the TRASH BASH: VALLEY OF THE DOLLS. A story begging for a better adaptation.

Last year I read the book Valley of the Dolls by American writer Jacqueline Susann. It’s a great page turner about the debauched, and hedonistic lifestyle behind the screen during the volatile sexual awakening of the swinging sixties.

Now the book is told from the perspective of a beautiful young woman called Anne Wells who leaves her mundane life in Massachusetts for the fast paced streets of New York. Over the years and along the way she befriends two other ambitious young women, Neely a rising singer and actress hungry for the adoration and fame of Hollywood life and Jennifer North, a sexy showgirl with limited talents beyond her beauty. Through the span of 20 years we follow the women as they build upon their careers; as they reach pinnacle heights of fame and in the paranoia and short lifespan of such exposure (especially in those days) we watch as they begin to self destruct leading to the tragic loss of one of the three.

It’s a brilliant story of love, loss and the destructive world of Hollywood and in fact exposes the paranoia and insecurities of career women. There are certainly a few famous names you could place on each character. Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe and Natalie Wood came to mind when reading. Fantastic talents, exploited, abused and tragic. I have now passed on to reintroduce to friends because I missed the boat the first time. However I was so happy to hear I could relive it all by watching the movie adaptation.

Barbara Parkins, Sharon Tate and Patty Duke in the 1967 film

The 1967 production should have been fitting seeing as it was set around the same time. However understandable constraints during that period that would have hindered writers and producers from making a film that really spotlighted the very world they lived in. For this reason the film was poor. It was a wishy-washy 90 or so minutes of bright colours and flat dialogue. I can’t even deal with how they butchered the story and to say that the whole thing was bizarre is an understatement. Think Disney’s The Rescuers meets How to Succeed without Really Trying, meets boring. Nothing was even close to being hedonistic or shocking, surely not even for the time it was made.  The closest thing to good comes from Patty Duke, in her turn as Neeley (arguably the best character arc and best storyline as a whole). So I think they should do it again.

There have been various adaptations to the small screen with a 1981 and 1994 tv series and (THANK GOODNESS) a new one in development under the control of NBC. I think if it’s going to be done, they need to look to (no surprises) Mad Men or even PanAm and even the short-lived and potentially great Playboy Club.

Judging by the state of the economy people are staying in and watching more TV; the quality is thriving. The 60s is ‘period’ drama for the US. They are lapping it up and they are doing it so well. We’ve always been told how simple life was back then, true for obvious reasons, but I think it’s safe to say that in reality they just knew how to keep things behind closed doors. Hence why the sordid lifestyles behind the picture perfect family in Mad Men is delicious.

Valley of the Dolls would make a fantastic series. Ever since I watched that disastrous film I pictured my own cast for the three protagonists in particular.

Amanda Seyfried for Anne Wells

Amber Heard for Jennifer North

Lea Michele for  Neeley O’hara

Ashley Green for Anne Wells

Amber Heard for Jennifer North

Ophelia Lovibond for Neeley O’Hara

Dianna Agron for Anne Wells

Amber Heard for Jennifer North

Brittany Snow for Neeley O’Hara

Okay so I have a complex over Amber Heard. After the shocking cancellation of The Playboy Club when it clearly was about to start redeeming itself, I just think that girl needs another role, a better role. In Valley of the Dolls Jennifer North is one crazy sad character; so beautiful and so beaten down by Hollywood’s limited expectations to keep her as sex object. She wants to be more, she wants to feel worth more. A clear Marilyn prototype.

Neeley is the youngest and perhaps the most ambitious and consequently successful character. A classic rags to riches tale, she has unequivocal talent but she becomes so consumed with her own self-importance; her determination to stave away from the poverty she came from is admirable, she knows what she wants; the higher she rises though the bigger her ego gets and being given everything she wants from such a young age as well as experiencing betrayal from various people around her she becomes cold-hearted, paranoid and grossly impulsive – and all before those who built her up try to take her down.

The narrative voice comes from Anne Wells who begins and ends the story. Think Pamela Ewing. Beautiful the more you look at her, sometimes self righteous, incredibly lucky and always a little on the outside. She has one love who can never really love her as much back. She’s a bit of a push over and sometimes a little dull. Her talents are vague, luck  and a series of chance acquaintances are what really is what gets her through the story. She is the voice of reason for the most part, but her reasons are flawed and sometimes naive. However she is perhaps the good girl of all, but she definitely has her flaws.


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