Jacqueline Susann

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Jacqueline Susann
Jacqueline Susann 1951.jpg
Susann in 1951.
Born (1918-08-20)August 20, 1918
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died September 21, 1974(1974-09-21) (aged 56)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Occupation Novelist and actress
Period 1963–74


Jacqueline Susann (August 20, 1918 – September 21, 1974) was an American author, whose first novel Valley of the Dolls sold 30 million copies. The book had been rejected by several publishers who did not want to feature young female drug addicts. Its success was helped by a worldwide promotional tour by Susann and her husband, press agent Irving Mansfield, despite being ridiculed by many critics. She followed it up with two others, The Love Machine and Once Is Not Enough, which were also best-sellers. Susann is seen as a precursor of Jackie Collins.

Early years[edit]

Jacqueline Susann was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Robert Susann, a portrait painter, and Rose Jans, a schoolteacher. In school, Susann was an intelligent but unmotivated student. She scored the highest on her class's IQ test, a 140, prompting her mother to predict that she would some day become a good writer. Susann had other ideas and instead had aspirations of being an actress.[1] Susann's rocky relationship with her hard-to-please mother, as well as her starry-eyed view of her roguish father, would later be woven into her novels.

By the time Susann entered high school, she was dabbling in drugs and had earned the reputation of being a party girl. Although her parents hoped she would enter college, Susann left for New York City after graduating from West Philadelphia High School in 1936, to pursue an acting career.[1]

Acting career and personal life[edit]

In New York, Susann landed varied parts in movies, plays (such as The Women), and commercials. Here she met a press agent, Irving Mansfield (né Mandelbaum), who impressed her by placing items and photos of her in theater and society sections of New York newspapers. Although not sexually attracted to him, she married him on April 2, 1939 at Har Zion Temple in Philadelphia.[2]

Mansfield went on to manage Susann's career, ensuring that she was placed in news columns, and she soon was a regular on The Morey Amsterdam Show. She then got a spot in the Broadway show A Lady Says Yes, starring Carole Landis and Jack Albertson. The following year, Susann wrote her first play, Lovely Me, for production on Broadway. It closed after only 37 performances.[1]

Despite Mansfield's devotion to Susann, rumors of her infidelities surfaced throughout their marriage. In 1942, Susann met comedian Joe E. Lewis and the two began an affair. Susann fell hard for Lewis, which prompted her to write Mansfield a "Dear John" letter shortly after he was drafted by the United States Army in 1943. When Lewis learned that Susann and Mansfield separated and that Susann intended to marry Lewis, he applied for a USO position and was sent to New Guinea.[2]

In late 1944, Mansfield and Susann got back together, and in 1946, the couple had a son whom they named Guy. At age three, Guy was diagnosed as autistic. The following year, Guy was committed to an institution, where he remains to this day. Mansfield and Susann told no one of their son's true condition; they told friends Guy was asthmatic and placed in a school in Arizona for the healthy climate. For the rest of her life, Susann was tormented with guilt over institutionalizing her son.[2]


For decades, rumors have persisted that Susann was bisexual. The rumors began around 1945, when Susann appeared in A Lady Says Yes with Carole Landis. The two reportedly had an affair and some claim that Susann modeled the Jennifer North character in her novel, Valley of the Dolls, after Landis. According to Susann's biographer, the affair had begun when Landis bought her earrings and a fur coat; Susann later described to her female friends how "sensual it had been when she and Carole had stroked and kissed each other's breasts".[3] However, in 1945, Landis married her third husband, Broadway producer W. Horace Schmidlapp, to whom Susann had introduced her.[4] There are also reports that Susann had an affair with the fashion designer Coco Chanel in 1959, and she repeatedly attempted to start a physical relationship with the Broadway stage and film actress Ethel Merman. These allegations have not been confirmed, and most of Susann's friends and colleagues dismiss them.[2]

Writing and TV career[edit]

In May and June 1951, Susann hosted Jacqueline Susann's Open Door on the DuMont Television Network. The show only lasted for a few episodes. In 1956, Susann became a panelist on an NBC summer series, This Is Show Business (formerly a regular program on CBS). The later episodes were produced by her former husband Irving Mansfield.[5]

