Close Encounters of the Celebrity Kind...
Back to the Valley of the Dolls with Barbara Parkins
Expanded Edition of the 6/21/06 issue of Windy City Times
by Richard Knight, Jr.
The glamorous Barbara Parkins, the European DVD cover with the film's iconic signature photo and the Japanese poster
It’s delightful that Barbara Parkins, the star of Valley of the Dolls is polite enough to identify herself by saying, “Hi, I’m Barbara” at
the outset of our interview but it’s hardly necessary. There’s no mistaking the voice of Anne Welles, the “damn classy” character that
she played in the 1967 film version of Jacqueline Susann’s infamous and tawdry showbiz saga. After decades of listening to Parkins
begin the film by reciting “You’ve got to climb Mt. Everest to reach the Valley of the Dolls,” the sound of that cultured voice with its
perfect diction is as distinctive as the Mt. Everest of camp classics that follows it.
Now Fox Home Video has released a 2-disc Special Edition of the movie (and its title only sequel, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls) and
the good natured Parkins was happy to talk about the film and its extraordinary enshrinement by the gay community. Excerpts from
WCT (laughs): I have to start out by saying thank you—
BP: Well, how wonderful it is that we’re talking about a film that’s had this wonderful long journey and is a cult film.
WCT: Absolutely. Everybody I have told in my family, “I’m going to be talking to Barbara Parkins” are all so thrilled because we all
love this movie so much – my sisters, my parents, and all my friends. So it’s not just gay men that get Valley of the Dolls.
BP: I was going to say, “Does it go beyond the gay community?” and I know that the answer is that it does. Even my daughter
would have friends over and say, “Oh, we’re going to have a Valley of the Dolls night” and they’re laughing and hooting.
WCT: That was one of my questions – how does your daughter and your family respond to the movie?
BP: She loved it. Like I said, she’d have her friends over and I’d go storming into her room saying, “It’s not that funny! It’s
dealing with drugs and sex and three women spiraling out of control and it’s a sad story” and she’d say, “Oh, but it’s soooo funny,
mommy, look at you.” They really enjoyed it.
WCT: But your performance, ironically, because I went back and watched this new amazing DVD with all these extra goodies and
then had to watch the movie again, your performance is really filled with a lot of conviction and is very tender and your work is not so
over the top. I think your performance balances the Neely and the Helen Lawson and all that stuff. Do you have any kind of regrets
that that is not noticed sometimes – or do people point that out to you?
BP: You’re the first one that’s said that.
WCT: You’re kidding!
BP: You’re the first one. And that’s interesting because I’ve never even thought that. I’ve always thought, “Oh, well, it’s all over
the top even my lines – I got some pretty silly lines.” But I’ve never felt that my character was the balance of it all.
WCT: Oh, but Anne Welles is so sweet.
BP: I love that you said that. I feel in retrospect now looking at some of the scenes where I’m kind of wandering around I could
have been more wistful or people would say I ended up standing around and I guess standing around I could have put something
more into it but that could have come from the director also.
WCT: Wow. I disagree. The narration at the beginning is a little over the top but when you go to the Martha Washington Hotel for
Women your character is very sweet and trusting. As Neely says, “You’re damn classy.” You really are.
BP: Well she’s very naïve as a lot of young girls coming to Hollywood or New York during that time would have been. That’s how I
perceived her because I was playing the bad girl in “Peyton Place” and I thought, “Well, there’s got to be such naivety and such
innocence in this young girl that’s just lived with her family up in Connecticut.” And coming to the big city she’s overwhelmed and
excited and just goes with the flow.
WCT: Well I think you really caught it. There’s a lot of warmth and tenderness there. But of course, then you finally have to go to
the dolls – the red gel caps.
BP: Of course – got to get that cap off and get those dolls down.
WCT: But before that, of course, there’s that fabulous Gillian Girl commercial which you talk about in the DVD how much fun it was to
film that with those fabulous hairdos and crazy gowns.
BP: Well I was a dancer all my live and I was going to go to New York, actually, because I’d gotten a scholarship with the Martha
Graham dance group and here I am in the film and I’m not moving and I’m dying to move and finally the Gillian Girl scenes came
along and I said, “Oh, please, just let me float through this” and I did – around the pool and I’m moving—
WCT: --and on mountaintops!
BP (laughs): Yes! Isn’t that funny?
WCT: Did you get to keep that fabulous hairspray bottle, I hope or some of those gowns designed by Travilla?
BP: No I didn’t. But Judy Garland ran off with them.
WCT: That’s right. You talk about this on the DVD but can you speak for a moment for the Windy City Times readers about working
with Garland and Patty Duke and Sharon Tate and Susan Hayward and other cast members?
