Michael: I was gonna ask you if your next upcoming solo performance show, “The Gay Uncle’s Journey Through The Valley of the Dolls” was going to cover both Jacqueline Susann’s original classic 1966 novel as well as the infamous film version made the following year starring Patty Duke, Barbara Parkins and Sharon Tate but then I read the synopsis FOR your show and figured it out….
“Join Jeffrey Robert, The Gay Uncle, as he takes you along on his twisty, turny journey through pills, sex, show business and the interconnectedness of us all. Jacqueline Susann’s CLASSIC of Trash Literature is the starting point but we will be speeding along through a land filled with Ankhs, Judy Garland, Barbiturates, Dory Previn, Backstage Drama, Charles Manson, Breast Cancer, Poodles, Wig Fights, Russ Meyer, Patty Duke and so much more…”
You’re covering it all!
Michael: LOL…yeah. “Safely” back downtown. But, Jackie was a gal who enjoyed downtown….she wasn’t a rural or suburban kind of lady. She had her own look and style and it did not involve bib overalls and gingham.
Michael: That was really the catalyst for the writing career…living in the heart of New York show business. She never made it as an actress but she picked up all the juicy gossip and turned it into books that people couldn’t put down.
Michael: She has a cameo in the film VOTD and judging by her brief performance there, I kinda get why she wasn’t a successful actress….she seems a tad stiff. Which is odd because she gave GREAT interviews…she had a fun, big personality.
Michael: Well, you brought up “kid” which brings up two things…one, is the great tragedy of her life, the birth of her son who was born severely autistic and lived in a special home. Jackie and her husband Irving were devoted parents who visited him weekly but kept his existence under wraps. So beneath the glamorous witty New York celebrity/ writer facade was this mother lavishing love on her child but keeping it hush hush. Thus, the irony of a woman famous for spilling all the secrets who had plenty of secrets of her own…
Michael: She kept her own fatal illness secret for as long as she could before cancer killed her in 74.
Jeffrey: Yes, she did. She didn’t want anyone to know, and very few people did. The very gay movie critic, Rex Reed (a name that will leave many young people saying “Who?” but who was also everywhere back in the day) was one of the few who did know. He kept it a secret.
Michael: Ok, so that raises the other “kid” question….do younger people “get” Valley of the Dolls? Can we reach out to them to lure them into the cult? Do they even get our (and by our, I mean ‘elderqueers of a certain age’) adoration for VOTD?
Do the “Kids” get “Camp”?
And, I just asked you like 5 questions….
Michael: I think the best way to explain Camp is that it’s “so bad it’s good” and it’s the failure of an artistic attempt to be serious about its subject, but it fails and the result is so ludicrous, that it’s funny.
Michael: I think it still does exist….I mean, the awful film “The Room” is the new camp. But the problem is, some modern film/tv makers create, or try to, DELIBERATE camp, which isn’t really camp…you can’t FORCE camp.
Michael: I’m mainly referring to out gay television producer, Ryan Murphy, who created/produced Glee and American Horror Story and last year’s Feud about the feud/rivalry between Golden Age actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. The “Bette vs Joan” Feud show had some great stuff in it but it was TRYING TOO HARD to be ‘gay’ friendly, I think. And, it was too long….camp is NOT 8 or 10 episodes. It’s over and done under 120 minutes!!!
IN AND OUT!!!!
Jeffrey: Yes. Camp can’t be stretched out like that. Two hours is tricky enough. No more. After that it is not fun-bad, it is just bad-bad.
Michael: I don’t think the book of Valley of the Dolls is camp….it’s just a fun potboiler. The film is what takes VOTD over the top. The bigger than life performances….the costumes….the songs…..the ridiculous lines, many of which are FROM the book but when over acted on screen , they became a whole new thing.
Screeching “I’M NEELEY O’HARA” at the top of your lungs is a High Camp moment..
Michael: The book makes more sense….for one thing, it has an actual believable timeline from 1945 to 1965. The film bizarrely squashes 20 years of the book’s plot down to about….what? 3 years or so? It’s apparently 1964 when the film starts and 1966 when it ends which doesn’t make any sense for the development of the characters.
Michael: Poor Patty Duke…this film kinda killed her movie career and it raises the question, “WHAT THE FUCK was director Mark Robson doing, letting her give that performance?” It’s fun in a truly horrible sense because she SCREAMS and BELLOWS every line!
