“These are my people...”

Jackie Susann’s two behemoths—Valley of the Dolls and The Love Machine—are peek-a-boos into the lives of some of the infamous in entertainment. Taking the genre of roman à clef to the lowest depths, she gives readers soaring highs without hangovers—we enjoy without remorse all the dirty dealing, degradation, boozing, pill-popping, bed-hopping. As the literati crucified, she laughed while driving her armored truck to the bank, and it’s no exaggeration her impact on the publishing industry changed everything; what every pantywaist condemned her for were the very things they’d try to demand but didn’t get from their own publishers. It’s not a leap either to say she did what the snob novelists couldn’t do in their wildest dreams—get millions of nonreaders to read. (Spotted the VOFD paperback on my mother’s nightstand, the first and last time she ever opened a book.) Though Susann’s writing required extensive editing—her novels may have been the first liposuctions, first performed by publisher Bernard Geis Associates editor Don Preston and then Simon and Schuster’s Michael Korda—what she wrote about and the way she wrote hit responsive cords: the rich and famous really were lowdown just like us. Attacked because of crass, simplistic writing, the fact remains she was loved by the public because she was crass and simple. Her vulgarity was the creamy butter poured on top of the popcorn text, her dialogue the white sugar on the nonpareils. She flashed by like the ultimate trash flick, which is why the movies from her books couldn’t have been anything more than what they turned out to be—the poorest of imitations. Valley of the Dolls ranks in movie annals for reasons sickly coincidental to the book: confirmed by the cast survivors, director Mark Robson mistreated everyone that everyone ended up hating everybody else. His lack of sensitivity to panicked Judy Garland, hoping for a comeback, was likely part of what caused her to re-up drugs. Watching both her press interview along side Susann and the exceedingly pitiful wardrobe tests revealing a horrifying thinness, she was inalterable premonition. His cruelty, Robson defended, would help get performances out of the doll takers but Patty Duke’s animus towards him prevented giving anything other than angry camp, the freakiness appreciated nevertheless: her Neely—Susann’s version of Garland—is cringe from start to finish and a cult following developed, with little Neelys gathering annually, dressed in garish minis and puffed up hair and droopy mascara, to perform her screaming dross. Hayward gets mocking attention too: refitted into the atrocities designed for Judy by Travilla, she’s doing Broadway’s biggest mouth, who not only curses as “the Merm” but also lipsynchs to a future drag favorite “I’ll Plant My Own Tree,” one of the five deplorable songs written by Dory and André Previn. (Long-rumored that Ethel had a brief fling with Susann, who at the very least had a well-known “star crush” on her.) As the saphead Anne, Barbara Parkins holds on thanks to her celebrated beauty and vox. Paul Burke (Lyon) and Tony Scotti (Tony Polar) look like a casting agent’s desperate attempt to sub for Tony Franciosa. Despite the savagery of reviews, one of them her own, Susann went gushy over the huge box office: “Irving (her husband) and I walked down to the theatre where Valley was playing and there were lines around the block. Every hooker, every pimp, every pervert in New York was standing in that line, and I looked at Irving and said, ‘These are my people...’”



Text COPYRIGHT © 2002 RALPH BENNER  All Rights Reserved.