Valley of the Dolls

Valley of the Dolls is the first novel by American writer Jacqueline Susann. Published in 1966, the book was the biggest selling novel of its year.[1] To date, it has sold more than 31 million copies,[2] making it one of the best-selling works in publishing history.[3]

Valley of the Dolls
Valley of the dolls novel first edition 1966.jpg
First Hardcover Edition
AuthorJacqueline Susann
CountryUnited States
Published1966 (Bernard Geis Associates)
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
Pages442 pp (hardcover edition)
Preceded byEvery Night, Josephine! 
Followed byThe Love Machine 


In 1945, beautiful ingenue Anne Welles moves to New York to start a new life, seeking to escape the ennui of her hometown of Lawrenceville, Massachusetts. She quickly finds employment as a secretary to Henry Bellamy, an entertainment lawyer, and befriends neighboring girl Neely O'Hara, an ebullient vaudevillian and aspiring stage actress. When the nephew of Henry's partner, theatrical attorney Lyon Burke, returns from the war to the agency, Anne quickly befriends and falls in love with him despite already casually dating an apparent small-time salesman, Allen Cooper. Anne is warned, especially by Henry, not to get involved with Lyon, a known heartbreaker. After a short period of dating, Allen reveals to her that he is secretly a millionaire testing her feelings for him, and that he is in love with her, before proposing to her. Despite Anne's protests that she does not want to marry him, Allen alerts the media, and the apparent love story becomes a sensation. Anne befriends Helen Lawson, a brilliant but ruthless Broadway legend, who Anne is drawn to due to her apparent vulnerability and loneliness. Neely and her familial troupe are hired onto Helen's latest production, but Helen takes a dislike to Neely and minimizes her role. Anne uses her friendship with Helen and Lyon to secure Neely a bigger role, and Neely becomes a breakout star; however, Helen cruelly rejects Anne when she reveals that she was only interested in Anne's friendship for the chance at a sexual relationship with Allen's father. Anne also ends up befriending Jennifer North, a kind-hearted actress famous for her attractive figure who is also involved in the production. Jennifer is having her marriage annulled to an impoverished foreign prince, and Anne assists in securing her annulment. On the night of the show's opening, Anne and Lyon consummate their feelings, and Anne and Allen finally break up. Anne moves in with Lyon and sells Allen's engagement ring, investing the money with Henry's help on Jennifer's advice. The production is a massive success, and Neely enjoys a meteoric rise to fame and moves to California with her new husband to begin a film career. Anne's mother dies and she returns to Lawrenceville with Lyon, who wants the two of them to live in the inherited house so that he can start his career as a novelist. Though Anne loves Lyon and wants to be with him, she refuses to live in Lawrenceville and leave New York; Lyon, unwilling to be supported by her, breaks up with her and moves back to England to write, leaving Anne heartbroken. Though Anne takes years to move on, she eventually becomes the face of older, wealthy Kevin Gillmore's line of beauty products, and starts a relationship with Kevin.

Meanwhile, Jennifer begins a relationship with the childish, sex-obsessed Tony Polar, a well-known singer, but their romantic progression is frequently intercepted by his domineering manager and older sister, Miriam. Jennifer, desiring only to be loved, pressures him into marrying her and quickly falls pregnant despite knowing of his infidelity. After reuniting with an increasingly unsympathetic Neely, who is in the midst of an affair, Jennifer becomes increasingly dependent on "dolls," amphetamines and barbiturates to calm her frayed nerves. Finally, Miriam reveals the reason for her opposition to the relationship: Tony, already barely mentally competent, has Huntington's chorea, which the baby will likely inherit; Tony himself will likely be committed to a mental asylum within a few decades. Devastated, Jennifer has an abortion and agrees to divorce. Jennifer then leaves for Europe, finding a career breakout in European arthouse films, which due to her nudity are considered softcore pornography in the United States.

Years later, in 1950, Neely has become an established, celebrated actress enjoying a lucrative film career and twin sons with her second husband, who she had been having the affair with. However, long workdays and the stress over her husband's infidelity (with both men and women) also keep her dependent on the "dolls," and she is becoming increasingly unpopular with the studio due to her primadonna antics, tantrums and walkouts running her films over budget. Neely's second husband leaves after she discovers his affair with a younger actress, and her studio head threatens to end her career if she walks out of another take, citing her new status as box office poison. A stressed Neely accidentally overdoses on the "dolls," but makes a full recovery; however, the head still manages to get her fired from the production by ordering the director to put extra pressure on her, and Neely is replaced with the head's young lover. A sympathetic Anne reconnects with her; Kevin hatches a plot to resurrect Neely's career by having her sing on a televised spectacular for his brand. Neely at first refuses, but following a successful supper club performance and a belligerent run-in with a downturning Helen, she agrees to it. However, she is unable to cope with the demands of the rehearsals and overdoses to avoid performing; due to union rules that she has breached, she is unable to work for another year. To Anne's distress, Neely disappears to Europe.

