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.

The novel and film provide examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Jennifer's mother - all she does is demand Jennifer do everything she can to make more money for her, and when Jennifer dies, she milks the situation for all it's worth and makes sure she gets her valuables.
  • All Love Is Unrequited
  • Award-Bait Song: "(Theme From) Valley of the Dolls" by Dionne Warwick.
  • 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 — whom she'd believed to love her — revealed himself to be just another man who 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" (this being his affectionate term for her breasts).
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Anne wants to be with Lyon. Which she gets, along with a daughter, but Lyon is never truly loyal to her and Anne admits to loving him less and less with each affair he has.
  • 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. This is canon.
  • Casting Couch
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Apparent with Jennifer and implied with Neely. The former suffers both verbal abuse and overall disinterest from both her mother and her grandmother and the latter is implied to have suffered physical abuse.
  • Double Standard: Said by Neely: "When a man says he won't do a scene, that's called 'integrity'; when a woman says she won't do a scene, she's being temperamental."
  • 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.
  • Expy: Senator Winston Adams for either JFK or RFK.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Implied to be averted with Jennifer, who had to abort her and Tony's child due to medical reasons; she didn't want the child to be diagnosed with Huntington's Chorea, which is hereditary.
  • 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 '60s, 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.
  • Large Ham: As Neely, Patty Duke left very little scenery unchewed.
  • May–December Romance: Anne and Kevin Gillmore. Also, Jennifer and most of the men she's involved in and Neely and Mel, of sorts.
  • Ms. Fanservice: All three protagonists, but especially Jennifer. Unfortunately, it also crosses into So Beautiful, It's a Curse for her.
  • 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.) In the book she is described in terms that evoke Betty Hutton, who had a very similar experience to Terry King's working with Helen Lawson/Ethel Merman.
    • Helen Lawson is Ethel Merman.
    • Jennifer North is Carole Landis with a dash of Marilyn Monroe. Jacqueline Susann had had an affair with Landis and continued to care deeply for her. Carole's suicide inspired Jacqueline to immortalize her as Jennifer.
    • Tony Polar was inspired by Dean Martin, but isn't supposed to actually be him.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Jennifer has breast cancer, in those days an automatic radical mastectomy. She's devoted her whole emotional life and soul on marrying Winston — who seems to love her for herself — and starting a family. Then she's told pregnancy could cause a recurrence. She tells Winston "I'll be scarred and I won't be able to have any children" and he hears "hysterectomy". Almost willfully, he won't allow her to explain, saying he doesn't mind about no kids, instead effusing over her body, especially her breasts — even saying "these are my babies" — and being horrified at finding the tiny incision where they took the cyst out. That's enough for Jennifer. In her distraught state of mind there's only one thing to do.
  • Pretty in Mink: A few mink coats are worn.
  • Promotion to Parent: Tony's older sister Miriam basically runs his life, because Tony isn't capable of handling adult responsibilities.
  • Real Award, Fictional Character: Neely wins a Grammy Award.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Between Anne and Lyon, twice.
  • Stepford Smiler: Anne becomes this. The drugs help.
  • Unflinching Walk: Ted, who walks away from Neely after being caught cheating on her and doesn't react after she screams at him to go to Hell and as she throws a bottle of champagne at him (and misses.)
  • We Used to Be Friends: Anne and Neely, right until Lyon and Neely have an affair. Anne forgives Lyon but not Neely.
  • White-Dwarf Starlet: This looks to be Neely O'Hara's best possible fate by the end.

Alternative Title(s): Valley Of The Dolls