Inspiration: Jacqueline Susann
When I was growing up, there seemed to be a lot more writers on television. Not tucked away on obscure cable channels (ah, terrestrial television!) but on the chat shows like other important people. Back then people didn’t only appear to plug things — or if they did, they bothered to be charming not just bored and hitting all the release dates.
Surely one of the most alluring of the public writers — i.e. people knew by name on sight — was Jacqueline Susann. She started out thinking she might want to be an actor, but found the endless casting calls a drag. She amused herself writing letters “from” her poodle Josephine to her friends and when one said she should write a book as Josephine, the penny dropped.
Every Night, Josephine! was the kind of novelty book that didn’t especially suggest a career ahead, but Susann was an ambitious woman and thought about what would sell. The dishy gossip she heard hanging around Broadway with her tony friends and her experiences trying to break into acting gave her oodles of material for her big break novel Valley of the Dolls. For the first time in mainstream bestsellers, the sex was explicit. She was talk of the town and the rest is history (read the scandalously breathless [and speculative] biography Lovely Me by Barbara Seaman or the trashy but heartfelt bio pic Scandalous Me with Michele Lee if you can find it).
What Susann totally changed was how to promote books and, ever the control freak, she took a lot of the process into her own hands and made herself a success. She was witty, charming, stylish and tireless. With grim determination she fought back a few times against the cancer that eventually took her life.
From her I learned things like signing your books meant the bookstore could not return them. Susann would bring coffee and doughnuts to the teamsters who were delivering the boxes of her books, because it helps if your merchandise arrives in good shape.
Some people sneered at her books as “trash” but that never daunted Susann. She “had something to say and said it” in her books. Damned by would-be highbrow interviewers, Susann never backed down and always remained proud of her work. Although she wrote about the glitterati, they always ended up badly because she thought her readers would appreciate their own lives that much more.
What did I learn from her? Do what you want, don’t apologize for your work, laugh at those who sneer and laugh all the way to the bank. I haven’t had that much to put in the bank yet, but I’m already laughing.
Here’s a new BBC radio adaptation of Valley of the Dolls.
Susann on ‘What’s My Line?’
As a young wannabe actress:
Her classic novel as camp (and groundbreaking) Hollywood film with a fabulous cast including Patti Duke, Susan Hayward, Sharon Tate, Martin Milner and look for fledgling actor, Richard Dreyfuss, near the end as well as the author herself in a cameo as a reporter:
Supposedly Harold Robbins impression of Susann’s life: also known as one of the worst films ever made.