|HER SWINGIN' CREDENTIALS: Jacqueline Susann stands alone as the most popular writer of her generation, the undisputed Queen of Pulp Fiction who's own life was as exciting and fascinating as anything she wrote about in her best-selling novels. |
CATEGORIES OF SWINGIN' CHICK: Writer, TV Star, and Movie Star. The TV Star credit we're giving her is as a riveting talk-show guest; TV shows she was on included "The Tonight Show," "The David Frost Show," and "The Mike Douglas Show." The Movie Star credit is for her thirty-second appearance in the Valley of the Dolls movie, playing a reporter; as tiny as that role was, she still got a major screen credit!
BIRTH: Jacqueline was born on August 20, 1918, which made her 42 at the start of the '60s and about four years older than her friend Helen Gurley Brown. Her exotic birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
IMPACT ON THE '60s: "Wherever I went with her," said Jacqueline's friend Helen Gurley Brown, "people asked her for autographs." The facts speak for themselves: She is the only writer ever to have three novels in a row hit #1 on the New York Times' best-seller list; there are over twenty-million copies of her most famous novel, the tawdry Valley of the Dolls, in print; in the Guinness Book of World Records, Valley of the Dolls is tied with Gone with the Wind and To Kill a Mockingbird as the best-selling novels of all time by a female writer; movies were made of her books, and movies were made of her life -- the TV movie Scandalous Me in '98 (based on the only serious Jackie biography, Barbara Seaman's Lovely Me) starred Michele Lee as Jackie, and Isn't She Great in 2000 starred Bette Midler. Jackie herself thought the '60s would be remembered for three things -- Andy Warhol, the Beatles, and her. In her wake came other female novelists who churned out popular potboilers, writers such as Danielle Steel and Jackie Collins; Jacqueline Susann paved the way for all of them.
CAREER IN THE '60s: Like Helen Gurley Brown, Jackie's fame really began in '62. The acting career she'd been trying to sustain had dried up, leaving her depressed and taking pills. With no other prospects, she began writing Every Night, Josephine!, a simple, fun novel about her dog, "a report from the other end of the leash," as it was billed. On December 25, 1962 she had a breast biopsy and learned that she had cancer. She underwent a modified radical mastectomy -- no one but her husband knew, because she believed that if others knew of her illness she would appear to be a loser. At this point, Jackie went to her "wishing hill" in Central park to appeal to God to give her ten years so that she could prove herself to be the best-selling authoress in the world. Upon publication of Josephine on November 14, 1963, , the book quickly sold 35,000 to 40,000 hardcover copies and was number ten on the Time magazine bestseller list, a debut respectable enough for her to try to write another book. She was about to embark on a national publicity tour in late-November of '63 when JFK was assassinated. Jackie sobbed uncontrollably; when she was told not to take it so hard, she cried, "Don't take it so hard? My tour's been cancelled!" In '64-'65 she wrote Valley of the Dolls, and in an interview she said:
"I wanted to write it long before I wrote Every Night, Josephine! I'd been thinking about it a long time. I've been around show business for over twenty years, I've grown up with show business, I've seen people come starry-eyed and I've seen them hope to climb Mt. Everest, which as I call it is the top, and I've seen many of them go into the valley of the dolls."
The book was almost rejected by the publishers, but when it was released on February 10, 1966, it was an instant hit with the public, who loved her entertaining story of glamour's seamy side. "Who was who" in the book was a popular guessing game. At the time Time magazine called it the "dirty book of the month," and scholarly critics attacked her, but she promoted the book extensively with many talk-show appearances and book tours, so that on May 8th of '66 it was #1 on the New York Times' best-seller list and stayed there for 28 weeks. On May 14, 1969 she published another best-seller, The Love Machine, which examined the passions and scandals in the world of TV. With more book tours, this time in a pink plane dubbed "the love machine," it was a #1 best-seller for 26 weeks. Her third best-seller, Once Is Not Enough, was published in early '74, and it too became a #1 best-seller, an unprecedented achievement in publishing history.