Michael: She’s like a demented lesbian truck driver. It’s a weirdly “butch” performance….which makes no sense because Neely is based on the career of Judy Garland who wasn’t a “butch” performer. And, Patty Duke wasn’t a lesbian so it’s just…a strange performance. Compelling and fascinating but oh, so very wrong.
Michael:And, of course, Judy really is a figure in the VOTD story because not only was Neely BASED on her, Judy was originally cast as Helen Lawson, the bossy Broadway star who propels the story, at least in the book, and of course Garland got canned after a week on set. The rumors vary, ranging from Garland falling apart to putting the blame on Robson who allegedly didn’t want her.
Jeffrey: In my show, I have a little bit about the whole Judy connection. It goes in a few different directions from where it starts. I find it all so fun to connect the dots. And you can really connect the dots with this story.
Michael: Though to be honest, that casting doesn’t really make much sense. Helen Lawson is a BITCH of the first order and Judy, though she could be a problem behind the scenes, didn’t PROJECT mean or bitchy on camera. She projected LOVE and fragile strength! I can’t see her barking out lines, like the great Susan Hayward, who replaced her, does with such gems as “Broadway doesn’t go for booze and dope!” while swigging a martini!
Michael: That line never made sense anyway:
“Broadway doesn’t go for booze and dope!”
That’s ALL Broadway is run on!!!
Michael: Hayward has the best line readings…putting the accent on the ‘wrong’ end of a word like “Broad WAY”….and, she just barks and snarls.
Maybe Patty Duke was trying to do the same with her Neely performance? Told to bark her lines like Hayward as Helen Lawson? But, it just sounds ludicrous coming out of little Patty’s mouth!!!
Jeffrey: Who knows what she was trying to do. It doesn’t work, which is why it DOES work now as Camp. Glorious, over-the-top, beautiful camp. We used to laugh at life. The more horrible the situations, the more we would find a way to laugh at them. It was a great survival skill. The mythological “Bitchy Queen” didn’t just spring from nowhere. S/he served a purpose. Camp served a purpose. Humor served a purpose. Larger than life served a purpose.
Michael: Awww. don’t do that!
Jeffrey: Now we have the dismissive scowl. The condescending beat down. We take life so seriously. We should and we should’t. We are born and then we die, the stuff in the middle is what we make of it. We are not all given the same materials and chances to make the same thing, but we can all make something of it.
And I hope when we do we have some fun.
Michael: I think Neely and Helen Lawson were the “break out” characters of VOTD because they WERE larger than life and they were SURVIVORS. And, gay audiences ate that up because we LOVE tough ass survivors who do what it takes to live your life.
Michael: Which raises the eternal question: if you could play either Neely or Helen onstage, WHICH do you pick? They’re both great characters with great lines!
Michael: I think VOTD was such a hit (both as book and film) is because of that universality.
And, Susann was so wise to have those three girls as the main characters: Anne, the classic New England beauty from the “nice” family and Jennifer, the bombshell with the heart of gold, who is more middle class, and then Neely who isn’t ‘pretty’ but has huge talent and comes from the gutter….there’s a character type for EVERYONE to identify with.
“Good Girl” “Bombshell” “Trash”
Michael: OK, to wrap up, if you could travel back in time to the film set, what iconic piece of VOTD would you snag to take home with you?
Michael: For me, it would have to be one of the Gillian Girl spray bottles used in the fabulous montage with Barbara Perkins as ‘The Gillian Girl”, a commercial spokesmodel for a line of hair products/make-up.
Michael: It always grosses me out when Patty/Neely fishes the wet wig out of the toilet, flings it at Susan/Helen, then swans out of that RIDICULOUSLY HUGE AND ORNATE WOMEN’S POWDER ROOM without washing her hands!!!!!!!!!!!!
SHE HAS TOILET WATER ON HER HANDS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Neely is just trash.
Jeffrey: Those little hand sanitizer lotion things weren’t as popular as they are now. Any Drag Queen with two days of experience knows to carry one in her purse these days. You live, you learn.
Michael: 2018 is Jackie Susann’s centenary, so you’ve timed it well! Hopefully, your new show will be booked coast to coast!
Michael: LOL….i want to see Neely O’Hara statues, nationwide….the famous screeching to god pose in a New Haven alley.
Michael: “Jeffrey Robert: The Pope of Trashy Solo Shows!”
Check out Jeffrey’s new solo piece, The Gay Uncle’s Journey Through The Valley of the Dolls this Friday and Saturday night at 7 pm at the Rendezvous, 2322 2nd Avenue in Belltown/Downtown Seattle.