Jacqueline Susann

Jacqueline Susann

Infobox Writer
name = Jacqueline Susann

caption =
birthdate = Birth date|1918|8|20
birthplace = Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
deathdate = Death date and age|1974|9|21|1918|8|20
deathplace = New York City, New York, United States
occupation = Novelist and actress
genre =
movement =
period = 1963-1974
influences =
influenced =

website =

Jacqueline Susann (August 20, 1918, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – September 21, 1974, New York City) was an American author known for her best selling novels. Her most notable work was "Valley of the Dolls", a book that broke sales records and spawned a 1967 movie and a short lived TV series.

Early years

Jacqueline Susann was born in Philadelphia to Robert Susann, a portrait painter, and a schoolteacher mother. In school, Susann was an intelligent but lazy student. She scored the highest on her class's IQ test, a 140, prompting her mother to predict that she would someday become a good writer. Susann had other ideas and instead had aspirations of being an actress. [http://amsaw.org/amsaw-ithappenedinhistory-082004-susann.html Jacqueline Susann ] ] The young Jackie'srocky relationship with her hard-to-please mother, as well as her starry-eyedview of her roguish father, would later be woven into Susann's novels.

By the time Susann entered high school, she was dabbling in drugs and earned the reputation of being a party girl. Although Susann's 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 marriage

Arriving in New York City, Susann landed bit parts in movies, plays (such as "The Women"), and commercials. A year later, Susann landed a decent theatrical job playing a lingerie model, earning $25.00 a week. While in New York City, Susann met a press agent, Irving Mansfield. The two dated despite the fact that Susann was not sexually attracted to Mansfield. In turn, Mansfield wooed Susann by placing items and photos of her in theater and society sections of New York newspapers. The ploy worked, and the couple married on April 2, 1939, at Har Zion Temple in Philadelphia.http://home.earthlink.net/~nuttbait/jacqueline_susann.htm]

After the wedding, Mansfield went on to manage Susann's career. Mansfield made sure Susann was placed in news columns, and she soon was a regular on "The Morey Amsterdam Show". She 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 only 37 performances.

Despite Mansfield's devotion to Susann, rumors of Susann's infidelities surfaced throughout their marriage. One of Susann's first affairs was with actor/comedian/singer Eddie Cantor. Cantor hired Susann for a role in the touring production of the play, "Banjo Eyes". Cantor dumped Susann after his wife discovered the affair and demanded that he quit the play. In 1942, Susann met comedian Joe E. Lewis and the two began an affair. Susann fell hard for Lewis which prompted her to write Mansfield a "Dear John" letter shortly after he was drafted by the United States Army in 1943. When Lewis learned that Susann and Mansfield separated and that Susann intended for her and Lewis to marry, he applied for a USO position, and was sent to New Guinea.

In late 1944, Mansfield and Susann got back together, and in 1946, the couple had a son they named Guy. At age three, Guy was diagnosed as autistic. The following year, Guy was committed to an institution where he remains to this day. Mansfield and Susann told no one of their son's true condition. The couple told friends that Guy was asthmatic, and placed in a school in Arizona for the healthy climate. For the rest of her life, Susann was tormented with guilt over institutionalizing her son.


For decades, rumors have persisted that Susann was bisexual. The rumors began around 1945 when Susann appeared in "A Lady Says Yes", with Carole Landis. The two reportedly had an affair and some claim that Susann modeled the Jennifer North character in her novel "Valley of the Dolls" after Landis. There are also reports that Susann had an affair with fashion designer Coco Chanel in 1959, and repeatedly attempted to start a physical relationship with Broadway legend Ethel Merman. None of the rumors have been confirmed, and most of Susann's friends dismiss the rumors entirely.

Writing career

In 1955, Susann acquired her poodle Josephine, and a contract to be the fashion commentator for Schiffli Lace on "Night Time, New York". She wrote, starred in, and produced two live commercials every night. She continued as the "Schiffli Girl" until 1961.

In the early 1960s, Susann tried writing a show business/drug exposé that she was going to call "The Pink Dolls". Instead, she wrote her first successful book "Every Night, Josephine!", which was based on her experiences with her poodle, whom she sometimes dressed up in outfits to match her own. Although the book was widely viewed as a novelty, it sold well enough for her to publish her second book, "Valley of the Dolls".