In 1955, Susann acquired her poodle Josephine and a contract to be the fashion commentator for "Schiffli Lace" on the Night Time, New York program. Susann wrote, starred in, and produced two live commercials every night. She continued to be the "Schiffli Girl" until 1961.[2]

In the early 1960s, Susann tried writing a show business and illegal drug exposé that she intended to call The Pink Dolls. However, she changed her mind and wrote her first successful book, Every Night, Josephine!, which was based on her life with her poodle, Josephine. She sometimes dressed the dog in outfits to match her own. Although this book was widely viewed as a novelty, it sold well enough for her to write and publish her second book, the novel Valley of the Dolls (1966).[2]

Around that time, Susann developed breast cancer. She had a mastectomy on December 27, 1962, but she kept the cancer a secret. Despite her illness, Susann had determined that she would become a bestselling author, and she began writing her first novel, Valley of the Dolls.[2]

Valley of the Dolls became the number one best-selling novel in the United States for many weeks. Next, she followed up this great success with her best-selling follow-up novels, The Love Machine, published in 1969, and Once Is Not Enough, published in 1973, the year before her death.

Valley of the Dolls[edit]

Valley of the Dolls was initially rejected by some publishers; however, Susann persisted, and when the novel was published on February 10, 1966, it was an immediate hit. The subject matter was considered inappropriate by many people in the general public at that time, and it was a mixture of soap-opera style story-telling with bold, non-traditional characters. The story was a roman à clef of sorts, with characters in the novel reportedly based on real-life celebrities such as Judy Garland and Ethel Merman.[2]

Valley of the Dolls broke some sales records with approximately 30 million copies sold as a novel. As popular as Valley of the Dolls was, many contemporary authors dismissed Susann's writing talents. The novelist Gore Vidal said, "She doesn't write, she types!" Critics attacked her by saying Susann "typed on a cash register." Susann responded to literary critics by saying, "As a writer, no one's gonna tell me how to write. I'm gonna write the way I wanna write!" Part of this novel's success stemmed from Susann's and Mansfield's tireless efforts to promote it. The couple traveled worldwide (especially where English was the predominant language) promoting the novel and her following novels on talk shows and in hundreds of bookstores. Wherever Susann went on her cross-country tours, she signed each copy of her book that was available. She wrote down the name and address of every person she met and reportedly later on sent thank-you cards to everyone.[1]

In 1967, the book was adapted into the film of the same name starring Patty Duke, Barbara Parkins, and Sharon Tate. Susann made a cameo appearance in the film as a reporter at the scene of Jennifer North's suicide. Valley of the Dolls was a widespread commercial hit, but the film was largely panned by film critics and audiences laughed at some of the dramatic scenes. Susann herself hated the film and, after its November 1967 premiere aboard the passenger liner, Princess Italia, she confronted the film's director, Mark Robson, and stated, "This picture is a piece of shit." [6]


Susann and Mansfield enjoyed the fame that her books garnered. Susann went on to publish several more novels, all in a similar vein to Valley of the Dolls. She also made frequent appearances on television, particularly as a guest on talk shows. Her pointed repartee added spice to the programs on which she was featured.[2]

However, not everyone was a fan. On July 24, 1969, author Truman Capote, himself a talk show regular and a controversial figure, created a media storm when he appeared on The Tonight Show. Capote stated that Susann looked like "a truck driver in drag." Susann threatened to sue Capote and NBC-TV over that and other comments. In turn, Capote apologized "to truck drivers everywhere." Johnny Carson gave Susann the chance to fire back at Capote, and Carson asked her on the air, "What do you think of Truman?" Susann quipped, "Truman ... Truman. I think history will prove he's one of the best Presidents we've had."[7]

Later years and death[edit]

After suffering from a persistently bad cough as well as breathing problems for quite some time, Susann checked into Doctors Hospital on January 11, 1973, hoping to resolve the cough before her upcoming book tour which was to begin in March. Susann remained there five days while tests were being run. X-rays revealed a nodular lesion in the right lung area. She was transferred to Mount Sinai, a larger hospital with more extensive facilities, for a bronchoscopy and biopsy. On January 18 Susann was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, though there was evidently some debate among the doctors about whether it was an original and separate lung cancer, requiring perhaps more surgery but fewer chemicals. Susann was given only months to live yet persisted to go on a book tour for Once Is Not Enough. Like her other books, it was a success, in this case being the second best-selling novel of 1973 in the United States.

