Birth of novelist Jacqueline Susann

August 20, 1921
Jacqueline Susann.
Courtesy of Barbara Seaman.

Jackie Susann was born in the summer, a season she would later make more enjoyable for millions of book lovers who wanted a good “beach read.”  Page-turners that were glamorous, scandalous, and sexy—her books made her the first writer to have three consecutive novels hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list.

Jacqueline Susann was born Aug. 20, 1921, in Philadelphia, where her father, Robert Susann, was a portrait artist, and her mother, Rose, was a public school teacher.  She worked in New York first as a model and then as a performer until 1962, the year of her first cancer diagnosis and her first book.  She had surgery for breast cancer in 1962, and 10 years later began cobalt radiation treatments and chemotherapy when cancer was found in other areas.

"She thought it was a very private thing," her husband Irving Mansfield said. "But recently she said to me, 'For 10 years I treated cancer as though it were a “social disease” and I was wrong.’"

Ironically, Susann's ambition was not to be a writer but an actress. "Jackie," Mansfield said, "did her best to become somebody onstage and never quite made it." The two married in 1945, and she appeared in 21 plays on Broadway, including the original production of Claire Booth Luce’s The Women.  She wrote a play called Lovely Me that ran for four weeks on Broadway.  Her husband produced the Milton Berle shows on radio and Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts for television.  But he left that work in 1965 to help his wife's career.  Together they changed the mechanics of the publishing business, pioneering the first extensive book publicity tour and color testing a book jacket for television appearances.

Her first novel, Valley of the Dolls, was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the best-selling novel of all time, with over 17 million copies sold during her lifetime.  Her other novels were The Love Machine and Once Is Not Enough, while she also wrote a popular book about her dog, Every Night, Josephine!

"A good writer," she said, "is one who produces books that people read—who communicates. So if I'm selling millions, I'm good."

Sources: “Jacqueline Susann Dead at 53; Novelist Wrote Valley of the Dolls,” New York Times, September 23, 1974;; “Widower Irving Mansfield Reveals the Family Secrets of Wife Jacqueline Susann,” People Magazine; “Jackie Susann picks up the marbles,” New York Times Magazine, August 12, 1973.


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Jewish Women's Archive. "Birth of novelist Jacqueline Susann ." (Viewed on May 20, 2024) <>.