August 20

This Day in History

Literary

Aug 20, 1918:

Jacqueline Susann born

Bestselling author Jacqueline Susann is born on this day in Philadelphia to a schoolteacher mother and artist father.

Susann moved to New York in her 20s to work as a model and actress. She played minor roles in a score of Broadway plays and later tried her luck in Hollywood, with no great success. However, she turned her observations of drug use, sex, and insecurity among actresses into Valley of the Dolls (1966), which broke all records for sales of a novel.

Susann married in 1945, had a son, and continued pursuing her acting. She tried her hand at playwriting as well, but the show she co-authored lasted less than a month on Broadway. Her first book, Every Night, Josephine, about her poodle, was a surprise bestseller. She wrote her next novel, Valley of the Dolls, in 18 months. The book topped the bestseller lists for 22 weeks. When she died in 1974, the book had sold 17 million copies, making it the bestselling novel of all time.

Her next book, The Love Machine, about the sexual antics of a shallow and powerful television executive, was the country's No. 1 bestseller for five months. When her 1973 novel, Once Is Not Enough, came out, she became the first novelist to have three bestsellers on the list at once. While critics were uniformly insulting in their appraisals, Susann defended her books on the grounds that she told a good story that people wanted to read. Susann died of cancer on September 21, 1974, at the age of either 56 or 53 (her lifelong elusiveness about her real age led her to claim a birth year of 1921).

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