Trying something a bit different, I thought I share some almost casting choices for the 1967 camp classic Valley of the Dolls. Not surprisingly, since the book was a huge bestseller, it is the female roles that had everyone speculating who would play which part.

In the book Casting Might-Have-Beens, author Eila Mell claims the original choices for the pill-popping trio of fashion model Anne Wells, doomed starlet Jennifer North, and obnoxious singer Neely O’Hara were Natalie Wood, Jane Fonda, and Barbara Harris. None of their names came up for these roles in my research. She also says Petula Clark was offered Neely, but turned it down due to disinterest. Again her name too never turned up.

My personal choices are The Pleasure Seekers—Ann-Margret as Neely, Carol Lynley as Anne, and Pamela Tiffin as Jennifer. Since David Weisbart produced both movies, I am surprised former Fox contract players Lynley orTiffin’s names never came up as possible candidates. Before becoming an actress, Lynley was a super successful teenage model andTiffin, now a blonde goddess, had the appeal more than ever to play a sexpot.

June 26, 1966: HerbLyon reports that Bette Davis and Barbra Streisand are on tap to play the overbearing star Helen Lawson and Neely O’Hara, respectively.Davis campaigns mightily for the part, but Streisand quickly falls off the list of potential candidates.

August 27, 1966: Dorothy Manners writes that Debbie Reynolds, of all people, “gets hotter and hotter to play the pill-addicted singing star [Neely].” Quick, throw some cold water on this, now!

September 8, 1966: Bette Davis is reported to be still fighting hard to play Helen Lawson and thinks this part will give “her career a zesty push as did her role in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

September 13, 1966: Debbie Reynolds tells the Chicago Tribune that she wants to shake her demure image and the role of Neely would help. She remarked, “I’m sure it would shake up a few people. I’ve been playing goody-goody roles for 18 years. It’s time for a change.” Thank goodness the producers told her to make her change somewhere else.

September 22, 1966: Washington Post reports that director Mark Robson “is angling for Raquel Welch in the role of the ill-fated Jennifer [whose luscious body on display in European nudies make her famous].”

October 10, 1966: Producer David Weisbart informs columnist Dorothy Manners that “we’re very interested in getting Candice Bergen for the role Anne Welles. All right, she’s a Grace Kelly-type.” Her screen persona is also an ice queen-type.

November 1, 1966: Jill St. John throws her hat into the ring and tells the Chicago Tribune, “Of course I would like the role of Jennifer in Valley of the Dolls. I think I can play the hell out of it…I’m at the point in my life where I can understand a girl like that. Don’t get me wrong though. The only kinds of pills I take are iron pills. They give me energy.” Too bad they couldn’t get her the part.

November 2, 1966: Columnist Alex Freeman reports that Tuesday Weld is “glowing” after being informed that she is “a dark-horse candidate for the role of Neely.” He also writes that Natalie Wood and Shirley MacLaine crave the role as well.

They all go home empty-handed. Weld would have probably turned it down anyway continuing her streak of rejecting hit movies (Lolita, Bonnie and Clyde, etc.). MacLaine was too long-in-the-tooth, while Wood was totally wrong for it.

November 29, 1966: The head honchos at 20th Century-Fox, the studio producing the movie, finally weigh in and are determined to sign Raquel Welch, Candice Bergen, and for the role of Neely, Ann-Margret.

January 16, 1967: Dorothy Manners reports that the role of Neely O’Hara has been surprisingly cast with Elizabeth Hartman (Oscar-nominee for A Patch of Blue in 1965) beating out some more famous names. She reportedly won over director Mark Robson, who was a big fan of her performance in You’re a Big Boy Now. For some reason, she doesn’t do the movie.

January 23, 1967: The New York Times and Los Angeles Times both report that Candice Bergen has officially agreed to play Anne Welles.

January 24, 1967: Alex Freeman reports that Lucille Ball, of all people, is determined to play Helen Lawson, but” wants it padded a little to make it an even more important part.”  He also writes that Lee Remick wanted one unnamed part but was offered another, which she turned down. I am guessing she wanted Neely, but was offered Anne.

February 17, 1967: When all is said and done, it is announced that Oscar-winner Patty Duke has been signed to play Neely (against her agent’s advice) and Barbara Parkins of TV’s Peyton Place has signed to play Anne after Candice Bergen has a change of heart and drops out. Dorothy Manners writes that Bergen, “took a walk…because she didn’t like the book to begin with [and] wants to make another picture inGreece.”

Bette Davis is still in the running to play Helen Lawson, but new contenders announced for the role are Joan Crawford and Betty Hutton.

March 1, 1967: According to the Chicago Tribune, it is a sure thing that Raquel Welch will sign to play Jennifer and Judy Garland seems to have a lock to play Helen Lawson.

March 4, 1967: Dorothy Manners reports that Judy Garland is all set as Helen Lawson and that Raquel Welch has bailed out of the movie without explanation. Perhaps the role of Jennifer who goes toEurope where she becomes a big film sex symbol hit too close to home for La Welch?

March 1967: With Raquel out, Fox next offers the role of Jennifer to contract player Jean Hale, who just made a splash opposite James Coburn in In Like Flint. To the studio’s chagrin, she turns it down due to the semi-nudity involved. She remarked in Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinema, “Fox was not happy with me.” So much so, they parted ways soon after.

March 1967: One starlet who wanted the role of Jennifer was Karen Jensen, a former Universal contract player now freelance. Recalling the audition, she says in Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinema, “When you go on interviews, sometimes you get the sense if they like you or don’t.  I really sensed that either producer David Weisbart or director Mark Robson—I can’t remember which—took a real liking to me and was pulling for me to get the part.  I went back a couple of times and I thought I had a real chance for it.”

March 17, 1967: The Los Angeles Times announces that Sharon Tate has won the role of Jennifer and is being loaned to Fox from Filmways. She will go on to win a Golden Globe nomination for Most Prosing Newcomer – Female for her touching performance.  No such accolades for Duke who gives one of the best bad performances of all-time or Parkins who just glides through the movie without much emotion. She however looks just fabulous in her mod high fashion model hairstyles and clothes.


April 29, 1967: Fox drops Judy Garland from the movie because a number of times the fragile actress failed to appear for work or would film in the morning and not come back after lunch. Susan Hayward takes her place and roars onto the big screen as tough-as-nails Helen Lawson.



Comments: 2

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  • Grace North

    Interesting article…thank you! This movie REALLY could have used Remick, Weld or Hartman in it….because really, most of the acting’s completely wretched! IMO, Barbara Parkins is incredibly boring to watch (to be fair, Anne is a drag in the book, too) and Sharon Tate is utterly breathtaking, but stilted. I think it should have been Remick as Anne (even though she’s a bit too old), Weld as Jennifer, and Ann-Margret as Neely. Candice Bergen is physically perfect for preppie, ice princess Anne….but her acting was usually pretty awful, too, until she hit her 30’s.

    • Great insights. I thought Carol Lynley being an ex-model and having that aloof persona would have been a better Anne. Agree Lee Remick was too old for Anne. I do like Sharon Tate and Patty Duke’s awful over-the-top performance makes the movie the camp classic it si to this day.

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