BP: Well I think the strongest image in my mind in working on the film was working with Judy. It was the biggest thrill for me and
stays with me because she was this icon; she was this phenomenal singer and my first scenes were done with her. It was the scene
where she tears up the contract and I’ve said in many interviews the night before the filming I called up Jackie Susann who I had
become close to – I didn’t call up the director strangely enough – I called up her and I said, “What do I do? I’m nervous about
going on the set with Judy Garland and I might get lost in this scene because she knows how to chew up the screen.” She said,
“Honey, just go in there and enjoy her.” So I went onto the set and Judy came up to me and wrapped her arms around me and
said, “Oh, baby, let’s just do this scene” and she was wonderful. But she was also an emotional roller coaster and I saw her go
through many different types of emotions – angry, happy, sad and eventually she locked herself away in her dressing room and was
fired. That’s who I enjoyed truly working with the most – even though it lasted two days.
WCT: Weren’t you Sharon Tate’s matron of honor at her wedding to Roman Polanski?
BP: Yes, Sharon and I became very close. We became very good friends. We’d kind of go onto the set and watch Patty because,
you know, Patty had won an Oscar at something like seven years old and she was the pro and we thought, “This is pretty amazing.”
WCT: I would imagine watching some of her really intense scenes in person was probably very different than seeing them on the
screen. Maybe they didn’t seem quite so over the top.
BP: No, it didn’t. None of us found it over the top at the time but the way the director directed it probably was over the top and
maybe he didn’t get it right or maybe he did get it right and that’s why it achieved the cult status that it has. As I’ve mentioned to
people, it’s a film dealing with these three young girls spiraling out of control on drugs and booze and these bad experiences but he
dealt with them on a surface level. He didn’t sit down with us. We didn’t have a read through. We didn’t talk about the effects of
getting drunk or drugs and what that does to your body and mind. So it was all filmed on a surface level and that’s why I think, as
the years went along, the scenes became fun and comical to watch as opposed to saying, “My God, these girls are losing it.”
Because it was all surface.
WCT: That I hadn’t thought about but it’s true – it’s not too often that you see somebody in rehab and it’s funny.
BP: Well yes – the funniest scene to me is when Patty finds Tony Scotti in the hospital and they sing to each other. I mean, how
did that scene ever come to be? It’s just wonderfully hilarious—
WCT: – yeah, it really is
BP: – and his singing is so bad!
(we’re both laughing)
WCT: Why do you think gay men have embraced the movie with such intensity that it’s still resonating almost 40 years later?
BP: Well I tend to turn that question around and ask the gay community or the people that I speak to at the various screenings I’
ve gone to watch the take-offs. I ask them, “Tell me what it is” and—
WCT: Well actually I’m the one that should answer my own question.
BP: Okay, yes, right. So, give me your play on it.
WCT: Well I think it’s what Ted Casablanca (and don’t you love that he took his nom de plume after a Valley of the Dolls character?)
and other gay media people have said, “It speaks to our community.”
BP: In what way?
WCT: A lot of that surface stuff of being an outsider and all this tragic, “It’s a rotten business but I love it” stuff and then it’s the
wigs, the gowns and the big drama of it and finally I think it’s the beauty. You three women are so incredibly beautiful in this film
and it plays into that movie star cult of beauty thing. Let’s face it – you and Sharon Tate are breathtaking in the movie. I think any
backstage story really appeals to gay audiences. It’s also one of the first movies where they really said the words – “faggot, gay,”
and the undercurrent is derogatory but it’s acceptable, too. When Sharon Tate says, “Oh, you know how bitchy fags can be” to Neely
it’s like everybody’s around gay people in the movie and basically it’s really just fine even if the queens can be a little high strung. I
really think that that’s the major place where Jackie Susann broke new ground – she broke open the closet door, kind of for America.
BP: She opened the door in a sense, yeah, that’s right. Well – thank you for answering your own question for me (laughs).
WCT (laughs): You’re welcome. So, tell me, almost 40 years later, how it feels to be recognized for this movie for you?
BP: It’s still an honor. I’m still in awe. I’m still proud of it and I continually thank the gay community. I think it’s the gay
community that has brought this film to cult status and has kept it going through all these years. I always say, “thank you thank
you thank you” at these events I go to. It’s your community that has brought it this status and is the reason it’s getting this special
DVD. I’m proud of it; it was my first film; I loved it, I loved working with the people and I loved the people that I meet along the
way who say, “Oh my God, I love Valley of the Dolls” and I say, “Wasn’t it wonderful?” I think Jackie Susann were she alive would
have been having her Friday night champagne parties, kicking up her heels and absolutely loving every minute of this.
WCT: She would have reveled in this?
BP: Yes, absolutely.
WCT: Can you finish by saying the line for me that starts it all – the one that transports you into that world of too much too soon?
BP (recites): “You have got to climb to Mt. Everest to reach the Valley of the Dolls.” Everyone does!