“I have to get up at five o’clock…and sparkle, Neely, sparkle!”
THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS
The packhorse among Hollywood directors, Mark Robson, considerably stretched things when suggesting there was more public interest in the casting of this project than any movie since Gone WithThe Wind…
Millions, however, did know the three girls addicted todolls (uppers and downers) while trying to make out… er, make good… in showbusiness from the rampant best-seller. Truth is, readers were more intrigued by working out who were the real stars that the actress-turned-author Jacqueline Susann had based her characters on – than in caring about who would ever play them.
The first named proved a bizarre shock!
Judy Garland as a Broadway star -yes,fine, OK.
But a star(de)based on Ethel Merman -no!
In particular, a Broadway star opposite
Patty Duke as an unarguable Judy rip-off.
“But Judy agreed without a hitch,” Robson told me.
At 45, she told the media: “So, I’m cast as an older woman. Well, I am an older woman. I can’t go on being Dorothy for the rest of my life.” She went on being Judy, instead. She had her own supply of dolls and would not leave her dressingroom. Being intimidated by the energy of the younger cast, was the polite version of her problem.
“Gradually,” recalled Susann, “she began to retreat in a kind of daze. No one knew what she was on or where she got it. After ten days with still no film on her, she was fired.” She left with her film costumes, including rhinestoned pantsuits, worn on-stage inmany later theatre tours.
Helen Lawson . “The only hit that comes out of a Helen Lawson show is Helen Lawson, and that’s me, baby, remember?” Bette Davis had always been Susann’s target for for the womanbased on her ex-lover, Ethel Merman. Fox said: Lucille Ball, Joan Crawford, Tammy Grimes, Ginger Rogers or Jane Wyman..Mark Robson merely phoned Florida. “Come on out, we’ll have a lotta fun.” “Love to!” And Susan Hayward was that easily coaxed out of her self-imposed retirement following her husband’s death.” She brought it off great,”praised Robson. “No problems, thoroughly professional. Did her job for three weeks and went back home.”
Hayward’s singing as the “Old Ironsides”trouper was supplied by Margaret Whiting. Not quite up to Merman decibels. As Susann said about Ethel: “She didn’t speak to me before the book. Now, she doesn’t speak to me louder.“
Neely O’Hara . “Oh my God, it’s a wig! HER HAIR’S AS PHONEY AS SHE IS!” Soap author Jacqueline Susann based Neely on Judy Garland – and Betty Hutton’s famous run-in with Ethel Merman after she actually ordered a Betty show-stopperr cut from Panama Hattie just before it opened on Broadway. Petula Clark and Helen Mirren were considered. Fox contract star Barbara Parkins pleaded for the role and was given one night to learn six pages… after shooting her Peyton Place TV series all day- and became Anne Welles. Because Patty Duke nailed Neely. Typecasting! After attempting suicide with 30 Valium, Duke had been committed to a psychriatric hospital before playing her pill-popper.
Anne Welles . “I don’t know who I am, or what I want…” Or how Jacqueline Susann saw herself in the novel based on her experience as an actress in the 30-50s. Julie Christie, Jill Ireland and Marlo Thomas were seen and Candice Bergen’s agent called her home from her cheap, arthouse failures for Cacoyannis and Lelouch in Europe. This time, Parkins nailed it – and top billing! – playing the complete opposite of her two-timing Betty Anderson in the studio’s soap.
Tony Polar . “I can’t feel my legs!” When New York singer Tony Scotti auditioned for a Fox contract, he shared a scene with Pat Becker, from the Batman TV series. Two days after he was pacted (“with no previous acting experience!”) and Be3cker asked him to join her test as Neely. Robson chose him, not her. (Polar was based on Dean Martin, Susann told me when we were on a cruise liner between Venice and the Canary Islands, don’t ask!). Becker wound up, uncredited, in the film as Telephone Girl After two more equally anonymous roles the same year, Pat was never heard of again. Nor, until he wed French songthrush Sylvie Vartan and became a producer, was he. His rivals for Tony had been Robert Forster and…and… Elvis Presley.
JenniferNorth. “Mother, I know I don’t have any talent… all I have is a body, and I am doing my bust exercise… Oh, to hell with them! Let ’em droop!” Robson saw more than 50 contenders for “the most difficult girl to cast” – the beauty, finishing up in French softcore sex films and committing suicide after getting cancer. The Jennifer wannabes included… Ursula Andress, Ann-Margret, Julie Christie (again), Laura Devon, Jane Fonda…and Raquel Welch
“Even though she was not the character, we rehearsed and rehearsed and she did a fine test,” Mark Robson told me (he was also on the Venice-Canary Island cruise – again, don’t ask!).
“A very fine test. It was obvious Raquel would be good for other things. She certainly didn’t have the softness and innocence required. The Fox people were very surprised by her and said she’d be Jennifer. This went on, back and forth, for a matter of weeks until finally, for some reason I was never able to determine [007 wanted her in Thunderball, 1965], I got a call saying she’s out.
“Sharon Tate was one of the most beautiful girls
I’ve ever seen. I used to love watching her.
Her last close-up – by Bill Daniels
(who photographed Garbo) is
one of the most beautiful shots in movie history!”
Two years later, Fox rushed back to Raquel – to headline the studios next bad-taste movie, based on Gore Vidal’s sex- change satire, Myra Breckinridge… when most people figured Anne Bancroft was set for him/her.
Susann remained friends with Sharon but turned down her dinner invitation on August 8, 1969 (like the 500 ohers making the same claim) – the night of the Manson gang murdered everyone at the dinner party. When dying of cancer, Susann said: “It could all have happened a lot sooner ifwe’d gone to Sharon’s that night.”
Sharon was also good friends with Julie Christie. A Hardy heroine herself in Far From The Madding Crowd, 1967, Julie gave her Thomas Hardy’s novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles with the inscription: “For my Hardy heroine.“ Sharon passed it on to her husband and when Roman Polanski shot Tess in 1979, it was dedicated: “For Sharon. “
And oh yes, that is Richard Dreyfuss knocking on Patty Duke’s door…”Five minutes, Miss O’Hara!”