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Valley of the Dolls: Classic trash novel

Updated on July 3, 2015
The Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
The Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann | Source

A pop culture classic by Jacqueline Susann

I was a teenager when I first read this book.

It was a quite a sensation at the time and my dad had bought it to see what all the fuss was about. I used to sneakily read his books and this was no exception. I was captivated - but reading it as an adult is so much better.

Sex drugs and rock & roll

Well, not the latter exactly, but the entertainment industry is the basis of this novel. As you can guess from the cover, it chronicles the lives of three young women as they try to make their mark in that tough and heartless business in the middle of the last century - the days of the casting couch, male domination and ... drugs.

Spot the star

People reading this book today begin to see story lines that seem a little familiar - especially readers who have a little knowledge of the Hollywood and Broadway stars of the past. The author was involved in those industries and there are several 'ah-ha' moments.

The story of one of the characters, Neely, is surely based on Judy Garland. And Helen - isn't that Ethel Merman? Jennifer is so very Monroe-like. Suddenly, I was looking at the characters to see who they were based on - an intrigue in itself.

No spoilers here

I really dislike reading book reviews that give the game away, so I'm certainly not going to give any spoilers here but here are a few tasters. You'll read about:

  • What Neely did to Helen after a cat-fight in the ladies' room
  • The senator's true reason for his love for Jennifer - and its consequences
  • Which star Neely met when she was confined to a mental hospital
  • How Anne manipulates events to keep her lover
  • Why Jennifer told no-one the reason for her terminating her pregnancy

If you've seen the film

Don't be put off.

Filmmakers attempted to capitalize on the popularity of the book and although it's mildly entertaining, it is a watered-down, fit-for-the-general-public, censor-proof version that is completely lacking the drama of the book.

I highly recommend that you read this riveting novel.

The film is such a lame version of the book itself but this is the trailer that will give you some idea of the characters and story lines.

What is interesting to me is that the film has the standard disclaimer at the beginning 'any similarity to real people is purely coincidental' - ha!

The Love Machine (Jacqueline Susann)
The Love Machine (Jacqueline Susann)

This is the second book I read by this author and we stay with the world of entertainment.

The Love Machine in question is a TV anchorman and the narrative chronicles the women in his life - as you might expect.

This is just as good as The Valley of the Dolls and again, the stories and characterizations are superb. Once again, I feel sure that the author is drawing on her own experiences in the industry.

I don't know a great deal about the TV business in the USA but I imagine that if you do, you'll be able to make some guesses as to who some of the characters are based on.

Jacqueline Susann
Jacqueline Susann | Source

What I didn't realize the first time I read this book was the exact significance of the word 'dolls'.

Yes, the book explains that the word is used as a slang description for the drugs that were so prevalent in the entertainment industry in those days. (Incidentally, these were legal prescription drugs used for sleeping, staying awake, killing pain, dieting, energy, you name it. These were usually combined with booze too.

Think Judy Garland and you get the picture.

But the other meaning was that the word referred to women. Because the author had been in the entertainment industry, she knew that in those days it was a mostly male-dominated world. Women were treated without a great deal of respect - and played with as if they were literally dolls. Interesting.

The casting couch was brought into play and within this industry, women were seen as disposable playthings. And - I must say - this refers to young women. What we see with all the female characters in the book is that they fear being 'old' and being replaced by younger girls. This applies to both their work and their love lives.

© 2013 Jackie Jackson


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    • BritFlorida profile image

      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @tonyleather: My mum would have gone ballistic if she'd known that I was reading it, that's for sure :)

    • profile image

      tonyleather 4 years ago

      I remember reading this in secret, and thinking at the time how very bold it was!

    • BritFlorida profile image

      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @smine27: I highly recommend it.

    • BritFlorida profile image

      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Brite-Ideas: I really prefer the book - it goes into so much more detail.

    • smine27 profile image

      Shinichi Mine 4 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      Wow I never knew all this background information about this story. I only saw the movie but now I am rather interested in reading this book.

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 4 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      I remember this ... it was so long ago, but feels like yesterday - brings me back - I saw the film but didn't read the book

    • BritFlorida profile image

      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @sousababy: I think it's both. What's fascinating is that similar drugs are still being prescribed even though the dangers of a 'drug cocktail' are known. I forget the name of that woman who died in Florida (Anna Nicole?) but it's so tragic that 'legal' drugs are so harmful. I think that the author hoped to bring this issue to the fore but it seems that things are still the same, even now. Very sad indeed.

    • sousababy profile image

      sousababy 4 years ago

      I didn't know that "dolls" referred to the legal drugs often prescribed (in dangerous amounts) to celebrities. I thought it was a term for cute girls.