee Thompson's Eye of the Devil and fiancé Roman Polanski's The Fearless Vampire Killers).
Fox planned to premiere Valley of the Dolls around the world simultaneously, in a number of capital European cities and jet set hot spots. For "the junket to end all junkets," the studio secured the ocean liner Princess Italia to ferry the cast, crew, and members of the press corps to openings in Venice, the Canary Islands, Miami, Nassau, Acapulco, Los Angeles, and New York. It was aboard the Princess Italia that author Susann saw Valley of the Dolls for the first time. Sitting poker-faced through the screening, Susann is reported to have chased after director Robson to scream at him "This picture is a piece of shit! This is not what I've written! I want off of this boat." With Susann and Mansfield jumping ship in the Canary Islands, Valley of the Dolls continued without them and despite excoriating notices from the major critics the film went on to become one of the ailing 20th Century Fox's top grossers, ranking number four at the boxoffice behind only Paramount's The Graduate (1967), Columbia's Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's roadshow re-release of Gone with the Wind (1939). There was even an Oscar nod for composer John Williams, who was nominated for Best Original Score.
During production of Valley of the Dolls, Jacqueline Susann's source novel was reissued in paperback and became another best seller. (Rumors persist that the paperback's brisk sales had something to do with a book-buying campaign engineered by Susann and Mansfield, in partnership with Bantam Books and 20th Century Fox.) Susann's subsequent novels, The Love Machine and Once Is Not Enough, were also best sellers fast-tracked for Hollywood adaptations while the author herself achieved superstar status thanks to her supersized publicity profile and her well-publicized feuds with authors Gore Vidal and Truman Capote, who cracked on The Tonight Show that Susann looked like "a truck driver in drag." (Susann seems to have been unfazed by British talk show host David Frost's joke that, given her meteoric success, she probably typed her novels on a cash register.) Susann's sense of personal success was assured, but short-lived. By 1974, her breast cancer had metastasized, though she kept a tight lid on that information as she checked into New York's Doctor's Hospital on what was her 56th birthday. Rendered weak and delusional by the effects of chemotherapy, Susann is said to have pulled off the turban covering her hairless head and shouted "Let's blow this joint" before taking her last breath at 9:02 PM, September 21, 1974.
As a trash masterpiece, Valley of the Dolls earned a well-deserved place in the American common consciousness, as integral (if not as worthy) a component of the national identity as Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Sharon Tate's shocking August 1969 murder at the hands of the minions of Hollywood hanger-on Charles Manson cast a ghoulish pall over the memory of the book, a macabre tone exploited by filmmaker Russ Meyer (and first-time screenwriter Roger Ebert) in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970), which climaxes with a string of grotesque slayings and the decapitation of a victim who lies (as had Tate) bound and helpless on the floor. Over the years, aspects of both novel and movie were incorporated into countless cabaret acts, with drag artists recreating the infamous Neely O'Hara-Helen Lawson wig-stealing scene. In 1981, 20th Century Fox Television reworked the property as a CBS miniseries titled Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls. Michelle Lee starred in the sanitized TV biopic, Scandalous Me: The Jacqueline Susann Story (1998), broadcast by the USA Network and featuring Barbara Parkins in a supporting role. Susann's complicated marriage to Irving Mansfield was the subject of the 2000 film Isn't She Lovely?, starring Bette Midler and Nathan Lane.
By Richard Harland Smith
Lovely Me: The Life of Jacqueline Susann by Barbara Seaman (Seven Stories Press, 1987/1996)
Susan Hayward: Her films and Life by Kim Holston (McFarland & Company, 2002)
Brass Diva: The Life and Legends of Ethel Merman by Caryl Flinn (University of California Press, 2007)
Sharon Tate: Recollection by Debra Tate (Running Press, 2014)
Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland (Random House Publishing Group, 2009)
Me and My Shadows: A Family Memoir by Lorna Luft (Simon & Schuster, 1999)
"Once Was Never Enough" by Amy Fine Collins, Vanity Fair, January 2000
Bernard J. Geis obituary by Riva D. Atlas, The New York Times, January 10, 2001
Cinemascope 3: Hollywood Takes the Plunge by John Howard Reid, lulu.com
Valley of the Dolls
The only hit that comes out of a Helen Lawson show is Helen Lawson, and that's ME, baby, remember?- Helen Lawson
I didn't have dough handed to me because of my good cheekbones, I had to earn it.- Neely O'Hara
They drummed you out of Hollywood, so you come crawling back to Broadway. But Broadway doesn't go for booze and dope. Now get out of my way, I've got a man waiting for me.- Helen Lawson
I wouldn't pay any attention to that. You know how bitchy fags can be!- Jennifer North
You've got your new deal, and I've got my sanity back.- Ted Casablanca
With that little whore?- Neely O'Hara
That little whore makes me feel nine feet tall!- Ted Casablanca
'Garland, Judy' was originally cast in the main supporting role of Helen Lawson. The studio provided her with a pool table in her dressing room at her request. Eventually she backed out of the film and was replaced by 'Hayward, Susan' . Other actors considered as replacements were Tammy Grimes and Bette Davis
For the three lead roles the following actors were considered: Petula Clark, Raquel Welch, Ann-Margret, Candice Bergen, and Jill Ireland. In the end Sharon Tate, Patty Duke and Barbara Parkins played the roles.
An original, unused theme song was written by novelist Jacqueline Susann and Bob Gaudio of the Four Seasons.
Dionne Warwick was under contract to a different record label than 20th so the theme on the soundtrack album was sung Dory Previn, who also wrote the lyrics. Margaret Whiting dubbed Susan Hayward but she was also under contract to a different label so veteran voice double Eileen Wilson sings "I'll Plant My Own Tree" on the soundtrack album.
'Judy Garland' kept her costume when she walked off the film, and proceeded to wear the sequined pantsuit while performing in concerts around the world.
Location scenes filmed in New York, New England, and Hollywood.
Released in United States Winter December 1, 1967
Re-released in United States May 5, 2000
Re-released in United States May 5, 2000 (Screening Room; weekends midnight; New York City)
Released in United States Winter December 1, 1967