“You’ve got to climb to the top of Mount Everest to reach the Valley of the Dolls.”
~ Jacqueline Susann, Valley of the Dolls
What makes a book a classic? Does it need an intense plot that keeps you on the edge of your seat? Are multidimensional characters required? Must it sprout eloquent prose that enlivens your senses?
No, because if it did, Valley of the Dolls would not have sold over 30 million copies. That’s a huge number for a trash novel no publisher wanted to touch, and yet this gem has the staying power of remaining in print after over 50 years. How could it be that a book so many saw as a piece of garbage that never should have been published won over the masses? Doesn’t this sound a little like another runaway bestseller that also turned the publishing world on its ear? Yep, I’ll say it. The ground Valley of the Dolls broke paved the way for the success of Fifty Shades of Grey.
Let’s dive deeper into this gem of a trash novel and see what makes it a classic.
Hmm…Valley of the Dolls! It’s cliché. It’s hackneyed. And it’s important because glitter, glamour, fame, and self-destruction add up to the most brilliant piece of rubbish you will ever read!
The cliché plot: A small town girl escapes to the big city where she befriends two kindred spirits. The three of them hit the heights of fame while on a path to self-destruction. They are also awesomely catty! (Cattiness makes for fun reading.)
The stereotypical characters: Anne, a secretary who becomes the face of a large cosmetics company while having a troubled relationship with a man who turns the heads of too many. Neely, a star whose career (along with her temper and dependence on “dolls”) becomes larger than life. Jennifer, a showgirl who turns to making “art films” for money to support her child as well as her addiction. (Who doesn’t love to read about the scandalous?)
The cultural legacy: Valley of the Dolls spawned a major motion picture, a BBC radio series, a TV mini-
series, and a regular TV series. To this day, there are talks of it returning to television. The book even influenced numerous pop culture references, including a 1970 film modernization, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, written by Roger Ebert and Russ Meyer. This parody was as titillating as the novel from which it spawned and included a deranged, crown-wearing music producer who sports prosthetic breast. “Z-Man? There is no Z-Man, varlet. And indeed, it is not a game we play. I am Superwoman!” (Seriously, how outrageous is that?)
exposing reality. Americans love wealth, fame, and beauty. This book has it all. (A woman who is willing to sleep away part of her life to wake up thinner? How awesomely horrific does that sound?)
The gritty meaning: Women are vain bitches. Men are vain assholes.
If a classic can be defined as a ground breaking novel that is filled with scandal, spawns outrageousness, exposes us to our own bitter truth, and is a fun read while influencing pop culture and having a staying power that spans generations, then Valley of the Dolls is about as classic as you can get. Let’s face it; Jacqueline Susann was a writer for our times that will be looked back on as a fictional historian for her faux portrayals of real people.
It is also the perfect institution for those like me and Rosalyn from Scary Modsters who love the outrageous and strive to embrace a world outside the norm, which is exactly why I made Valley of the Dolls one of her favorite books and Beyond one of her favorite films.
In other words, a classic is what grips you and holds. It breaks ground, and gives you something to chew on, even if it is just bubblegum.
Don’t go into Valley of the Dolls while sitting on the beach and sipping white wine. Dive in hard and fast while lying poolside, sporting a stylish bikini and a ton of sparkly jewelry. Remember your sunscreen, large sunglasses, and titanic-sized hat. And for heaven’s sake, don’t forget that cocktail! That way you can blame the brain cell loss on the booze and not have to admit what you spent your time reading.
No matter how much you hate it, I can guarantee a part of you will love it! And that is what makes Valley of the Dolls a classic.
“Give me back my hair, you little bitch,” Helen yelled. “It cost me three hundred bucks!”