Break out your booze and dope, girls, ‘cuz Valley of the Dolls just turned 50. (Cue horrified gasps and half-sincere reassurances that it “doesn’t look a day over 29.”) Though dubbed a “piece of shit” and one of the “best, funniest, worst [movies] ever made” by its stars, the film still ranks with The Room and Showgirls as one of the campiest, trashiest bits of dramatical dumpster fires that has ever given us life.
Co-starring Barbara Parkins, Patty Duke, Susan Hayward, Lee Grant, and the legendary Sharon Tate, Valley of the Dolls was initially trashed by critics and beloved by audiences when it spread across America in 1967 like a venereal disease. Based on a 1966 New York Times best-seller by Jacqueline Susann, the film, which seemed to “tear the lid off of Hollywood and Broadway,” has been described as the “original Fifty Shades of Grey.”
“It was a pop event,” says writer Bruce Bibby in a new retrospective with Vanity Fair. “I don’t think from the get-go it had any smell of good filmmaking. Actors were trying to get in the cast to be rich and famous.”
Sure enough, Lee Grant, who played Miriam Polar, has revealed that she had to explain to the film’s somewhat incompetent director, Mark Robson, what acting was.
“I found Miriam interesting and neurotic and a mother to her brother,” she tells VF. “I remember leaving a crying scene on Friday and continuing the scene on Monday. The director asked to talk to me [privately]. . . . He asked, ‘How did you do that, take up from where you left off on Friday to bring that emotion on Monday?’ And I said, ‘It’s called acting.’”
Still, the film has become a cult hit and has been regarded as very prescient about contemporary attitudes toward Hollywood’s patriarchal structures.
“It’s part of the fabric of the work that I do,” says openly gay director Lee Daniels (Precious, The Butler.) “I saw it in my late teens. . . . It was just wild; sex, camp, drugs, Hollywood, scandal, girls. Wild … Everyone is waiting for the next Judy Garland, the next Whitney Houston, the next Amy Winehouse, the next star that we can build up so that we can tear them down.”
He adds: “It speaks to men and women because it’s about what is screaming inside of us all; we are somebody.”
So take that, critics. Valley of the Dolls is a brilliant, inspirational piece of high drama that will continue to inform cinema and Broad-WAY for years to come. It also has enough wig-related drama, bathroom catfights, regular catfights, and lasagna to have its own drinking game. Someone please get on that.