Jacqueline Susann Analysis

The 1960’s

(American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

In 1963, Susann wrote Every Night, Josephine! about her pet poodle; it reached number ten on The New York Times best-seller list. Determined to reach number one, she brought a tougher kind of plot and franker treatment of sexuality to the standard romance novel format. The result was Valley of the Dolls (1966), the story of three young women in the entertainment world. Though judged “literary trash” by most critics, the book was number one on The New York Times best-seller list for a record-breaking twenty-eight weeks. The 1967 film adaptation set box-office records. (Interest in the film was renewed in 1969 after costar Sharon Tate was murdered by followers of Charles Manson.) Susann’s 1969 novel, The Love Machine (a dual reference to television—the “love machine”—and the novel’s womanizing protagonist), reached number one on The New York Times list within six weeks of publication.

Susann knew people wanted to read a story that enabled them to escape the tedium and trouble in their own lives. For plots, she turned to what she knew: the worlds of Hollywood and Broadway (which Valley of the Dolls brought together for the first time), infidelity (her father was notorious for his many affairs), chronic illness (her breast cancer and 1962 mastectomy remained a lifelong secret), and drug use (she had smoked and taken pills since she was fourteen).

Later Life

(American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

In 1973, Susann wrote Once Is Not Enough, another number- one best-seller. Her final project, the novella Dolores, loosely based on the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, appeared in the February, 1974, issue of The Ladies Home Journal; Susann died of cancer seven months later. In 1976, Mansfield published Dolores in book form; it also became a best- seller. A final posthumous novel, the science-fiction fantasy Yargo, was published in 1979.


(American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

Understanding that books were a product like anything else, Susann quickly became an expert on the intricacies of book selling, blending promotion, personal appearances, and celebrity tie-ins. Her forthright personality made her a media natural, and she made the most of all airtime. She robbed the critics of their power through the sheer number of readers and fans she brought into the bookstores, and her grassroots approach to marketing changed the face of publishing. Her success is undisputed; Valley of the Dolls was credited by the Guinness Book of World Records as the best-selling novel of all time, a record that held for almost three decades.

Additional Information

(American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

Barbara Seaman’s 1987 biography, Lovely Me: The Life of Jacqueline Susann, provides a comprehensive account of Susann’s life.