Three young women meet when they embark on their careers. Neely O'Hara (Duke) is a plucky kid with undeniable talent who sings in a Broadway show—the legendary actress Helen Lawson (Hayward) is the arrogant star of the play—while Jennifer North (Tate), a beautiful blonde with limited talent, is in the chorus. Anne Welles (Parkins) is a New England ingenue who recently arrived in New York City and works as a secretary for a theatrical agency that represents Lawson. Neely, Jennifer, and Anne become fast friends, sharing the bonds of ambition and the tendency to fall in love with the wrong men.
Neely is fired from the show because Lawson considers her a threat to her top billing in the play. Assisted by Lyon Burke (Paul Burke), an attorney from Anne's theatrical agency, Neely makes an appearance on a telethon and is given a nightclub act. She becomes an overnight success and moves to Hollywood to pursue a lucrative film career. Once she's a star, however, Neely not only duplicates the egotistical behavior of Lawson, she also falls victim to the eponymous "dolls" (prescription drugs, particularly the barbiturates Seconal and Nembutal and various stimulants). She betrays her husband, Mel Anderson (Martin Milner); her career is shattered by her erratic behavior triggered by her drug abuse, and she is committed to a sanitarium for rehabilitation.
Jennifer follows Neely's path to Hollywood, where she marries nightclub singer Tony Polar (Tony Scotti) and becomes pregnant. When she learns that he has the hereditary condition Huntington's chorea—a fact his domineering half-sister and manager Miriam (Lee Grant) had been concealing—Jennifer has an abortion. As Tony's mental and physical health declines, Jennifer and Miriam check him into the same sanitarium along with Neely. Faced with Tony's mounting medical expenses, Jennifer finds herself working in French "art films" (soft-core pornography) to pay the bills.
Anne's natural beauty lands her a lucrative job promoting a line of cosmetics in TV commercials and print ads. She also falls under the allure of drugs to escape her doomed relationship with cad Lyon (Burke), who has an affair with her erstwhile friend, Neely.
Neely, committed to the same institution as Tony to recover from her addictions, meets him there and they sing a duet at one of the sanitarium's weekly parties. Neely is released and given a chance to rebuild her career, but the lure of drugs and alcohol proves too strong and she spirals into a hellish decline.
Meanwhile, Jennifer is diagnosed with breast cancer and needs a mastectomy. She phones her mother, seeking moral support; but her mother is only concerned with the reaction from her friends at Jennifer's "art films". Jennifer then succumbs to depression and commits suicide by drug overdose.
Anne abandons drugs and her unfaithful lover and returns to New England. Lyon ends his affair with Neely and travels to New England to ask Anne to marry him. She decides to move on with her life and declines his offer.Barbara Parkins as Anne Welles
Patty Duke as Neely O'Hara
Paul Burke as Lyon Burke
Sharon Tate as Jennifer North
Tony Scotti as Tony Polar
Susan Hayward as Helen Lawson
Martin Milner as Mel Anderson
Charles Drake as Kevin Gillmore
Alexander Davion as Ted Casablanca
Richard Angarola as Claude Chardot
Lee Grant as Miriam Polar
Naomi Stevens as Miss Steinberg
Robert H. Harris as Henry Bellamy
Jacqueline Susann as Reporter #1 at Jennifer's suicide
The ending to the film was changed dramatically from the novel. In the film, Anne and Lyon never marry and do not have a child together. Rather, she leaves Lyon and returns to Lawrenceville, which is described as the one place she found real happiness. Lyon later visits her to propose but she refuses. These last-minute changes in the script, so out of keeping with Anne's established character (well known to millions of readers), prompted original screenwriter Harlan Ellison, who wanted to keep the original downbeat ending, to remove his name and credit from the film.
Another important difference is that the film is clearly set in the mid-to-late 1960s, whereas in the book the story started in 1945 and developed throughout two decades, much unlike in the film, where the events unfolded over the course of a few years.
