Larry McQueen: Notes on The Valley of the Dolls, 1967
The book was a scandalous depiction of the drug induced underbelly of the film industry in the 1960’s. The lead character of Neely O’Hara, played by Patty Duke, was based on the real life star, Judy Garland. To capitalize on this, Judy was cast in the older role of the veteran stage diva Helen Larson.
Costumes were made for Ms. Garland and screen tests were made but, because of her fragile condition was fired only days into production. When she exited the studio, she took the orange beaded pants suit that was to be worn in the wig fight scene. Six months later, she had a triumphant comeback concert at The Palace in 1967 and came out wearing the orange beaded pant suit. This look was to become one of her trademark looks for the time period.
Susan Hayward was rushed into production and costumes were frantically altered or re-produced following the original designs. Susan Hayward literally ‘ate up the scenery’ and was somewhat of a diva herself. She was so worried the newly created beaded pant suit would make her look heavy, she insisted the lining be taken out of the jacket to reduce any bulk. (The jacket does not have a lining). The fight scene in the ladies room that ends up with her wig being flushed in the toilet has become one of the most camp and iconic “cat fights” in film history.
As was studio practice, the costume was re-used for other productions. Sharon Tate, who also had a role in the film wore the costume in a photo shoot probably around the time of the film. It was, years later worn by Kay Medford in an episode of "Starsky & Hutch," (Murder at Sea, 1976 as Edna Zilinka).
While researching the jewelry in the film, to re-create the diamond stacked star brooch set with a cabochon emerald and worn with the pantsuit, it was discovered that most of the jewelry she wears in the film is of a star shape design, probably signifying the character’s “star” status. It was also discovered that the piece of jewelry was probably her own real piece of jewelry because she also wears it in the 1961 film “Ada.” This was a common practice in films.
The brooch was definitely an overstatement since the pantsuit was already busy enough, but you can never have too much bling.