Thursday, April 21, 2011

"Classic Film Flashback" - Valley of the Dolls

Looking back over my post the other day about John Williams made me remember that the first Oscar nomination he received was for writing the score to the camp classic film from 1967 Valley of the Dolls.  So, I thought I'd take a look back at that film, a film that has brought me numerous hours of enjoyment over the years.  Dolls was based on the hit 1966 novel by Jacqueline Susann, which has sold more than 30 million copies, and directed by Mark Robson who previously directed Peyton Place, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness and Von Ryan's Express and who would go on to direct the disaster camp classic Earthquake in 1974.

"You've got to climb Mount Everest to reach the Valley of the Dolls" is the statement made as the film begins and for those of you reading this who haven't had the pleasure to see the film or read the book, "dolls" are what the characters in the film call drugs.  And there are a lot of "dolls" in this film, as it documents the swinging 1960's and the rise, and fall, of three career girls, showing their successes but also their self destruction as they climb up but eventually fall down their own personal Mount Everest's.

Parkins, Tate and Duke
The film stars Patty Duke, Barbara Parkins and Sharon Tate as the three career girls with Susan Hayward as the "seen it all Broadway star."   Neely O'Hara and Jennifer North (Duke and Tate) meet when they both are working on a Broadway show that Helen Lawson (Hayward) gets Neely fired from when she feels threatened by her talent.  Parkins is Anne Wells, the new girl in town, working for Helen's agent but finding herself siding with O'Hara.  Together the three young ladies find themselves on the road to success.   The plot takes us from Broadway to Hollywood and back. With occasional stops in snuff films, psych wards, bars and back alleys and boyfriends, husbands, lovers, hidden medical conditions, unplanned pregnancies, bust exercises,  "incognito traveling," lasagna, the occasional wig pulling cat fight and "boobies, boobies, nothin' but boobies" just things they encounter along the way.

The first part of the film, set in New York theaters and night clubs includes several musical numbers. The songs were written by Andre and Dory Previn.  Both Patty Duke and Susan Hayward are dubbed on their songs by Gail Heideman and Margaret Whiting, respectively. Judy Garland was originally cast as Lawson, but was fired for various reasons, either for being drunk or late for filming depending on who you believe. She did record the song that Helen sings in the film, "I'll Plant My Own Tree" before she was fired and I posted a clip below that dubs her vocal track over the film soundtrack.

Though today the film is looked at as one of the "it's so bad its good" types, it was actually a hit at the 1967 box office, making over $40 million dollars.   John Williams' Oscar nomimation for Best Score Adaptation was the only Oscar nod the film received.

There have been various stage productions of the story, usually using the film script as the basis.  I actually had the pleasure of attending two of the most famous ones.  In the late 90's,  the LA based Theater-A-Go-Go bought their production of the film script to Off Broadway.  It was a complete tongue in cheap humorous production with Helen Lawson played by the drag queen Jackie Beat (who was quite good in the part) and Neely played by Kate Flannery who now stars as Meredith on the tv show The Office.  The other famous presentation of the story was the 2010 Actor's Fund benefit concert that starred Broadway stars Martha Plimpton, Charles Busch, Heidi Blickenstaff and Nancy Anderson as Anne, Helen, Neely and Jennifer.  Clips below show highlights from both of those theatrical endeavors.

If you've never seen the film before and you're looking for a camp filled humorous film with some of the most unintentionally humorous scenes and dialogue you'll find yourself quoting, just like I've been doing in this post, then definitely put this one in your Netflix queue.  Or better yet, just go ahead and order the film from Amazon, as it is one that you will definitely find yourself watching over again. And if you find yourself drummed out of Hollywood and back in a show on Broadway, just remember that if "you come crawling back to Broadway, well Broadway doesn't go for booze and dope!"

Amazon link for the dvd - Valley of the Dolls (Special Edition)

Amazon link for the paperback of the novel - Valley of the Dolls

Trailer for the movie -

The infamous cat fight between Neely and Helen -

Dionne Warwick music video for the "Theme to Valley of the Dolls" -

"Come Live With Me" performed by Tony Scotti -

Judy Garland's version of "I'll Plant My Own Tree" dubbed over the Margaret Whiting track that Susan Hayward lip syncs to in the film.

Lena Horne sings "I'll Plant My Own Tree" -

Scene where Hayward gets Duke's character fired -

Patty Duke actually released an album called "Patty Duke sings Songs from Valley of the Dolls and other Selections" - here is her recording of "It's Impossible" synced up over the film track - it's kinda obvious why they chose not to use her singing voice for the film but to have her dubbed by Gail Heideman

Bonus feature from the DVD that talks about the stage version - I saw it in New York twice- it was great- the lead who played Neely now co-stars on the tv show The Office!

Compilation video of clips from the 2010 Actors Fund benefit reading of the film script- I was there! -

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