Judy Garland was originally cast as Helen Lawson, but was fired when she (reputedly) came to work drunk; Susan Hayward replaced her in the role after production had already begun. On July 20, 2009, Patty Duke appeared at the Castro Theater in San Francisco for a benefit screening of the film, and said that director Mark Robson made Garland wait from 8am to 4pm before filming her scenes for the day, knowing that Garland would be upset and drunk by that time. Hayward reportedly had a difficult relationship with the cast and crew, and her clashes with Duke became part of the dramatic tension between their characters.
20th Century Fox wanted contract star Raquel Welch to play Jennifer but she refused, not wanting to play a "sexpot" role. She asked to play Neely but the studio refused.
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, a 1970 satirical pastiche, was filmed by Twentieth Century-Fox while the studio was being sued by Jacqueline Susann, according to Irving Mansfield's book Life With Jackie. Susann created the title for a Jean Holloway-scripted sequel that was rejected by the studio, which allowed Russ Meyer to film a radically different movie with the same title. The suit went to court after Susann's death in 1974; the estate won damages of $2 million against Fox.
Richard Dreyfuss appears briefly as a stagehand.
Along with its parody Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Criterion Collection released both films on September 2016 on DVD and Blu-ray. While the former film had previously been released by Arrow Films in the United Kingdom in the same year, this will be the latter film's first Blu-ray release.
The film at the time of release received generally negative reviews with a 32% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 28 reviews. The film has gained a cult following in subsequent years.Academy Award for Best Music (Scoring of Music – Adaptation or Treatment) (John Williams)
Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer – Female (Sharon Tate)
Grammy Award for Best Original Score from a Motion Picture or Television Show (André Previn)
The soundtrack was released in 1967. Dionne Warwick sang the title track; however, her version is not on the soundtrack album, only on the actual film soundtrack. According to Susann, she wrote her own lyric for the film title track as she felt that Dory Previn's lyric did not establish the story background. Warwick was signed to Scepter Records at the time and could not contractually appear on the soundtrack album. Therefore, a re-recorded version appears on the LP Dionne Warwick in Valley of the Dolls. The film contains two versions of the theme song with different lyrics: one version plays over the opening credits, and the other, with the same lyrics as Warwick's recorded version, is heard towards the end of the film.
Margaret Whiting recorded "I'll Plant My Own Tree" for the film, while Eileen Wilson recorded it for the soundtrack album: the song is dubbed for Susan Hayward, while "It's Impossible" and "Give a Little More" are both dubbed by Gaille Heidemann for Patty Duke. Heidemann and Wilson are uncredited on the soundtrack label.Track listing
- "Theme from Valley of the Dolls" – 4:04 (vocal by Dory Previn; narration by Barbara Parkins)
- "It's Impossible" – 2:12 (vocal by Gaille Heidemann for Patty Duke)
- "Ann at Lawrenceville" – 2:37 (instrumental)
- "Chance Meeting" – 2:31 (instrumental)
- "Neely's Career Montage" – 1:59 (instrumental)
- "Come Live with Me" – 2:01 (vocal by Tony Scotti)
- "I'll Plant My Own Tree" – 2:24 (vocal by Eileen Wilson for Susan Hayward; Margaret Whiting dubbed Susan Hayward in the film but she was under contract to a different label, so veteran voice double Eileen Wilson sings "I'll Plant My Own Tree" on the soundtrack album)
- "The Gillian Girl Commercial" – 2:04 (instrumental)
- "Jennifer's French Movie" – 2:26 (instrumental)
- "Give a Little More" – 2:02 (vocal by Gaille Heidemann for Patty Duke)
- "Jennifer's Recollection" – 2:52 (instrumental; contains a reprise of "Come Live with Me", vocal by Tony Scotti)
- "Theme from Valley of the Dolls Reprise" – 3:00 (vocal by Dory Previn)
The original version of "I'll Plant My Own Tree", as recorded by Judy Garland before she was fired from the film production, was finally released in 1976 on a compilation LP Cut! Out-takes from Hollywood's Greatest Musicals.
In "Lovely Me: The Life of Jacqueline Susann" by Barbara Seaman, it is stated that Ruth Batchelor, who wrote lyrics for Elvis Presley, wrote the lyrics for a title song for the movie, which was rejected by the studio as the Previns had already written the soundtrack. It was recorded by The Arbors and used as the opening theme to the 1967 documentary, "Jacqueline Susann and the Valley of the Dolls".