I love this movie. I can’t deny it. I won’t say that it’s a guilty pleasure. I have no beliefs that this is a great movie or that it’s a classic. I just love it. I quote from it all the time. I wish that I could live in the world of the film.
Jacqueline Susann. It’s thanks to you that I know just how bad dolls are.
Three young women are out to make it in the big bad world.
Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke) has talent, if she can just stay off the pills. She’s in the big bad world of Broadway, where she runs up against arrogant legend Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward).
Jennifer North (Sharon Tate) is gorgeous but doesn’t have the talent. She’s stuck in the chorus.
Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins) is an ingenue who has arrived in New York City to work in the theatrical agency that represents them.
Of course, the dolls — which are the barbiturates Seconal and Nembutal and various stimulants — are all too much for everyone. Neely becomes a diva and cheats on her husband with fashion designer Ted Casablanca, but when she puts her career before him, he leaves her. Eventually, her career goes into the skids because of all the drugs she’s on and she gets committed to a sanitarium.
Jennifer also heads to Hollywood, where she falls for nightclub singer Tony Polar, who has Huntington’s Chorea and ends up in the same asylum as Neely. She also has an abortion and to pay for her man’s care ends up doing French art films, which really means nudie cuties.
Anne falls for a guy named Lyon and she starts a new career as a model, but he gets stolen from her by Neely, fresh out of the sanitarium and ready to get on the make. Of course, she falls right back into the loving embrace of all them dolls. She also gets into a catfight with Helen Lawson and flushes her wig down the toilet, which is a moment that I always pause and get on my hands and knees and thank God that this movie was made.
She then hits rock bottom, has sex with a stranger and watches him rob her. That’s nothing — Jennifer’s mother can’t deal with her softcore films and won’t support her when cancer strikes. She commits suicide with all them dolls.
Anne gets on them too, but she decides to kick the habit and move back to New England. Lyon comes to try and win her back, but she walks away, out of his life for good.
No one leaves Valley of the Dolls unchanged.
Judy Garland was originally cast as Helen Lawson, but was fired when she reportedly came to work all messed up. She would have brought some real know-how of this world to that role. After all, Neely was based on her, as well as a little bit of Betty Hutton and Frances Farmer. She still got paid and loved the sequined pantsuit she was to wear in the movie so much she didn’t just keep it; she had costume designer Travilla make her duplicates.
Patty Duke brought plenty of know-how when it came to drugs, too. She had become addicted to drugs because her guardians gave them to her to make her a better actress.
Of course, this all led to probably my favorite movie of all time, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, which was filmed while the studio was being sued by Jacqueline Susann. Obviously, this Roger Ebert written and Russ Meyer directed film is a completely different and much crazier movie, if that’s possible. Her estate won $2 million in damages years after her death. That’s good, because she believed that even this movie was “a piece of shit.”
A lot of the more risque parts of her book never made it into the film, like Jennifer’s attempting to become a lesbian, Ted Casablanca’s homosexuality and Tony’s love of anal sex. Of course, there are plenty of mentions of the hard g “f word” throughout the film.
There were also two TV series made from this movie. 1981’s Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls, had James Coburn, Catherine Hicks, Lisa Hartman, Gary Collins, Bert Convy, one-time wife of Robert Evans Camilla Sparv, Tricia O’Neill from Are You In the House Alone? and Britt Ekland. There was also another 1994 version called Valley of the Dolls which had Carol Lawrence as Bernice Stein (she was also Miriam on the 1981 series), Sally Kirkland, Melissa De Sousa and Sharon Case.
Director Mark Robson, who also was behind the movies Peyton Place and Earthquake — as well as an assistant editor on Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons and an editor on Cat People and I Walked With a Zombie — was rough as hell on the actresses in this movie. Sharon Tate was the one he directed most of his rage at, but even years after his death, Patty Duke would refer to him as “a mean son of a bitch.”
Famous science fiction writer, noted crank and one of my heroes, Harlan Ellison was the original screenwriter of this film. He was upset at the softened ending of the film and demanded that his name be taken off of it. Hollywood never really treated Harlan all that fairly, between stealing two of his Outer Limits episodes for Terminator and him getting fired from Disney within a few hours thanks to an impression of Mickey, Minnie and Donald having barnyard coitus.