The legendary howler Valley of the Dolls (1967)—which Bosley Crowther called “an unbelievably hackneyed and mawkish mish-mash of backstage plots and Peyton Place adumbrations”—came to the screen as a result of the staggering success of the Jacqueline Susann potboiler a year before. It is basically the story of three young, ambitious women who embark on careers in show business and deal with a mind-numbing array of successes, setbacks, men and drug addictions.
One of the more senior characters in this tacky stew is Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward), a legendary Broadway performer whose professional jealousy results in the firing of up-and-comer Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke). Inspiration and casting for the film circled back on itself a bit: the Neely O’Hara character was based in part on Judy Garland. In casting the Lawson character, Garland was signed and set about prerecording her character’s song, the dreadful “I’ll Plant My Own Tree,” and undergoing wardrobe tests. Garland disliked the song so much that she had Roger Edens write a new number for her called “Get Off Looking Good,” which the studio nixed. The press wasted no time covering Garland’s on-set behavior, causing her to remark, “The studio hadn't even built the set yet, and the tabloids had me walking off it.”
Soon thereafter Garland did walk (or was forced) off the set, a departure fueled in part by poor treatment at the hands of director Mark Robson. Without the studio's permission, she nabbed one souvenir of her short experience—a beaded pantsuit she subsequently wore in a series of concert performances. The producers considered replacing Garland with Bette Davis or Tammy Grimes before selecting Susan Hayward, who lip-synched to Margaret Whiting’s vocals.
Susan Hayward performing “I’ll Plant My Own Tree,” written by Andre and Dory Previn.
Judy Garland’s wardrobe tests for Valley of the Dolls.
Judy Garland’s version of “I’ll Plant My Own Tree.”
Judy Garland singing “Get Off Looking Good."