“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 the entertainment famous; taking the genre of roman à clef to the lowest depths, she gives readers soaring highs without hangovers—we enjoy without remorse all the filth, 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 that 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 that she did what the snob novelists couldn’t do in their wildest dreams—get millions of nonreaders to read. Though her writing required extensive editing—her books may have been the first liposuctions, performed by surgeon Michael Korda—what she wrote about and the way she wrote hit responsive cords: the rich and famous really were just like us, doing the lowdown and dirty. Attacked because of crass, simplistic writing, the fact remains that Susann 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, and 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: director Mark Robson so mistreated everyone that reportedly 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 relapse into drug use. (Refitted into atrocities designed for Judy by Travilla, Susan Hayward subbed, doing a not very disguised Ethel Merman who had been rumored to have had a fling with Susann who at the very least had a “star crush” fixation on “the Merm.”). His cruelty, Robson defended, would help get performances out of the doll takers but Patty Duke’s animus towards him prevented her from giving anything other than angry camp, the freakiness of which is appreciated nonetheless: her Neely—Susann’s version of Garland—is a scream from start to finish and a cult following developed, with little Neelys gathering together annually, dressed in garish minis and droopy mascara, to perform her memorable dross. As the saphead Anne stuck with bummer lines, Barbara Parkins survives thanks to her celebrated beauty. Paul Burke (Lyon) and Tony Scotti (Tony Polar) look like a casting agent’s desperate attempt to sub for Tony Franciosa. Though also hating the movie, Susann was down yet realistic about not just the savagery of reviews greeting it but who helped make huge the box office. She called book publicist Sherry Arden to tell her the following, recalled for biographer Barbara Seaman: “I was feeling so poorly that Irving [her husband] insisted I get dressed. We walked down to the theatre on Broadway 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.’”

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