Literature: Valley of the Dolls

"When you're climbing Mount Everest, nothing is easy. You just take one step at a time, never look back and always keep your eyes glued to the top."

Valley of the Dolls is a 1966 novel by Jacqueline Susann. It follows the lives of three women (Anne Welles, Neely O'Hara, and Jennifer North) from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s. They start out as roommates in New York, and each of them achieves fame and fortune in the cutthroat world of show business, with plenty of ups and downs along the way, particularly where their love lives are concerned. While one might think "Dolls" refers to these leading ladies, it is a slang term for pills — particularly sleeping pills and weight loss pills — and almost everyone in the book pops them like candy...note 

The novel was wildly popular upon publication thanks largely to its juicy Horrible Hollywood detailing, and had two film adaptations. The first adaptation in 1967 starred Barbara Parkins, Patty Duke, Sharon Tate, Paul Burke, Martin Milner, and Susan Hayward, and — just like its source material — was hated by critics yet a huge box-office hit; today it's seen as a So Bad, It's Good Cult Classic. The second adaptation was a Made-for-TV Movie in 1981. The first adaptation also had a parody pseudo-sequel, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, in 1970, helmed by '60s/'70s schlockmeister Russ Meyer.

This novel provides examples of:

  • All Love Is Unrequited
  • Better to Die Than Be Killed: In the late going, Jennifer commits suicide when she finds out that she has cancer and needs a mastectomy.
    • It doesn't help that the guy she was with only cared for her looks, praising her breasts in particular.
      • Actually stated outright in one of her two suicide notes, where she states in the one addressed to her husband that she did it to "save his babies."
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead:...sort of. In the film version, Jennifer is played by blonde Sharon Tate, Anne is portrayed by (dark brown) brunette Barbara Parkins and Neely is played by auburn-haired Patty Duke.
  • Casting Couch
  • Downer Ending: For all three protagonists. The Film of the Book changes this to a more Bittersweet Ending: while Jennifer is dead and Neely's downward spiral will likely kill her in the near future, Anne renounces the pills and the showbiz life and goes back to her beloved hometown to start over.
  • Happily Failed Suicide: Happens to Neely, three times.
  • Horrible Hollywood: The book revels in the grime that lurks beneath the showbiz glamor of the The Golden Age of Hollywood . Susann wasn't the first to explore this, as the decay that surrounded Hollywood with the Fall of the Studio System and the aging of Golden Age performers was already inspiring films like Whatever Happened To Baby Jane in The Sixties, but she could go a lot further in the salacious details than films and TV of the time could, and this certainly contributed to the book's huge popularity in its day.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Prince Mirallo. Everything he gave Jennifer was either a family heirloom or a freebie from a company looking to get publicity. Jennifer was well out of that one.
  • May-December Romance: Anne and Kevin Gillmore.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Quite a few. Susann spent the 1940s as a struggling actress, and drew on that experience while writing the book.
    • Neely O'Hara is Judy Garland. Her time in the sanitarium is based on the experiences of Frances Farmer. (Garland was almost cast as Helen Lawson in the 1967 movie.)
    • Helen Lawson is Ethel Merman.
    • Jennifer North is Carole Landis with a dash of Marilyn Monroe.
    • Tony Polar was inspired by Dean Martin, but isn't supposed to actually be him.
  • Pretty in Mink: A few mink coats are worn.
  • Stepford Smiler: Anne becomes this. The drugs help.
  • White-Dwarf Starlet: This looks to be Neely O'Hara's best possible fate by the end.

Alternative Title(s):

Valley Of The Dolls