Jennifer, in Europe, is pressured to undergo surgery to hide her age; though she has always lied about her true age, she is now ten years older than her claimed age of 27. She agrees to the surgery, after losing weight in a drastic "sleep cure" treatment. However, unhappy with her European career and boyfriend, she returns to the United States to continue acting. Three years later, she becomes engaged to an older senator who she believes loves her for more than her body, and she is excited to get married and have a child; however, a routine test reveals that she has breast cancer and will require a mastectomy, and though the treatment will likely save her, it will render her infertile. After her unaware fiance assures her that he didn't want children and makes a comment suggesting he's only interested in her body, a despondent Jennifer becomes convinced that she'll never be loved for who she is, and she will be nothing without her body. Escaping from the hospital, Jennifer returns to her hotel room and commits suicide.

In 1961, Neely reappears in the midst of Jennifer's funeral after a drug-ridden venture through Europe, but her career resurrection is halted when she loses her voice, apparently from psychological issues. After bungling a self-harm attempt, Neely becomes institutionalized, which a guilty Anne pays for. Though Neely initially chafes under the hospital's oppressive rules, she begrudgingly submits to them in order to be able to eventually leave. Meanwhile, Lyon returns to New York and reconnects with Anne, much to the chagrin of Kevin, who has been in a relationship with Anne for over a decade; weakened due to an earlier heart attack, he fears losing Anne. Anne is unable to overcome her passion for Lyon, and the two begin an affair. Though Kevin alternates between lashing out at Anne in jealousy and pleading with her to return, he eventually breaks up with her, and Anne and Lyon reunite. Some time later, Neely finds her voice again, after an impromptu sanitarium performance with a now-incompetent Tony Polar. Anne works with Henry, who is retiring from the agency, to get Lyon to abandon his nonstarter career as a writer and become a partner at the agency, with Henry loaning Lyon money secretly funded by Anne (who has become wealthy due to her prior investments).

Lyon is initially put off by Neely, who has become obese, but successfully plots her career comeback after her release. Anne and Lyon get married and Anne quickly becomes pregnant, but her happiness is short-lived when Neely demands that Lyon escort her everywhere on her lucrative comeback tour; furthermore, Lyon learns from Neely about Anne's deception, and is outraged by her help, feeling emasculated and possessed by her. Lyon begins a brazen affair with the rejuvenated, newly slim Neely despite his new baby with Anne; Anne is increasingly left alone as he and the now-possessive and cruel Neely (who has become self-centered and arrogant due to her newfound success and resentful of Anne) spend every night together. Henry convinces Anne to wait out the humiliating, public affair and pretend she knows nothing, assuring her that Lyon will grow tired of Neely and return to her. The affair stretches out for years, with Neely pressuring Lyon to end his marriage and Anne becoming dependent on the "dolls" to relax, but Lyon reluctantly stays with Anne. After repaying Anne's loan, he breaks off the affair (losing Neely as a client in the process), but quickly begins a new one with a teenaged up-and-coming singer. Anne overhears their affair while throwing a New Year's party in 1965, and though she finally admits to herself that Lyon will never stop having affairs, she assures herself that she will eventually fall out of love and become numb to all of her pain before reaching for her "dolls" again.


Susann had apparently been thinking about the novel for some time. Some years earlier, she had begun Underneath the Pancake, a show business novel, with her actress friend Beatrice Cole (c. 1910–1999).[4] Later, she considered writing a novel about drug usage in show business to be called The Pink Dolls.[5]

Valley of the Dolls is considered a roman à clef, with its characters based on famous figures such as Judy Garland, Carole Landis, Dean Martin, and Ethel Merman.[6] In 1973, after publication of her third novel, Susann said, "They can keep calling it that roman à clef. It'll only make my books sell. I don't care."[7] Susann insisted that she began each book with a theme: "Then I start asking, what kind of a personality? And because I have a good ear, I unconsciously pick up certain people."[7]

Susann dedicated the book to her poodle Josephine, and to her husband Irving Mansfield.[8]


The book was published by Bernard Geis Associates on February 10, 1966, and "took off like a Cape Canaveral space shot."[9]

Publishers Weekly, in an advance review, called the novel "big, brilliant and sensational", if "poorly written".[10] The book received largely negative reviews. Feminist Gloria Steinem criticized the book in The New York Herald Tribune [11] as did The New York Times.[12] Time magazine called it the "Dirty Book of the Month", and said, "It might more accurately be described as a highly effective sedative, a living doll."[13]

