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Susann in 1951.
August 20, 1918|
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Died||September 21, 1974
New York City, U.S.
|Occupation||Novelist and actress|
Jacqueline Susann (August 20, 1918 – September 21, 1974) was an American author. Her first novel Valley of the Dolls is one of the best selling books of all time. Its success was fueled by an innovative worldwide promotional tour conceived by Susann and her husband, press agent Irving Mansfield. Susann's follow-up bestsellers, The Love Machine and Once Is Not Enough, made Susann the first author in history to have three #1 consecutive titles on The New York Times Best Seller List.
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, 140, prompting her mother to predict that she would someday become a good writer. Susann had other ideas—she wanted to be an actress. Susann's rocky relationship with her mother, as well as her starry eyed view of her roguish father, would later be woven into her novels. 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.
Acting career and personal life
In New York, Susann landed varied parts in movies, plays (such as The Women) and commercials. 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.
Mansfield went on to manage Susann's career. Soon, she was a regular on The Morey Amsterdam Show, playing Lola the Cigarette Girl. Susann 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 37 performances.
Susann and Mansfield had one son, Guy Mansfield, who was autistic.
Writing and TV career
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 husband Irving Mansfield.
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.
In the early 1960s, Susann tried writing an exposé on show business and illegal drugs 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. She sometimes dressed her dog Josephine 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).
Michael Korda in his memoir, Another Life described how Susann invented her own kind of genre describing it as "shopgirl romance, brought up to date with lots of dirty talk, the suggestion of rough sex, and an unsentimental view of men." Korda also says that Susann, her husband Irving Mansfield and her original publisher Bernard Geis invented a new way of selling a novel—a "shameless blend of column plants, celebrity appearances, and Hollywood gossip that was new to book publishing but old hat for the theater and movies.
Around that time, Susann developed breast cancer. She had a mastectomy on December 27, 1962, but kept her cancer a secret. Susann, determined to become a bestselling author, began writing her first novel, Valley of the Dolls.
Valley of the Dolls became the best-selling novel in the United States. Valley was followed by two best-selling novels, The Love Machine, published in 1969, and Once Is Not Enough, published in 1973, the year before her death.
Valley of the Dolls
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.
Valley of the Dolls broke sales records with more than 30 million copies sold. 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.
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. However, already irked by Judy Garland being fired from the movie, 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." 
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.
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."
Later years and death
After suffering from a persistent cough and breathing problems, Susann checked into Doctors Hospital on January 11, 1973, hoping to stop coughing before her upcoming book tour, which was to begin in March. Susann remained there five days while undergoing tests. 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 her husband Mansfield were, "Hiya, doll. Let's get the hell outta here."
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. 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 1998 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
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.
- The movie Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, written by Russ Meyer and Roger Ebert and directed by Meyer, was a parody of Valley of the Dolls.
- In 2000, Universal Pictures released a biopic about Susann titled Isn't She Great, with Bette Midler as Susann and Nathan Lane as Mansfield.
- A somewhat fanciful version of Susann is a character in Tad Richards and Jonathan Richards 2012 satirical novel Nick & Jake. In this story, set in 1953, Susann is a much younger woman, living at the Martha Washington Hotel for Women and more like a character in her novel Valley of the Dolls than the historical Susann.
- Jacqueline Susann and her Valley are referenced and discussed several times in the HBO series Sex and the City.
- Valley of the Dolls is referenced several times throughout the sitcom series Will & Grace.
- 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).
- Jacqueline Susann and Valley of the Dolls are briefly mentioned in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. Main character Billy Pilgrim gets to read Valley, the only English language book in hard copy aboard the Tralfamadorian space ship, heading home. Billy thought it was pretty good in spots.
- 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."
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- In a humorous scene in the 1986 film Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Admiral Kirk explains to Spock that foul language was common in the great literature of the late 20th Century, citing as examples the works of authors Jacqueline Susann and Harold Robbins, whom Spock recognizes as "the giants."
- Every Night, Josephine! (1963) ISBN 0-14-303434-0
- Valley of the Dolls (1966) ISBN 0-8021-3519-6
- The Love Machine (1969) ISBN 0-8021-3544-7
- Once Is Not Enough (1973) ISBN 0-8021-3545-5
- Dolores (1976) ISBN 0-553-20958-2
- Yargo (1979) sci-fi romance ISBN 0-553-12855-8 and ISBN 0-552-11019-1
- List of bestselling novels in the United States
- Just This Once, a human-computer collaboration novel published in 1993, based on artificial intelligence analysis of Susann's works
- Jacqueline Susann
- Korda, Michael (1999). Another Life: A Memoir of Other People. United States of America: Random House. ISBN 0679-45659-7.
- Alex McNeil, Total Television, p. 832
- Seaman, Barbara (1996). 2, ed. Lovely Me: The Life of Jacqueline Susann. Seven Stories Press. p. 348. ISBN 1-888363-37-1.
- "People: September 19, 1969". time.com. 1969-09-19. Retrieved 2009-10-21.
- Clifford, Garry (1976-08-09). "Mr. Jacqueline Susann Honors His Late Wife by Hawking Her Final Book". People. 6 (6).
- Arcade Publishing
- Underground, Zelda. "The Dead Jackie Susann Quarterly". Stardust Lanes. Retrieved 15 September 2013.
- Laufer, Peter. "Hacking in the Valley of the Dolls". Mother Jones. Retrieved 15 September 2013.
- "One Day I'll be Courtney". Retrieved 26 September 2013.
- Rezabek, Rozz. "Alley of the Dolls". Retrieved 26 September 2013.
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