'Valley Of The Dolls,' Still Sparkling At 50 Jacqueline Susann's camp classic about three women seeking fame and love turns 50 this year; Sex and the City creator Candace Bushnell calls it "a darn good read" and an influence on her own work.

'Valley Of The Dolls,' Still Sparkling At 50

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The novel "Valley Of The Dolls" turned 50 this year, and it still looks fabulous. Maybe it's the nips and tucks or the booze and drugs, you know, the dolls or the backstabbing or the bonking. Now if you're one of those NPR listeners who would like to pretend they haven't ever read the book, it's a seamy Hollywood showbiz story of three women, Anne Welles, Jennifer North and Neely O'Hara.

The book broke all kinds of sales records in 1966, despite the savagery of critics. At one point, it held the Guinness World Record for the planet's most popular novel. It became a movie, a TV series, and it made the author, Jacqueline Susann, into a household name before she died.

Candace Bushnell knows about writing female friendship. She is the author of "Sex And The City," which maybe owes a little something to "Valley Of The Dolls." She joins us from Long Island. Thanks so much for being with us.

CANDACE BUSHNELL: Thank you.

SIMON: Do you owe something to "Valley Of The Dolls"?

BUSHNELL: It's always then a bit of an inspiration to me for a lot of different reasons. It actually was the first novel, I think, published about women that became such a huge bestseller. It's very cleverly done. It spans 20 years, really examines the friendships of these three women who are very, very different.

But it's really more about how they long for love and how society and reality keeps getting in the way of this idea that they all have of true love. It's also written in a way that it's very, very hard to put down. It's one of those books where you can sort of pick it up anyplace in the book, and it really pulls you in right away.

SIMON: I just did this. OK, ready? (Reading) She ran down the marble stairs barefoot. The servants were asleep. The lights were out in the living room. While she was groping for the light switch, she heard a splash in the swimming pool. She walked to the patio doors. Who the hell was in the pool? It was Ted. Come on, come on. Drop the towel. The water's heated, Ted called (laughter).

BUSHNELL: I know. It's - I actually was just skimming through it again. And one of the things that struck me is there's something in the writing that's almost a bit masculine. It's very simple. It almost reminds me a little bit of those noir books.

She walked in. She was a babe. You know, that sort of thing. It's almost written with that kind of driving male energy.

SIMON: Do you think, Candace Bushnell, that despite the savagery of the critics, the success of "Valley Of The Dolls" opened doors for women writers from - you know, including you or Judith Krantz or Toni Morrison and Zadie Smith.

BUSHNELL: Absolutely. I mean, one of the things that always strikes me is the beginning of the book when Anne arrives in New York, and it's steamy - it's very similar to the beginning of "The Bell Jar" by Sylvia Plath - you know, just describing New York on this hot summer day, which is, of course, the time when lots of young people will go to New York for the first time. But, you know, any time something is a success, and it's about women, it does tend to open the door for more books, more movies, more TV series about women. And in that sense, it certainly did.

SIMON: Was part of the popularity of the book the fascination in reading about stuff and lives that had been rumored, but people didn't really talk about or write about?

BUSHNELL: Well, when the book came out, it was a very different time in terms of what we knew about celebrities and stars and that sort of thing. All of these scandals were kept really, really quiet. Today, we actually live in an opposite time where everybody puts everything on Twitter and on Instagram and on Facebook.

We know so much about celebrities, perhaps more than we would like to, but it's an indication of how fascinated the public is with the lives of stars. Back then, this would have been really the one place where you could get this kind of insider information.

SIMON: Why would we read "Valley Of The Dolls" nowadays when you can get this stuff about celebrities in real time?

BUSHNELL: It's a darn good read. There's a depth to it. There's a sadness and there's a a reality to it that is - it's actually poignant. The characters are certainly larger than life, and it's written in a rather broad way, but the feelings and their desires are certainly real. And I think that the reader is really able to connect with these characters', you know, emotions and desires. I mean, they're all things that we all secretly wonder - what would it be like, you know, to be famous and to be a big star? And, you know, there's a lot of sadness and poignancy. All of the characters have given something up for their fame and their success and question whether or not it's worth it.

SIMON: Candace Bushnell, talking about the 50th anniversary of "Valley Of The Dolls." Thanks so much for being with us.

BUSHNELL: Thank you.

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