Around this time, Susann was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a mastectomy on December 27, 1962 but kept her illness a secret. Despite being ill, Susann was determined to become a famous author and began work on her second novel, "Valley of the Dolls".

"Valley of the Dolls"

Initially, "Valley of the Dolls" was rejected by publishers. When the book was finally released on February 10, 1966, it was an instant hit with the public. The subject matter was considered inappropriate at the time, and was a mixture of soap-opera style storytelling with bold, non-traditional characters. The story was a roman á clef of sorts, and characters in the book were reportedly based on real life celebrities like Judy Garland and Ethel Merman.

"Valley" broke sales records (at around 30 million copies), and has been cited as the best-selling novel ever. [ [http://www.ipl.org/div/farq/bestsellerFARQ.html Internet Public Library: FARQs ] ] As popular as "Valley" was, many contemporary authors dismissed Susann's writing talents. 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 saying, "As a writer no one's gonna tell me how to write, I'm gonna write the way I wanna write!". Part of the book's success stemmed from Susann and Mansfield's tireless effort to promote. The couple traveled the globe promoting her books on talk shows and in 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 later sent everyone thank you cards.

In 1967, "Valley" was made into a movie starring Patty Duke, Barbara Parkins, and Sharon Tate. Susann made a cameo in the movie as a reporter at the scene of Jennifer North's suicide. "Valley of the Dolls" was a commercial hit, but was panned by critics. Audiences, it was reported, laughed at some of the dramatic scenes.Susann herself hated the movie and walked out of the premiere.


Both Susann and Mansfield enjoyed the fame that her books garnered. Susann went on to publish several more novels, all in a similar vein to "Dolls". She also became a fixture on television, particularly as a guest on talk shows. Her pointed repartee added spice to the programs she was featured on. However, not everyone was a fan. On July 24, 1969, author Truman Capote, himself a talk show fixture and 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 over the comments. In turn, Capote apologized "to truck drivers everywhere." Johnny Carson gave Susann the chance to fire back at Capote and asked her on the air, "What do you think of Truman?" Susann quipped, "Truman? I think history will prove he's one of the best presidents we've had."

Later years and death

On January 11, 1973, Susann was stunned to learn that her cancer had returned, but was determined to finish her last novel, "Once Is Not Enough". Like her other books, it was a success, but she was too sick and drained by chemotherapy to tour in support of the book.

Susann's health failed rapidly. 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 Mansfield were, "Let's get the hell outta here, doll."

Posthumous works

In the late 1970s, her romance/science fiction novel "Yargo" was published. Written in the late 1950s, the novel is not similar to her other works and was a radical and somewhat bizarre departure, likely published only due to the sustained interest in Susann.

Her last novel "Dolores", a thinly-veiled take on Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, was published in 1976. A condensed version of it was published in the "Ladies' Home Journal", under the banner "Jackie by Jackie." When illness prevented Susann from completing her last book, close friend and fellow writer Rex Reed quietly took over.

In 1996, "Lovely Me", a biography of Susann by Barbara Seaman, was published. The book was, in part, the basis for the 2000 feature film "Isn't She Great?" starring Bette Midler as Jackie and Nathan Lane as Irving. Marlo Thomas played Susann in a play "Paper Doll" with F. Murray Abraham as Mansfield. Michele Lee and Peter Riegert played the couple in the TV movie "Scandalous Me: The Jacqueline Susann Story".

Before her death, Susann planned a sequel to "Valley of the Dolls". In 2001, author Rae Lawrence created "Shadow of the Dolls", based on notes Susann left for the intended sequel.


* "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

ee also

* List of bestselling novels in the United States


External links

* [http://jacquelinesusann.ifrance.com Jacqueline Susann icon of the 60's ]

NAME= Susann, Jacqueline
SHORT DESCRIPTION= Novelist, actress
DATE OF BIRTH= August 20, 1918
PLACE OF BIRTH= Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
DATE OF DEATH= September 21, 1974
PLACE OF DEATH= New York City, New York, United States

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