Booze, Pills, and Campy Dames – “Valley of the Dolls” at the Music Box Theater (with Patty Duke in person!)
I’m wildly open about my lifelong obsession with Jacqueline Susann’s trashy/fabulous bestselling novel, and the subsequent campy film it was turned into.
The movie, about three young women trying to make it in the bright lights/big city world of showbiz, was captivating to me as a child. Fortunately, I was too young to truly understand half the drugs and sex going on. All I knew was the acting was fierce, the music was catchy, and it was about showbiz!
My love for this film is still a thing, and I’m twenty eight. So, when Chicago’s lovely and clever Music Box Theatre announced a screening of the movie on their giant screen - with Patty Duke herself making an appearance, it was obvious where I needed to be.
The screening was kicked off by some campy wonderfulness from host Dick O’Day and the Hell in a Handbag players, such as a costume contest and numerous shots at the upcoming movie Burlesque. There was also a singalong of some songs from the movie which brought Ms. Duke to the stage for a few wonderful moments. (Yes there was a drag Helen Lawson, and yes Patty did tear off her/his wig.)
During the actual showing of the movie, I felt right at home. It quickly became obvious that this film is adored by tons of people – as the entrance of new characters was greeted by applause (or hisses, if you’re Helen Lawson) and key lines were applauded or booed or commented on. It was a bit like being at The Rocky Horror Picture Show, I’d imagine.
It’s a wonderfully bad movie, if you’ve never seen it. Hands down, Patty Duke is the star and steals every scene she steps into, but Barbara Parkins and (especially) the late Sharon Tate are absolutely gorgeous and deliver as well. Also, in addition to some unforgettable dialogue, some of the most fantastic costuming in cinematic history is going on all over the place. Witness the pantsuit worn by Helen Lawson during the big bathroom fight scene, and you’ll know what I mean.
Post-screening, Ms. Duke sat down with David Cerda (of Hell in a Handbag Productions, which produces camp shows in Chicago – including, on occasion, VOTD) and Richard Knight, Jr (President of the Queer Film Society) in which she talked candidly about her mostly negative experiences on the set, the shame she felt for years being a part of this movie, getting acting notes from her children, and her love of both Sharon Tate and Judy Garland.
The screening inspired me to re-read the novel that started it all, so don’t be surprised if a review of the book appears on this site in the coming weeks. I have a worn paperback copy that I’ve passed around over the years. At present – true story – the back of the book is covered with white paper. When I loaned it to Bob, he couldn’t deal with reading it on the train to work with the back cover looking the way it does. (I tried to find a picture, but it basically looks like a really tawdry romance novel.)
Those of you who like camp in your books and/or movies, if you haven’t read/seen “Valley of the Dolls,” you’re missing a milestone.