CAREER OUTSIDE THE '60s: Jacqueline Susann lived a rich, exciting life. Born in Philly as an only child, her father was a philandering portrait painter. In fact, he's pretend to take her to the movies, he'd send Jackie to the show alone while he rendezvoused with a mistress, then he'd find out from Jackie what the movie was about so he could talk about it when they both got back home! Jackie was praised for her writing as a schoolgirl, and in fifth grade she scored the highest on her class's IQ test, a 140, though she was one of the laziest students. Her mother would often tell her that she was born to write and in response Jackie declared, "Acting is glamour but writing is hard work, so I'm going to be an actress." By high school she was a dope-smoking, pill-popping party girl. Her mother wanted her to be a teacher, but after graduation from West Philadelphia High in '36 she moved to New York to work as an actress. Though she exuded confidence, nobody was impressed by her talent and she only got bit parts and commercials. Her first decent theatrical job was playing a lingerie model in The Women -- her first performance was June 23, 1937, which was over a year after arriving in New York. She was paid $25 per week. Her new husband, press-agent Irving Mansfield, helped her get in the papers, and when he became a TV producer in '46 he got her a job as a wacky supporting player on "The Morey Amsterdam Show." In '46 her play The Temporary Mrs. Smith, later retitled Lovely Me, was produced on Broadway by one of her ex-lovers. It closed after only 37 performances. In the early '50s she wrote her romance/science fiction novel Yargo. In '55 she acquired her pet poodle Josephine and a contract to be the fashion commentator for Schiffli Lace on an all-night show called "Night Time, New York" which ran from one to seven a.m. weeknights. She wrote, starred and produced in two live commercials every night. She would be the "Schiffli Girl" until '61. She tried writing a show-biz/drug expose which she was going to call The Pink Dolls, but instead she wrote her first succesful book, Every Night, Josephine!, which was based on her experiences with her poodle, whom she sometimes dressed up in outfits to match hers. "The Elizabeth Taylor of poodles," she called her dog. Once she was famous, Irving devoted himself to supporting and helping her. After the '60s, her last four years were spent glamorously and productively. When she was diagnosed with cancer on January 11th of '73, she was determined to finish her last novel, Once Is Not Enough. Like her other books it too was a roaring success, but she couldn't enjoy it because she was so sick and drained by the chemotherapy. Still, in her last days she told a friend that "every day of the last ten years for me was a blessing," suggesting that she'd lived hard and successfully to get the most out of every moment, knowing she didn't have a long life ahead of her. She may have attempted suicide by trying to leap from her terrace; supposedly Irving handcuffed himself to her to keep her from further attempts. When she finally went to the hospital for the last time, she refused to die and stayed in a coma for seven weeks before finally succumbing on September 21, 1974. Her last words to Irving were, "Let's get the hell outa here, doll."
TALENT: Her writing career was remarkable because she started it so late (it came after she'd failed at being an actress, model, singer, and playwright). While she was attacked by critics who said that she "typed on a cash register," and novelist Gore Vidal said famously, "She doesn't write, she types," there's no doubting her popular appeal, as both a novelist and a celebrity. Here's how she said she wrote her books on her hot-pink IBM Selectric typewriter at home:
"When I write I do five drafts. The first is on inexpensive white paper. I don't try for style, I just spill it all out. The second draft is on yellow paper, that's when I work on characterizations. The third is pink, I work on story motivations. Then blue, that's where I cut, cut, cut."
She worked this way seven-eight hours every day, using a blackboard and color-coordinated chalks to chart the progress of her characters and her plots. Still, supposedly the manuscript for Dolls was so badly written that an editor spent six weeks rewriting the book. In addition to her writing, she was a TV star -- well, an actress, if not a star -- and a frequent talk-show guest. Her biggest talent, though, might've been as one of the great shmoozers of all time -- when her books were coming out, she'd get up at dawn to bring coffee and donuts to the truckers who were delivering her books, just to make sure the books arrived safe and sound. She and her hubby would then drive around the country to meet the sales clerks, just to chat 'em up and inspire 'em to keep on a-sellin' her books. She'd keep track of everybody's birthdays, kids' names, and pets, so she could talk to people more personally. All this, remember, was while she was ALREADY famous, not just starting out. And she didn't care what the critics said: "I don't think any novelist should be concerned with literature," she explained, "literature should be left to essayists."
HER '60s LOOK: With her brunette hair done and her jewelry sparkling and her big teeth smiling, Jacqueline was a consistently glamorous presence all decade long, even before she became famous. Unfortunately, for the last years of her life she was saddled with the catty description used by Truman Capote, who on July 24, 1969 said on "The Tonight Show" that she looked like "a truck driver in drag." She threatened to sue him and NBC, and he later apologized -- to truck drivers everywhere. Johnny Carson gave her the chance to fire back at Capote and asked her on the air, "What do you think of Truman?" Her answer: "Truman? I think history will prove he's one of the best presidents we've had." Sadly, in her last year she was forced to wear wigs everywhere because the chemotherapy treatments for her cancer caused all her hair to fall out. But as a teen she won a beauty contest as the Most Beautiful Girl in Philadelphia (though some say it was fixed by her father). When she was auditioning as a young wannabe actress, she was counseled to give up any hopes of acting because her hands were too big and would look odd in close-ups. To her credit, in the '60s she always looked glamorous, like the movie star she wanted to be. And like her pal Helen Gurley Brown, Jacqueline never went out looking anything but stylish and fashionable. She certainly had a thing for Pucci, as Helen did (as Sharon Tate did, for that matter, since she was buried in a Pucci mini). Jackie had a mastectomy on December 27, 1962, but she kept it a secret. In fact, when the cancer reappeared in '74, she was still stoic and didn't tell anyone, preferring instead to maintain her glamorous image and her devotion to her work as long as possible.
