Valley of the Dolls Is 50 Years Old!

Yes, the book, Valley of the Dolls, on which the camp classic movie was based, is 50 years old! Hard to believe!


I actually saw the movie before I read the book. A former friend of mine seemed to think I needed to see it as part of Gay 101. I showed it to another friend, who knew nothing of the movie's gay cult status, and he said, “This is a bad movie.” Yes, it is. I could go on and on about why it is bad, but like other cult movies, it oddly suck the viewer in, perhaps because it's consistently bad (Neely, Neely, Neely O'Hara!), except for the touching performance of Sharon Tate as Jennifer. Even more touching, as we know of Sharon's horrible death.


When I finally got around to reading the book, I was actually shocked that the Jennifer character played by Sharon Tate in the movie enjoys a lesbian tryst while in college This tryst is not the movie, of course, and even though Jacqueline Susann is relatively explicit here, girl-on-girl sex in school wasn't as shocking socially at that time, because the hetero man finds it titillating, and it reaffirms the stereotype that a woman can easily experiment with lesbianism before finding the man of her dreams.


And as the recent article on this book in Slate points out, the word “fag” shows up quite often in the book, emphasizing the stereotype of the bitchy queen hairdresser or clothes designer prevalent in the 1960s and before.


Yes, much seems dated, but the the trials and tribulations of the fame- and fortune-seeking “dolls” who pop dolls parallel the hyperkinetic, hyperreal, hypertweet celebrity culture of today.


One could even say that Jennifer, Neely, and Anne are the infinitely more talented grandmothers of Real Housewives, the Bachelorette, and the Kardashians. Jennifer was beautiful and also kind, Neely, according to her nemesis Helen Lawson “has really got it” (referring to talent) and Anne was both smart and beautiful. One feels for them as they fall into their own respective valleys of the dolls.  

Could one say the same about their 21st century granddaughters? I wonder.


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