When she was admitted to the hospital for the last time, she remained in a coma for seven weeks before dying at the age of 56. Her last words to Mansfield were, "Hiya, doll. Let's get the hell outta here."[2]

Posthumous works[edit]

In the late 1970s, Susann's romance/science fiction novel Yargo was published. Written in the late 1950s, the novel is a radical and somewhat bizarre departure from her later works. It is likely that it was only published due to the continuing interest in Susann's writings. Those who knew Susann noticed a strong physical resemblance between Yargo and the actor Yul Brynner, with whom Susann had been infatuated during her youth.

Susann's last novel, Dolores, is a thinly-veiled presentation on the life of Jacqueline Kennedy. It was published in 1976.[8] A condensed version of the novel was published in the Ladies' Home Journal, under the title "Jackie by Jackie." When her severe illness prevented Susann from completing Dolores, her close friend and fellow writer Rex Reed anonymously took over.

In 1987, a biography of Susann by Barbara Seaman, Lovely Me, was published. The book was, in part, the basis for the year 2000 movie, Isn't She Great?, which stars Bette Midler as Jacqueline Susann and Nathan Lane as Irving Mansfield. Marlo Thomas played Susann in the play, Paper Doll, which also starred F. Murray Abraham as Mansfield. Michele Lee and Peter Riegert played Susann and Mansfield in the made-for-TV movie, Scandalous Me: The Jacqueline Susann Story.

Before her death, Susann had planned a direct sequel to Valley of the Dolls. In 2001, author Rae Lawrence wrote the novel Shadow of the Dolls, which was based on the notes that Susann left for her intended sequel.

In popular culture[edit]

Jacqueline Susann and her novel Valley of the Dolls (and the subsequent film) are referenced in a plethora of pop cultural settings and mediums. References to Valley are more common than direct references to Susann as most within the mainstream are more familiar with Valley's story and setting. The meaning behind the references are usually interchangeable and signify mutual allusions particularly with regard to fame and drug use.

