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Dolls! Dolls! Dolls!: Deep Inside Valley of the Dolls, the Most Beloved Bad Book and Movie of All Time

by Stephen Rebello

(Penguin Books, published June, 2020)

Valley of the Dolls - Criterion Collection Blu Ray (2016)
Review by Lee Sobel (9/5/20)
5 out of 5 stars for both.

Is it possible for a movie to be both awful and great? If so, that’s how I feel about Mark Robson’s 1967 version of Jacqueline Susann’s bestselling novel, Valley of the Dolls. In brief, three women rise up in show biz, attain wealth, glamour, and fame, but then lose it all because of drugs and alcohol and their own inability to handle success, find love or truly know themselves. Author


Susann knew that people (mostly women) would want to read (devour) a book that delivered the fantasy of stardom but then brought it all crashing down so the average reader would end up thinking their dreary life wasn't so bad after all.

Despite critics hating both the book and the movie, the success of both spoke volumes about what the public wanted in the mid-to-late 1960s. How can you not love a movie that has this exchange between rising (but pill and drug addicted) starlet Neely O'Hara (played by Patty Duke - whose character was based on Judy Garland) and the aging, washed up Broadway has-been Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward channeling Ethel Merman):

Helen Lawson: Look. They drummed you right out of Hollywood. So you come crawlin' back to Broadway. Well, Broadway doesn't go for booze and dope. Now you get out of my way, 'cause I've got a man waitin' for me.

Neely O'Hara: That's a switch from the fags you're usually stuck with!

Helen Lawson: At least I never married one!

Neely then grabs the wig off Lawson's head, runs to the loo and attempts to flush it down the toilet. Yes, this movie is THAT good!

This summer we Dolls fans received a wonderful gift: a book about the making of the movie by perhaps the most qualified author to do so, Stephen Rebello. Among his many achievements, Rebello previously wrote the book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho (1990) which was adapted into the 2012 Anthony Hopkins movie, Hitchcock. I sincerely hope that Dolls! Dolls! Dolls!: Deep Inside Valley of the Dolls, the Most Beloved Bad Book and Movie of All Time is also turned into a movie because the stories that swirl around this picture are just as good, if not better than the movie itself. 

Here's a few things you find out in the book: 

A frail, out of it Judy Garland is cast and then fired in the Helen Lawson role because she is deemed unreliable -- the studio is only too happy to see her go since they milked the promotion of Miss Garland's "comeback" for what it was worth and really didn't want her in the movie to start with. The fact that the Patty Duke role is actually based on the younger version of Judy is weird enough. After being summarily dismissed from the movie, Garland makes off with the costumes that had been designed for her character! 

During the making of the movie, Patty Duke's weight goes up and down due to her over indulgence in donuts at the crafts table every time she is spoken to by cruel director Mark Robson (Duke called him "the meanest son of a bitch I ever met"). Duke's on-set histrionics are later diagnosed as bi-polar disorder. 

Upon finally seeing the movie for the first time at a press screening, Jacqueline Susann, who was not allowed to read the script during production, confronts director Mark Robson and shouts, "You've made a piece of shit!" 

The aftermath of the movie includes the terrible and brutal murder by the Manson family of actress Sharon Tate, whose performance in Valley of The Dolls is both lovely and heartbreaking. 

Jacqueline Susann's book and movie were blasted by critics but, in spite of that, both were a huge success. Of course a sequel would be needed and what we got was the bizarro mish-mash of Russ Meyer's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) that really had nothing to do with Jackie Susann's trash classic except in its title. I could go on and on but why bother spoiling anything for you - just get the Criterion Collection blu ray and then read Stephen Rebello's book. They're both hugely entertaining! 

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