By Amy Condon
SCAD Style ended April 29 with a retrospective celebrating the 45th anniversary of the publication of “Valley of the Dolls.” Jacqueline Susann’s scandalous 1966 tale of three aspiring actresses explored the seamy underbelly of celebrity and the personal price paid for fame.
It may seem like an odd choice to honor a writer during a week devoted to the fashion industry, but the panelists on hand made clear that Susann’s influence spanned literature, film, fashion and marketing like no other writer before or since.
An accompanying exhibit of archival photos and couture at the Pinnacle Gallery, on view until June 24, verifies Susann’s lasting inspiration.
The author/style icon, who died in 1974 from breast cancer, was known for working seven-hour workdays at her pink typewriter, dressed in a Pucci pantsuit with her beehive coif and false eyelashes fully shellacked.
“I can’t think of another author who is as recognizable, even today,” said Cameron Silver, owner of Decades, a Los Angeles-based vintage boutique and co-curator of the Pinnacle exhibit. “If she were alive today, she would have her own clothing line and fragrance.”
Co-curator and designer Lisa Perry agreed. “[Susann’s style] is as fresh to me today as when she wore it.”
Executive director of the Jacqueline Susann Archive, Lisa Bishop recounted how Susann and her husband, press agent Irving Mansfield, excelled at self-promotion.
“She really is the first branded author,” Bishop said. “She and Irving are credited with creating the book tour.”
Susann said at the height of her fame, “The ‘60s will be remembered for Andy Warhol, the Beatles and me.”
“Valley of the Dolls” spent 65 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list—28 of those at number one. Her subsequent novels rose to the top of the charts, making Susann the first novelist in history to have three consecutive number ones.
Though Susann was not welcomed by literary elites, she brought new readers—especially women—into bookstores, said literary agent Ira Silverberg.
She paved the way for other female writers of the genre, such as Jackie Collins and Candace Bushnell, who, Silverberg explained, structured her novel “Lipstick Jungle” almost exactly along the lines of “Valley of the Dolls.”
The 1967 film based on the novel catapulted actress Sharon Tate to superstardom, and recast Academy Award-winning childhood star Patty Duke as a mature artist.
Whitney Robinson, senior editor at Town & Country magazine and new executive director of the author’s archives, has created a Jacqueline Susann website and Twitter account to bring Susann’s “fabulousness” to a whole new generation.
“She was her own best publicist,” she said. “She’d be on Twitter all the time.”