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ISN'T SHE GREAT

SEX, DRUGS AND JACQUELINE SUSSAN
All she knew about were ageing sex-craved stars, hopeful hookers and people popping pills and winding up in the gutter - so she wrote about that. Isn't She Great, starring Bette Midler, is a glimpse at the life of Jacqueline Sussan, author of Valley of the Dolls.

Jacqueline Susann (Bette Midler) just wanted her place in the spotlight. With no agent and no one calling for auditions, she scraped by with residuals from the occasional radio jingle, television commercial and game show appearance. Still, with every failure - and there were plenty - she remained undeterred in her quest for fame. A friend once told her that "talent wasn't everything," and for no person was this more true.

"Dreams come true"

Manager and publicist Irving Mansfield (Nathan Lane) knew he was the one who could make Jackie's dreams come true. He also knew that he was in love with the flamboyant actress. It was arelationship made in show business heaven.

With Jackie's career going nowhere, and fast, Irving hit upon an idea. A crazy idea, but an idea which just might make Jacqueline Susann a household name. She would write a book. Nevermind the fact that she had never written before. She would write about what she knew: the crazy, steamy lives of drug-addicted, sex-craved movie stars.

With her best friend Florence (Stockard Channing) by her side for inspiration and Irving ather side for advice, encouragement and deliveries of hot Pastrami, Jackie put pen to paper, with a passion that was all-consuming... and a vocabulary that would shock a sailor. The result was Valley of the Dolls, an inside look at the highs and lows of showbiz as told by someone who had experienced it first-hand. According to Irving, it was "like Gone With The Wind, only filthy."

"The greatest storyteller of her generation"

Finding a publisher was an entirely new challenge however, for Jackie had tackled a subjectmatter considered entirely too taboo for her time. Eventually, she landed a deal with the suave and debonair publisher, Henry Marcus (John Cleese), whose keen sense told him that with a little help, she just might become the greatest storyteller of her generation. But first she would have to do some heavy convincing, for her ultra-WASP-y editor Michael Hastings (David Hyde Pierce) felt her book was "salicious, perverted, soft-core porn" and unfit to print.

Jackie's eagerness to learn-and a charm that was all her own-eventually won him over, and the book was published. Jacqueline Susann had invented a whole new way of writing books, and once she and Irving hit the road, the publishing world would never be the same. Embarking on a book tour from coast to coast, paying calls on regional booksellers and impressing Mom and Pop shops with her intimate knowledge of all their personal lives, Irving saw to it that everyone was clamoring to read Valley of the Dolls. Together , Jackie and Irving invented a whole new way of selling books.

Decked out in a fabulous Pucci wardrobe with her poodle Josephine in tow, Jackie's perseverance and audacious self-promotion helped make Valley of the Dolls one of the best-selling novels of all time.

Unfortunately, success came to Jackie late in life, and a diagnosis of breast cancer meant thatfulfilling her dreams was a race against time. But her deteriorating health was no match for sheer determination and the unfaltering support of an adoring husband. She needed ten more years to achieve all she wanted, and Irving saw to it that she would indeed have it all.

From New Yorker to Hollywood

On August 14, 1995, the New Yorker Magazine ran an article by Michael Korda entitledWasn't She Great, an homage to Jacqueline Susann. It was Jackie's adoring husband Irving who frequently looked at his wife and said, "Isn't she great!" which was never phrased as a question, who inspired the title.

Through Korda's eyes, for the first time Susann appeared bigger than life, more impassioned,funnier, and more resolute than any of the characters in her books. She followed Valley of The Dolls with The Love Machine and Once is Not Enough, making her the most controversial and successful novelist of her generation, but her ebullient public personality cast a long shadow, and effectively masked her personal tragedies and precarious health. Korda, one of two editors assigned by Simon & Schuster to edit Jackie's second novel, found her to be one of a kind, and then some. And Andrew Bergman and Mike Lobell couldn't have agreed more.

While on production in Florida for Striptease, director Bergman and producer Lobell read Korda's piece in the New Yorker, and soon after, the duo who together have brought such comedy hits as Honeymoon in Vegas, It Could Happen to You and The Freshman to the screen, received a call from their agent, asking if they were interested.

"There was real heart to the story"

Although Bergman is considered one of the funniest writers in the film business in additionto his success as a director, his hands were full at the time, and knew he would not be available toadapt the New Yorker piece. However, he knew he had found a project to direct. Bergman says, "There was real heart to the story, the idea of driving yourself despite numerous obstacles to make something better is really very touching to me."

At that point, Bergman and Lobell called screenwriter Paul Rudnick, who read it and very quickly agreed that it was a great idea for a movie. Lobell says, "We thought Paul Rudnick had the perfect sensibility to do something that was both funny and poignant. Jackie was sort of an outrageous character, and he just responded to the material the way we did." Rudnick's career as a screenwriter includes Addams Family Values and In & Out; a decent track record.

From there, Lobell, Bergman and Rudnick decided to loosen up the story a bit to make room for the film they all wanted to make. Says Lobell, "I don't think we've veered away from the actual facts of Jackie's life, as much as we wanted to make the movie funny."

Susann herself wasn't particularly funny, and even though her relationship with Mansfieldwas somewhat unconventional, they were devoted to each other, so, as Lobell says, "we decided to focus on the love story and embellish the humour."

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