Valley of the Dolls Summary

Jacqueline Susann

Valley of the Dolls

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Valley of the Dolls Summary

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Valley of the Dolls is the 1966 debut novel by Jacqueline Susann. It was a runaway bestseller upon release and remains one of the best-selling novels of all time. A story about drug use and drama behind the scenes in show business, many of the characters were based on real-life celebrities.

The story begins in 1945 as the beautiful 19-year-old Anne Welles arrives in New York City seeking work. She is advised by an employment agency to look into modeling because of her looks, but Anne prefers office work. She secures a job at a law office and quickly becomes one of their most valuable employees. At her humble boarding house, Anne meets Ethel O’Neil, called Neely, who is a dancer seeking her big break. Anne is courted by a man named Allen Cooper, but falls in love with a man who worked in the law office named Lyon Burke. Through Burke she meets Jennifer North, a beautiful model who gets acting opportunities despite having no discernible talent.

Neely gets a break when she is hired to dance in a show starring a famous actress named Helen Lawson, and then gets noticed for her ability and becomes an understudy to a big role. Helen Lawson forces the current actress to quit, and Neely takes over the role and earns rave reviews.

Allen Cooper proposes to Anne and reveals he is very wealthy. She refuses, but he convinces her to accept an engagement ring and at least contemplate marrying him. When she accompanies Lyon on a business trip, they become lovers. When Anne finds herself stranded, she calls Jennifer, who helps her. They become very good friends as a result of the adventure. Neely, Jennifer, and Anne become roommates, but then Neely leaves for California to work in films, and gets married. Then Jennifer also goes to California when she marries the famous singer Tony Polar. Anne and Lyon wish to marry, but he is struggling to establish himself as a writer and won’t propose until he can support them.

In California, Neely has an affair and leaves her new husband. Jennifer begins taking pills to get through her boring days. When she learns her husband has a congenital brain disorder, she gets an abortion, not wishing to raise a child with such an affliction. Anne inherits her mother’s house, and Lyon wishes to move there so they can live frugally and he can work on his book, but the idea of moving to her small home town horrifies Anne. Angry, Lyon leaves for Europe to work on his writing.

In 1948, Anne is hired to be a spokesmodel for Gillian cosmetics, the ‛Gillian Girl.’ This position makes her wealthy and famous. She begins an affair with the company’s owner, Kevin Gillmore, but does not love him. Meanwhile Jennifer begins a relationship with a French filmmaker and begins appearing nude in his films, gaining fame as a result.

In 1950, Neely finds herself under incredible pressure to maintain her weight and energy, and begins taking pills and drinking heavily to manage. Her substance abuse ruins a second marriage and harms her career, as her absences and lack of focus cause expensive delays. She is dropped by the studio. She attempts suicide, thinking this will force the studio to give her another chance, but they quietly let her contract run out.

In 1957, Jennifer meets a powerful Senator and falls in love. She sees a chance to have a fulfilling life with a family, but she is diagnosed with breast cancer and the doctor advises her to have a mastectomy and a hysterectomy. The Senator is not sympathetic and Jennifer realizes he will not marry her if she is disfigured; she commits suicide. Neely, and Anne, newly engaged to Kevin, come together for the funeral and stay with each other. Neely has a psychosomatic inability to sing, and attempts suicide again. Anne finds her and saves her life, and arranges to have her committed to an institution to save her life.

Lyon Burke returns from Europe and Anne begins an affair with him despite her engagement. Kevin breaks off the engagement, but Anne pulls some strings to get Lyon writing work so he can remain in New York. She then gives money to her old boss at the law firm, which he ‛loans’ to Lyon so Lyon can buy his half of the practice. Lyon gives up writing to take on the new role, unaware of Anne’s manipulations.

Anne and Lyon are married and have a daughter. Neely is released from the hospital and becomes one of Lyon’s most demanding clients at the practice, leaving Anne home alone with the child very often. Neely and Lyon begin an affair, and Neely reveals Anne’s manipulations to Lyon. Lyon is angry, and Anne begins taking pills to get through her day as she finds work on television. Lyon and Neely break up, but as 1965 comes she catches Lyon engaged in another affair, and thinks ruefully that she will love him less and less every day until there is nothing left.