On this day in 1918, Jacqueline Susann, the author of Valley of the Dolls, the 1966 mega-hit novel about the showbiz lives of three women (reportedly modeled in part after Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly), is born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Like her characters in Valley of the Dolls, Jacqueline Susann moved to New York City as a young woman to pursue acting. She landed small roles in theater and television, married press agent Irving Mansfield and wrote a play, Lovely Me, which had a brief run on Broadway. Susann’s first book, published in 1962 and titled Every Night, Josephine!, was about her poodle. Some 26 million readers snapped up Valley of the Dolls, her second work, despite less-than-favorable reviews by critics who labeled it trashy. It went into The Guinness Book of World Records as the planet’s then-most popular novel. The “dolls” in the book’s title referred to the uppers and downers the characters ingested to cope with their soap opera-like lives. Susann traveled extensively to promote Valley of the Dolls and became a frequent guest on TV talk shows.
In 1967, Valley of the Dolls was released as a movie starring Patty Duke, Sharon Tate and Barbara Parkins. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for its score, composed by John Williams, and Tate received a Golden Globe nomination for Most Promising Newcomer. (The wife of movie director Roman Polanski, Tate was murdered at her Los Angeles home in 1969 by members of the Charles Manson cult.)
Valley of the Dolls has twice been adapted for television, in 1981 and 1994. Two of Susann’s other books, The Love Machine and Once Is Not Enough, were also gobbled up by her many fans, making Susann the first novelist with three consecutive books to reach the top spot on The New York Times bestseller list. Like Valley of the Dolls, both novels were adapted for the big screen, in 1971 and 1975, respectively. 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). In 2000, Bette Midler starred as Susann in a big-screen biopic, Isn’t She Great, co-starring Nathan Lane as Irving Mansfield.