Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Great Time in the "Valley"

As expected, Saturday's special showing of 1967's "Valley of the Dolls" at the Music Box Theater was a wallow in shameless fun.  Among the fellowship of hundreds of others who share this guilty pleasure, this screening was a safe place to be.

Imagine a young Patty Duke belting out an impossibly circular tune called "Impossible", and as she swings her body in a most groovy fashion, her double-strand of beads loops around with her, one strand surrounding each of her sweater-clad breasts.  That image, and the howls of derisively approving laughter and applause, sums up the whole experience, for me.

A review of "Valley of the Dolls" is beside the point.  To quote a line from another 20th Century-Fox film, "To those who believe, no explanation is necessary; To those who do not believe, no explanation is possible."  (A special Honorary Mention will go to anyone who can guess where this line originated.  Big hint: the film was made in 1943.)

It is filled with unintentionally hilarious dialog, jaw-dropping set pieces, and shrill overacting only a drag queen could love.  So what?  it's why fans love it.

The best part of the event was the special appearance by Neely O'Hara herself, Patty Duke, who gave an emotional account of her time on the set at the age of just 20, and her relationships with Judy Garland, Sharon Tate, Susan Hayward, and the talentless director Mark Robson, who bullied Duke to give the shrill, over-the-top portrayal that haunts Duke still.

She is getting more comfortable with the camp factor of the whole affair, and graciously told the audience at the Music Box that she enjoyed OUR enjoyment of her dubious work.

Most poignant were Duke's recollections of Judy Garland's insecurities on the set before she was unceremoniously fired; and Sharon Tate's fragility and inner beauty.  Duke herself hammed it up with actors in the opening stage show, and led the crowd in a sing-along of some of the film's most memorable tunes.  Later, our friend Steve shared a brief personal exchange with Duke, and got a great photo of the still-youthful and attractive actress.

It was an unforgettable day, a prime example of how an originally horrible movie has been reinvented over the years into a strange and wonderfully nostalgic bonding experience, something we all survived, and looked back on lovingly and with laughter, and anyone who shared it is an instant friend.


  1. I actually remember seeing this in a movie theatre when it first came out in '67. It was me, my Sister and my Mother. Girls night out! The film was considered very racy at the time. I've always loved Patty Duke. Sounds like it was a fun evening.

  2. I am so jealous! My only "Dolls" exposure is the outrageous Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, which has nothing to do with the original and was written by...ROGER EBERT! You should give it a look. Me, I need to see this!

  3. Stan, I wish I could have seen this at a theater in its first release. Sounds like you had a good time.
    Walter, I have seen "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls!" Ebert and director Russ Meyer were good friends. It's an incredible piece of work...so over the top it almost hits bottom...Hope you can see the original!

  4. The quote you mentioned is from classic Catholic porn The Song of Bernadette.

    Somewhat tragically I have seen that but have yet to watch Valley of the Dolls. Must rectify immedately.

  5. I saw it at the drive-in the night before I took my SAT test! Went to see my idol, Patty Duke.