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Jacqueline Susann (August 20, 1918 – September 21, 1974) was an American writer and actress. Her first novel, Valley of the Dolls (1966), is one of the best-selling books in publishing history. With her two subsequent works, The Love Machine (1969) and Once Is Not Enough (1973), Susann became the first author to have three consecutive #1 novels on The New York Times Best Seller List.
Jacqueline Susann was born on August 20, 1918, in Philadelphia, a single daughter to a Jewish couple: Robert Susan (1887–1957), a portrait painter, and Rose Jans (1892–1981),[note 1] a public schoolteacher. As a child, Susann was an inattentive but imaginative student, and in the fifth grade scored 140 on an IQ test, the highest in her school. An only child, devoted to her father, Susann was determined to carry on the family name. She decided to be an actress, despite the advice of a teacher, who said, "Jackie should be a writer. She breaks all the rules, but it works." In 1936, after graduating from West Philadelphia High School, she left for New York to pursue an acting career. Her father told her, "If you're going to be an actress, be a good actress. Be a people watcher."
On April 2, 1939, Susann married press agent Irving Mansfield, who had impressed her by successfully placing "items" about her in the theater and society pages of New York newspapers. Despite persistent rumors of infidelity on Susann's part, she and Mansfield were devoted to each other, and remained married until her death in 1974.
On December 6, 1946, Susann gave birth to their only child, a son whom they named Guy Hildy Mansfield, "Hildy" being for cabaret singer Hildegarde, who was the boy's godmother. At the age of three, Guy was diagnosed as severely autistic, and eventually had to be institutionalized; Susann and Mansfield did not reveal the true reason for his absence from home, fearing that he would be stigmatized should he eventually recover. Reportedly, Susann and Mansfield rarely missed a week visiting their son.
In 1954, the Mansfields adopted a black, half-toy half-miniature poodle, whom they named Josephine, in honor of comedian Joe E. Lewis. Josephine became the subject of Susann's first published book, and was to be the subject of a sequel, Good Night, Sweet Princess, which Susann did not live to write. Josephine died on January 6, 1970, just days before her sixteenth birthday.
In 1962, at the age of 44, Susann was diagnosed with breast cancer, and underwent a radical mastectomy. During her recuperation, she made a pact with God: if she were given ten more years of life, she would prove herself to be the best-selling writer in the world. With her diagnosis, Susann felt an urgency to make money as quickly as possible, so as to ensure that her son would be properly cared for the rest of his life.
After suffering from a persistent cough, Susann, who was concerned about her upcoming book tour in support of Once Is Not Enough, checked into Doctors Hospital on January 11, 1973. Test results showed a nodular lesion in her right lung; she was transferred to Mount Sinai Hospital for a bronchoscopy and biopsy. On January 18, she received a diagnosis of lung cancer, and immediately began cobalt treatments and daily chemotherapy injections. According to Irving Mansfield, there was some disagreement between doctors as to whether this was a metastatic breast cancer or an original lung cancer; accurate evaluation would determine the plan of treatment and subsequent prognosis.
Despite the grueling treatment, Susann's cancer spread, and she entered Doctors Hospital for the last time, on August 20, 1974, her fifty-sixth birthday. After days lapsing in and out of a coma, she died on September 21.[note 10] Her last words to Mansfield were, "Hey, doll, let's get the hell out of here." She was survived by her husband, her son, and her mother.
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