Despite the poor reviews, the book was a runaway commercial success. On May 8, 1966, in its ninth week on the list, the book reached #1 on the New York Times Best Seller List, where it remained for 28 consecutive weeks.[14] With a total of 65 weeks on the list, the book became the best selling novel of 1966.[1] By the time of Susann's death in 1974, it had entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the best selling novel in publishing history, with more than 17 million copies sold.[15] By 2016, the book had sold more than 31 million copies.[2]


In 1967, the book was adapted into a film of the same name, directed by Mark Robson (Peyton Place), and starring Barbara Parkins as Anne, Patty Duke as Neely, Paul Burke (Lyon), Sharon Tate (Jennifer), and Susan Hayward (Helen). The screenplay was written by Helen Deutsch (National Velvet) and Dorothy Kingsley (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers), and produced by Robson and David Weisbart. Like the book, although the reviews were scathing,[16] the film was an enormous box-office hit, becoming the sixth most popular of the year with $44 million at the domestic box office.[17] Susann, who had a cameo as a news reporter, hated the film, reportedly telling director Robson that it was "a piece of shit."[18]

The novel was adapted for television in 1981 as Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls, a mini-series executive-produced by Susann's widower Irving Mansfield and directed by Walter Grauman. This version stars Catherine Hicks, Lisa Hartman, and Veronica Hamel. In 1994 a late-night, syndicated television soap opera, Valley of the Dolls, ran for one season and 65 episodes. The premise was a loose adaptation of the novel.[19] BBC Radio 4 broadcast a 15-episode dramatisation scripted by Yvonne Antrobus over three weeks in August and September 2005. It was part of the Woman's Hour programme's ongoing fifteen-minute daily drama slot,[20] and has been rebroadcast several times on BBC Radio 4 Extra in three 70-minute omnibus episodes.[21]


  1. ^ a b The 20th-Century American Bestsellers Database: 1960s. University of Virginia, via Publishers Weekly, 2016. Retrieved January 10, 2017.
  2. ^ a b Symonds, Alexandria. 'Valley of the Dolls', by the numbers. T: The New York Times Style Magazine. February 9, 2016. Retrieved January 10, 2017.
  3. ^ Best Seller. Encyclopedia Britannica. February 23, 2011. Retrieved January 10, 2017.
  4. ^ Seaman, Barbara. Lovely Me: The Life of Jacqueline Susann. 2nd ed. (New York: Seven Stories Press, 1996), p. 197.
  5. ^ Seaman. Lovely Me, p. 251-252.
  6. ^ Collins, Amy Fine. Once Was Never Enough. Vanity Fair, January 2000. Retrieved January 5, 2017.
  7. ^ a b Kasindorf, Martin. Jackie Susann Picks Up the Marbles. The New York Times, August 12, 1973. Retrieved January 5, 2017.
  8. ^ Susann, Jacqueline. Valley of the Dolls. (New York: Bernard Geis Associates, 1966).
  9. ^ Daniels, Mary. Susann's Best Love Story a Private Affair. Chicago Tribune. August 15, 1976. Retrieved January 10, 2017.
  10. ^ Mansfield, Irving and Jean Libman Block. Life with Jackie. (New York: Bantam Books, 1983), p. 132.
  11. ^ Seaman, Lovely Me, p. 314.
  12. ^ Fremont-Smith, Eliot. Thank You, Franz Kafka! The New York Times. February 4, 1966. Retrieved January 10, 2017.
  13. ^ Books: Dirty Book of the Month. Time. April 22, 1966. Retrieved January 10, 2017.
  14. ^ Adult New York Times Best Seller Lists for 1966. Hawes Publications. [n.d.] Retrieved January 10, 2017.
  15. ^ Johnston, Laurie. Jacqueline Susann Dead at 53; Novelist Wrote 'Valley of Dolls'. The New York Times. September 23, 1974. Retrieved January 9, 2017.
  16. ^ Seaman. Lovely Me, p. 349.
  17. ^ Top Grossing Films of 1967. Listal. June 24, 2012. Retrieved January 13, 2017.
  18. ^ Green, David B. This Day in Jewish History 1974: Jacqueline Susann, Who Knew What You Really Want to Read, Dies. Haaretz. September 21, 2016. Retrieved January 13, 2017.
  19. ^ Gardner, Eriq (March 16, 2012). "Lawsuit Threatens Lee Daniels' 'Valley of the Dolls' TV Series". The Hollywood Reporter.
  20. ^ Radio Listings
  21. ^ BBC Radio omnibus edition catalogue entry

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