At 50, Valley of the Dolls To Peak Again?
BY LORRAINE DUFFY MERKL
“Fame destroys. Dreams become nightmares. Money corrodes. Rich men are pigs. Solid middle-class men are boring. Country life is stifling. Big cities are snake pits. Nobody is nice. Everyone is a mess. It is, in other words, the perfect mirror for today’s culture,” says Simon Doonan, the creative-ambassador-at-large at Barneys, in Vanity Fair, referring to Grove Press’s new edition of Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls 50th-anniversary edition.
To date, 31 million copies have been sold.
If the book were a Real Housewife, it would shimmy up to the camera and announce, “I still got it.” But, like advice from an older relative, will young women today want it?
There is no doubt that the themes in V. of the D. continue to be relevant; in fact, there would not be books like Candice Bushnell’s Sex And The City, Jennifer Weiner’s Good In Bed, or shows like Lena Dunham’s Girls or anything by Shonda Rhimes, if Susann had not laid the groundwork. Yet, it offers no happy endings – something current audiences aren’t used to.
The original target market for this book had grit. Do our millennials even know what that word means?
In 1966, I was beginning grammar school. My mother – and everyone else’s – had a copy of Valley. Because of its “scandalous” nature, everyone put a cover over the cover so they could read it in public, like on the subway. My mother’s camouflage was a brown paper A&P bag, a la what she used to protect my school textbooks with.
As Doonan points out in his article, which is also the new edition’s foreword, Valley is grim. I can hear the youthful among us wondering aloud as to why (SPOILER ALERT) Anne and Lyon do not end up at City Hall like Carrie and Big, who moved away twice and married someone else first; why Jennifer didn’t just get some Botox, sign up for Tracy Anderson workouts and shout her abortion, like any number of today’s celebrities; and how could Neely not parlay a stint in rehab into a reality show/book deal in the vein of the cast of…too many to mention?
Of course, no one will question how the two older women are portrayed. Helen Lawson, is the jealous aging actress who tries to eclipse Neely’s rising star, and Miriam is the helicopter mom (actually sister) who wants to sabotage Jennifer’s chance at happiness aka marrying her younger, handsome brother.
Let’s pause for a moment though, and remember whom it was who ended up in the psych ward due to an addiction to “dolls” – not Helen. Even though Neely eventually becomes a famous movie star and Helen remains a stage actress, she’s the one who retains her dignity, especially after Neely exposes her as a red wig-wearing, older-than-she-lets-on woman.
And perhaps if someone would have listened to Miriam, Jennifer would not have watched her husband deteriorated from a fatal disease, terminate her pregnancy so her baby would not suffer the same fate, and end up in Europe as, essentially, a porn star. Miriam? As usual, she got to pick up the pieces from the mess everyone else has made.
In around 8th grade, the film version finally landed on The 4:30 Movie, (and I got to watch all the edited out sex, drugs and drama because my mom was at work.) I still had a girl crush on Patty Duke, and wanted to be her character, even though the role was that of a sharp-tongued, pill-popping egomaniac – a far cry from the zany teen she played on her eponymous TV show that I loved as a little girl.
Now though, as opposed to one or all three of the main characters, I relate to Helen and Miriam – often ignored and looking over my shoulder to see which of my younger colleagues is going to try to bypass me; and which one of my contemporaries in a management position is going to let her.
I also relate to the book in general: in its fifties and still out to prove it’s as relevant today as ever.