Daughter of Robert and Rose Jans Susann; married Irving Mansfield, 1939; children: one son
Jacqueline Susann was an only child. After graduation from high school, she went to New York City, where she married television and film producer Irving Mansfield in 1939 (date and place vary in interviews). They had one son. Susann worked as a model, an actress, and television performer. In 1946, she wrote the play Lovely Me, collaborating with Beatrice Cole. Seventeen years later she began to publish.
Every Night, Josephine! (1963, reprints in 1970 and 1974), Susann's only book of nonfiction, tells about her French poodle. In depicting the hedonism of her dog's life, Susann also describes her own lifestyle in New York and Hollywood, her friendships, and her television and theater work. Some critics think the book is Susann's best; it is unique in showing the author's sense of humor and is funny except for occasional slips into coyness. Animal lovers often find the story irresistible.
Susann considered but never wrote a sequel about Josephine. Instead, she turned to fiction. Although critics scorned her work, Susann was a popular success and a literary phenomenon, the first author to have two number-one bestsellers back to back.
In Valley of the Dolls (1966), using character types and settings that would become part of a familiar format, Susann traces the lives and loves of three women in the entertainment business. Each gains money and prominence in the neon-lighted world, but a heavy penalty is exacted. The actress commits suicide; the singer becomes a drunken drug addict; the television star finds marriage brings sorrow and a need for drugs, the "dolls" of the title. Susann manages to keep several plots going simultaneously in the novel, but the content is that of a soap opera, the characters are wooden, and the dialogue clichéd.
Robin Stone of The Love Machine (1969, 1981) leads a fast-paced, self-centered existence in the wheeling-dealing world of show business and television. Although women flock to him, he cannot love until he gains understanding through psychoanalysis. The novel, a "fast-read," is almost as quickly forgotten. Its attraction lies in the author's ability to interweave numerous subplots with the major plot and to keep the storyline going. Susann is less skillful in her depiction of characters, who are lifeless and whose speech makes no distinction for education, position, regionalism, or personality traits.
Once Is Not Enough (1973, 1976) has more violence and more varieties of sexual types and behavior than Susann's other novels. This time the multiple plots concern characters from the movie and publishing world. The major female character has incestuous feelings for her father, which lead her into disastrous relationships; when her father dies, she commits suicide. Many of the characters are vaguely familiar; they seem to have come from gossip columns and movie magazines. Nevertheless, Susann has some success in creating sympathy for her unhappy, driven women.
Susann's shortest and last work, Dolores (1976), is an obvious portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy. The novel is Susann's weakest, lacking any of the vitality of her previous works. Thinly disguised characters become caricatures of actual persons in public life. Had the novel been written by a lesser-known author, it probably would not have been published. Readers must be impressed, however, by the courage of Susann, who wrote the novel during her final bout with cancer.
Susann wrote with warmth and knowledge about developmentally disabled children and about cancer; they were the tragedies that touched her own life. She looked with less sympathy at many other aspects of existence. Although she detailed with gusto the sins of a select group of people, behind the glitter of the prose stood a moralist who granted as little happiness to transgressors as any writer of earlier periods.
Hanna, D., The World of Jacqueline Susann (1975). Mansfield, I., Life with Jackie (1984). Seaman, B., Lovely Me: The Life of Jacqueline Susann (1987, 1996). Ventura, J., The Jacqueline Susann Story (1975).
Harper's (Oct. 1969). Life (19 Aug. 1966, 30 May 1966). Nation (1 Sept. 1969). NYT (23 Sept. 1974). NYTM (12 April 1973).
—HELEN S. GARSON