LIFESTYLE: Even before she was famous in the '60s, she lived the lifestyle of a star. She lived with her husband, Irving Mansfield in a ritzy hotel on Central Park South. Jackie wasn't sexually attracted to Irving Mansfield but felt she could "manage" him and he could help her in her career with his connections. In fact, he courted her by placing items and photos in theater and society sections of New York newspapers. They married 4/2/39 at Har Zion Temple in Philadelphia. "Anything is possible, I can accomplish anything as long as I know that Irving Mansfield is my husband," she said. Later she would dedicate Valley of the Dolls to him (she dedicated The Love Machine to Carol Bjorkman, Once Is Not Enough to her father, and Dolores to her mother). Her life in the '60s was filled with parties and travels and celebrities. Throughout her married life, however, there were rumors of her infidelities. Eddie Cantor was her first adulterous relationship and she never stopped hating him for dumping her (he is the pathetic Christy Lane character in The Love Machine). Cantor hired her for his touring play Banjo Eyes but when Cantor's wife discovered their affair, he quit the play -- leaving Jackie without a job or a lover. Her next affair was with Joe E. Lewis in 1942. He had a signature comedy line: "You know, they say you only live once. But if you play your cards right, once is enough." Part of that became the title of her last novel. Jacqueline fell so hard for Joe E. that she sent a Dear John letter to Irving (who was in the service at the time) asking for a divorce. The letter said: "When we were at the Essex house and I had room service and I could buy all my Florence Lustig dresses, I found that I loved you very much, but now that you're in the army and getting fifty-six dollars a month, I feel that my love has waned." When Joe E. learned that Jackie was separated and very intent on marriage he applied for a USO position and was sent to New Guinea. Jackie became quite promiscuous during this period, having affairs with numerous comics, including George Jessel, who was a close friend of both Joe E. Lewis and Eddie Cantor. Other paramours during her separation were Walter Pidgeon, J.J. Schubert (who cast her in Blossom Time in '43) and Vinton Freedley (who cast her in Jackpot in '44, a short-lived play co-written by Sidney Sheldon). In late '44, she and Irving got back together. Supposedly while appearing as a Ziegfeld stripper in A Lady Says Yes in '45, Jacqueline fell in love with Carole Landis; Carole openly wooed her, sending flowers, a pair of perfect pearl drop earrings and a mink coat. Carole would become the inspiration for the character of Jennifer North in Valley of the Dolls and their affair would be recreated between Judith and Karla in Once Is Not Enough. The subject of bisexuality come up frequently throughout Jacqueline's life, and as an adult she pursued several unrequited loves, including, it's said, singer Ethel Merman in '60. Some say they had a physical relationship, others dismiss it as ridiculous, but the rumors have persisted for decades. She was also rumoured to have had an affair with Coco Chanel in '59. She had a son, Guy Mansfield, on December 6, 1946, but at three he was diagnosed as being autistic and at four he was committed to an institution, and is still there. For awhile Jackie told friends that he was an asthmatic who was away at school in Arizona for the healthy climate. She was tormented with guilt over Guy her whole life, and some people said that the poodle Josephine was a surrogate for Guy. Jackie could also be tough, and there are stories that she punched an agent who tried to lure her onto his casting couch, she slugged a critic who wrote negatively about a play she wrote, and she even got in a fight with Johnny Carson in a bar and tossed a drink at him. Jackie did have two words of advice for brides about how to live: "room service," because with her glamorous lifestyle, she herself never cooked.
EXTRAS: Her answer to literary critics who attacked her: "As a writer no one's gonna tell me how to write, I'm gonna write the way I wanna write!" ... though the Valley of the Dolls movie was a huge hit, Jacqueline was unhappy with it and supposedly walked out of the premiere ... she especially didn't like the upbeat ending, because it wasn't realistic for the depressing lives the girls all led ... the film starred two Swingin' Chicks of the '60s, Patty Duke as the fiery Neely and Sharon Tate as the lovely, doomed Jennifer ... supposedly the Helen character played by Susan Hayward was modeled after Ethel Merman, the Neely character played by Patty Duke was Judy Garland, the Jennifer North character played by Sharon Tate was Marilyn Monroe or Carole Landis, and the Anne Welles character played by Barbara Parkins was supposed to be Jacqueline herself ... there was also an '81 TV movie of V of the D that had Britt Ekland and Richard Dreyfuss, plus there was a "Valley of the Dolls" TV series in '94 that had Sally Kirkland as Helen ... in the movie Valley of the Dolls," Dionne Warwick sang the theme song ... Simon & Schuster bought the rights to The Love Machine sight unseen, but supposedly once they read it they had to do extensive editing on it ... one of the stars of The Love Machine film was Dyan Cannon ... like many other celebrities, Jacqueline used to claim that she was supposed to be at Sharon Tate's house the night of the Manson murders ... when she was going through the pain of cancer in the '70s she used to joke weakly that if she'd only gone to that damn party that night, she wouldn't have to suffer now! ... one of the great stories from her younger days came when she was at an important audition, and on that very day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, causing everyone at the audition to suddenly start talking about what had just happened and the possibility of war -- Jackie was outraged that nobody wanted to watch her audition and couldn't believe the nerve of the Japanese, planning their sneak attack for that very day and interrupting her chance at a career! ... the definitive biography of Jacqueline Susann, and the source for some of the material presented on this page, is Barbara Seaman's Lovely Me.
Click on the linkage in the Table o' Contents on the left to select another Swingin' Chick of the '60s, baby.