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).