1960s writers

Happy Birthday, Ms. Susann

On August 20th, 1918, Jacqueline Susann was born in Philadelphia. She became famous for writing the novel Valley of the Dolls, published in 1966. Dolls tells three women’s stories as they each rise from humble beginnings and become stars in their own rites. The pressures of romance, beauty, and fame become too much for old fashioned Anne Welles, beautiful Jennifer North and feisty Neely O’Hara, as they cope with their struggles by popping pills. It’s no Ulysses, but it did earn 1966 shock value points and record-breaking sales.

I’m very aware that this book doesn’t have a great rap, and it’s often rejected as campy and melodramatic, but I love this story and I’m not afraid to admit it. I have Jacqueline Susann to thank for writing the first book I read that I literally could not put down–even if I only had five minutes in a waiting room to read two and a half pages. It was also the first time I read a book twice in a row. I haven’t read Dolls in a long time, but I may have to bust it out for old times sake.

In many ways Susann made her own success, living in the exhausting book-touring, autograph-signing, celebrity-interviewing kind of author’s world. She was just as fabulous and loud as the characters in her novels, even basing elements of her fictional world on her own dramatic life. And to those critics who panned her books, she said  “As a writer no one’s gonna tell me how to write. I’m gonna write the way I wanna write!” I don’t really want to be Jacqueline Susann, but I respect her for her unapologetic attitude, saying what others were apparently dying to hear, doing what she loved and being successful, particularly as an outspoken female in the late 60’s.

Jacqueline Susann died of cancer in 1973 when she was just 55 years old. I read this entertaining article about her life, check it out if you’re interested.