VALLEY OF THE DOLLS
STUDIO: 20th Century-Fox & Red Lion Production
PRODUCTION NUMBER: na
PRODUCTION DATES: March & April 1967
PRODUCTION COST: $37,500 (Judy’s Salary)
RUNNING TIME: na
RELEASE DATE: na
INITIAL BOX OFFICE: na
Judy Garland’s involvement in Valley of the Dolls was comparatively brief, but has grown into a huge legend over the years. There have been many stories and theories as to why Judy either quit the production or was fired, some of them generated by the press and some of them generated by Judy herself. In the end, everyone involved in the production remembers the events differently but all have given testimony to Judy’s talent and the fact that most felt she was treated horribly by the production.
In February 1967, 20th Century-Fox entered into a contract with Judy to play the role of “Helen Lawson” in their film adaptation of Jacqueline Susann’s best seller. Susann’s book was filled with salacious retellings and re-imaginings of Hollywood legends, some factual and some not. The characters in the books were based on various stars and personalities, or composites thereof. It was common knowledge that the pill-popping character “Neely O’Hara” was based on the more sensationalistic aspects of Judy’s history and legend. At one point in the book, O’Hara is told she has a voice that is a blend of Mary Martin and Judy Garland. The fact that the book (unlike the film) took place during the 1940’s and 50’s only fed the public’s rumors about which stories were based on fact, and which were fiction.
Judy was obviously too old to play the O’Hara character, but she was the right age for the Lawson character. Lawson was a tough-as-nails, battle scarred Broadway legend loosely based on Ethel Merman. She also provides a contrast to the show business of the past versus the new and upcoming (and thus, pill popping) younger generation. The famous bathroom scene with O’Hara grabbing Lawson’s wig and throwing it in the toilet is a good example of this. The role was a bit of a departure for Judy, but she had the right sensibilities and talent to bring some humanity to the role that would otherwise be lacking.
On March 2, 1967 Judy joined author Susanne for a press conference at the St. Regis Hotel in New York to announce Judy’s signing to play the Lawson character. Judy’s addition to the cast was big news, with everyone obviously drawing the comparisons between her and the O’Hara character and how ironic it was that she was playing a major role in the film. Judy’s comments at the time reflect her ideas and approach to the character: “Let’s face it: the role calls for an old pro over 40. That’s for me. It’s for sure I am no longer Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz…The part of Helen Lawson is no more me than the part in Judgment at Nuremberg. It doesn’t pertain to me…”
Judy began work on the film on March 27, 1967. She posed for wardrobe tests (footage still exists) and prerecorded “I’ll Plant My Own Tree” which was the last time Judy pre-recorded a song for a film. Judy hated the song, and tried to get the production to hire Roger Edens. She wanted to sing “Get Off Looking Good.” Actual filming began in mid-March. No footage is known to survive (see the images below). The reports were that Judy spent most of the time refusing to come out of her dressing room, resulting in little usable footage of her first scene (the Broadway dressing room scene between Helen Lawson and “Anne” played by Barbara Parkins). Decades later, Patty Duke (who played Neely O’Hara) remembered that the director Mark Robson treated Judy horribly (see video below).
Judy was “fired” from the film on April 27, 1967. Fox announced that she “resigned for personal reasons.” Judy stated she did not resign, and was ready to film that day at 6 a.m. (later she would say she left the film by “mutual agreement”). Rumors abound, with everyone having their own opinions: Judy’s close friend Tom Green said that on the first day he and Judy went to the set, they were filming a nude scene; Susann supposedly convinced Judy the role wasn’t right for her; Judy objecting to the script and the obscenities; Jim Sutherland said that Judy wanted out when she didn’t get the script rewrites she wanted (this could be very true, as she was unhappy with the script and the song); Judy not being comfortable that Neely O’Hara character too closely based on her; the director Mark Robson having no clue what he was doing and not understanding Judy’s softer approach to the character.
Susan Hayward was brought in to replace Judy. She was dubbed for “I’ll Plant My Own Tree” by Margaret Whiting. Judy’s pre-recording was traded around for years before appearing on the 1976 LP “Cut! OUttakes from Hollywood’s Greatest Musicals Volume One.” The stereo version was finally remastered and released on the 2017 CD release, “Soundtracks.”
CLICK HERE to listen to Judy’s vocal a capella.
In the end, the film turned out to be far below her talents and the talents of everyone involved. Years later, Patty Duke joked and the first thing that went wrong at the premiere was “…they showed the film!” Judy’s reputation in the press was once again dragged through the mud (the old stores of unreliability, drugs, booze…) but she came out of the experience with a paycheck from Fox for half of the agreement (a total of $37,500), not bad for a few week’s work and being “fired” from a film. Judy also came away with “the” beaded pant suit that she would continue to wear in concert for several years. The film has since become a cult camp classic, along the lines of Mommie Dearest and Showgirls. Judy would probably have given the Helen Lawson character more humanity and depth which would have been out of sync with the rest of the film.
There aren’t many photos available from Judy’s short time on the film. However, over time some have surfaced many of which are presented here. The gallery below features: