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20th Century Fox was so sure that Valley of the Dolls would be a hit that they purchased the rights before it was even published in February 1966. While the novel and the movie received negative criticism for its content, it was indeed a success, becoming one of the bestselling novels of all time and a top grossing film of 1967, earning $23 million. Go behind the scenes of the camp classic below!
1. Lawson was a based on a big Broadway star.
Just as Neely was based on Judy Garland (read more about that here), Helen Lawson was also based on Ethel Merman. Author Jacqueline Susann had befriended the Broadway diva, but after a public argument in a resturant, the friendship soured. It didn't get any better after the book was published. Still, Lawson could have been much different had she known another celebrity first. Susann said, “Merman was a lady compared to Joan Crawford. If I knew Joan when I was writing Dolls, Helen Lawson would’ve been a monster!” Susann wanted Bette Davis for the part.
2. Anne Welles was based on the author.
Susann based Anne Welles on herself, and she wanted Mia Farrow for the part. Candice Bergen was cast but dropped out. Others considered for the three lead roles were Jill Ireland, Raquel Welch, and Ann-Margret. Welch later said, “I don’t think now it was particularly smart to turn that down.”
3. Duke wanted the role bad.
Duke, who was tired of playing young roles, wanted the chance to play older. She said, “I begged for this part. I identify with Neely. I identify with her loneliness. That’s why she’s so self-destructive. But she doesn’t know how to reach people. The other people tested played her like a hard-nosed [character]. Played her loneliness. I understood that.”
4. Parkins tested for another role.
“I heard that there were these great three roles that were being sought after, and I thought I have to go there,” Barbara said. “I would sneak onto the stage and watch these actresses being tested and I wasn’t being tested so I thought I’m going up to Dick Zanuck’s office’s and make a demand that I be tested. And I did.” She read for the part of Neely, and she was let down that she didn’t get the “juicy” role. However, she later she thought playing the nice girl would be a change of pace, after playing the bad girl in TV’s Peyton Place.
5. The costumes cost a lot.
William Travilla, known for designing costumes for Marilyn Monroe, designed the Dolls’ 140 costumes, which cost over 150 thousand. Duke’s gown cost $150 per yard because it was made of gold bullion. Hayward’s beaded outfit took two weeks to make.