  • Los Angeles punk band X references Susann in their song "Adult Books", on the 1981 album Wild Gift.
  • Jacqueline Susann and her novel Valley of the Dolls are referenced in the 1999 film The Haunting where it is suggested by the character Luke (played by Owen Wilson) that fellow inpatient Theo (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones) has "a little bit of Jackie Susann in her" due to her own admission of using barbiturate sedatives for her persistent bouts of insomnia. The reference to Susann and her work suggests barbiturates as a seemingly vintage pastime as most of these drugs have been somewhat antiquated in modern treatments of sleep disorders.
  • Valley of the Dolls is the opening track to Scottish electro music artist Mylo's 2004 album Destroy Rock & Roll. This track though actually incorporates elements of the Beyond the Valley of the Dolls soundtrack as opposed to its 1967 predecessor.
  • Comedian and part-time writer Jeffery Self dedicated his 2013 novel 50 Shades of Gay to Susann. A gay porn parody Self's novel is a play on E.L. James's equally bestselling and provocative erotica novel 50 Shades of Grey. The dedication thus conflates the phenomenal success of Susann's Valley in the 1960s to James' success as bestseller of recent.
  • Jacqueline Susann and her Valley are referenced and discussed several times in the HBO series Sex and the City. In episode 10 of season one entitled The Baby Shower the girls are insulted when a former close friend who's moved out of the city and is seemingly "enjoying" married life in the suburbs compares their lives as bachelorettes in the city to "some Jacqueline Susann novel." Though, this concept is later viewed as positive after the girls conclude that they enjoy life in New York. Later towards the end of the final series Charlotte (played by Kristin Davis) is compared by gay best friend Anthony (played by Mario Cantone) to "Barbara Parkins circa Valley of the Dolls".
  • Valley of the Dolls is referenced several times throughout the sitcom series Will & Grace. Most notably in Episode 21 of Season 5, justly titled Dolls and Dolls which guest starred Madonna in an unrelated subplot to the episode. In the episode Will (Eric McCormack) becomes addicted to Vicodin causing him to act irregularly. When best friend Grace (Debra Messing) notices and suspects his addiction she drops a series of subtle hints in the form of deliberate Valley references. This including a scene where she even pleads a point using the lyrics to the theme song of the 1967 film adaptation of the novel. Grace throughout the course of the show's history makes several 'Valley' references and often compares the whimsically gluttonous Karen Walker to Jacqueline Susann and her book.
  • In an episode of Malcolm in the Middle entitled Goodbye, Kitty a character declares assertively: "Know what book I hate? Valley of the Dolls."
  • Rock artist Marilyn Manson makes several references to Valley of the Dolls which features prominently in his lyrical and visual repertoire. Most notably in the songs Born Again and Coma White the lyrics of the former sing "her mouth was an empty cut/she was waiting to fall/just bleeding like a Polaroid/who lost all her dolls."
  • In the 2005 film Hard Candy vigilante Hayley Stark (Ellen Page) is disappointed after rummaging through her captive Jeff Kohlver's (Patrick Wilson) medicine cabinet having not found "any of that good Valley of the Dolls shit."
  • Jacqueline Susann and Valley are referenced frequently in the novels of Chuck Palahniuk. Most predominantly in the novel and film Fight Club where Jacqueline Susann is mentioned by name by the unnamed narrator (played by Edward Norton in the film). An allusion to the 1967 film Valley is also further rendered by the narrator's sporadic girlfriend Marla Singer (played by Helena Bonham Carter) who taunts him by eerily singing the lyrics to the Theme to the Valley of the Dolls around him.
  • The Dead Jackie Susann Quarterly was a popular feminist ezine that utilized the preservation of the author's memory as a platform for speaking on a variety of issues concerning zeitgeist culture. The zine was described by editor Zelda Underground as "kind of an anti-manifesto or more simply, an eccentric, schizoid mix of Post-it notes from the absolute edge of the margins."[10]
  • In 1993 author and computer expert Scott French produced a novel entitled Just this Once. Orchestrated from a computer program he designed using a Macintosh IIcx and an artificial intelligence program it created a novel based on the writings and formulas of Jacqueline Susann and how she might have written the novel.[11]
  • In an episode of the animated comedy series King of the Hill entitled The Nut Before Christmas, local opportunist and redneck Dale Gribble establishes a part-time livery service called Valet of the Dales. The reference does not extend beyond the play on words.
  • Rock artist Courtney Love is an outspoken fan of the novel and has derived much inspiration from the work in her own music and repertoire. An anecdotal story poses that Love used pills recreationally with friend Rozz Rezabek in celebration of the dolls within the novel.[12]
  • Rozz Rezabek wrote a punk rock musical project entitled Alley of the Dolls, which merges older motifs and tropes in a "West Side Story meets Valley of the Dolls" presentation.[13]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Jacqueline Susann
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j http://web.archive.org/web/20070614104510/http://home.earthlink.net/~nuttbait/jacqueline_susann.htm
  3. ^ Seaman, Barbara (1996). 2, ed. Lovely Me: The Life of Jacqueline Susann. Seven Stories Press. p. 153. ISBN 1-888363-37-1. 
  4. ^ Seaman, Barbara (1996). 2, ed. Lovely Me: The Life of Jacqueline Susann. Seven Stories Press. p. 154. ISBN 1-888363-37-1. 
  5. ^ Alex McNeil, Total Television, p. 832
  6. ^ Seaman, Barbara (1996). 2, ed. Lovely Me: The Life of Jacqueline Susann. Seven Stories Press. p. 348. ISBN 1-888363-37-1. 
  7. ^ "People: September 19, 1969". time.com. 1969-09-19. Retrieved 2009-10-21. 
  8. ^ Clifford, Garry (1976-08-09). "Mr. Jacqueline Susann Honors His Late Wife by Hawking Her Final Book". People 6 (6). 
  9. ^ Arcade Publishing
  10. ^ Underground, Zelda. "The Dead Jackie Susann Quarterly". Stardust Lanes. Retrieved 15 September 2013. 
  11. ^ Laufer, Peter. "Hacking in the Valley of the Dolls". Mother Jones. Retrieved 15 September 2013. 
  12. ^ "One Day I'll be Courtney". Retrieved 26 September 2013. 
  13. ^ Rezabek, Rozz. "Alley of the Dolls". Retrieved 26 September 2013. 

External links[edit]