Cinema: Showbiz Sickies

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The story is about girls who take all sorts of pills, but Valley of the Dolls offers only bromides. There is a bottleful to choose from, most notably: "For many years I prayed for this moment. Now that it's come, I don't feel a thing."

Viewers are also likely not to feel anything—except numbness—after ingesting this filmed version of Jacqueline Susann's wide screen novel, loose ly based on the troubles of some semi-recognizable showbiz sickies. Among them are a platinum blonde (Sharon Tate) who makes nudies to pay for her husband's stay in a sanatorium; a young singer (Patty Duke) who later turns to bedding down with strangers; and a brassy voiced Broadway zircon in the rough (Susan Hayward).

Watching them with innocent eyes is a theatrical amanuensis (Barbara Parkins) who soon learns that the room at the top has no exit. Patty is boffo at the box office, but perpetually drunk on booze and zonked by "dolls"—drugs that pep her up in the morning and put her to sleep at night. Susan gets sharp lines in her face and dull ones in her plays. Sharon, a cancer victim, commits suicide by downing a mouthful of sleeping pills. Barbara has an affair with an agent, gets only 10% of his affection and starts playing with dolls herself. She eventually flees back to her New England home town, where a Christmas-card snowfall makes everything pure and clean again, just like in the movies.

The cliche of show business as a dream world may have been wide-eyed and saccharine. But Novelist Susann's view of Hollywood as nightmare Valley merely adds up to the old naivete in reverse. The show's most appropriate line is uttered by Sharon Tate as she does some bust exercises in front of a mirror. "The hell with it," she says, summing up what seems to be the film's atlitude toward its stars, "let 'em droop."