Return to the ‘Valley’; Morton unveils Madonna

NEW YORK — The pills may have changed from Dexedrine to Zoloft and Xanax, but the dolls are the same. Anne Wells Burke and Neely O’Hara, the rapacious starlets of Jacqueline Susann’s camp classic “Valley of the Dolls,” are making a comeback in print and on screen.

Screenwriter Emily Fox is about to turn in a draft of the “Valley of the Dolls” remake, which “Doctor Dolittle” helmer Betty Thomas is directing for Fox. Thomas and producing partner Jenno Topping will produce the pic with Lisa Bishop, manager of the Susann rights. (Fox is also penning an untitled feature for James Brooks.)

The original “Dolls” entered the “Guinness Book of World Records” as the top selling novel of all time, at some 30 million copies. Susann died in 1974, but not before penning a treatment for a sequel.

On July 4 Crown will flood bookstores with 200,000 copies of that sequel, “Jacqueline Susann’s Shadow of the Dolls,” based on Susann’s treatment and written by Rae Lawrence, the pseudonymous author of 1987 potboiler “Satisfaction.” “Shadow” will be serialized in Good Housekeeping, and AMG’s Judi Farkas will shop “Shadow” to producers in the next few weeks.

Surprisingly, the book itself fell out of print for 15 years before being resurrected in 1987 by Bishop and then Grove Press editor-in-chief Ira Silverberg. It has since become one of Grove’s bestselling backlist titles.

“We knew there was a particular way to relaunch it,” says Silverberg. “It was all about pop culture and all about retro chic. It was the right moment.”

The moment may not have been right for the Susann biopic that followed shortly thereafter. “Isn’t She Great,” with Bette Midler, grossed just $3 million.

But “Dolls” is a story about resilience and those in the industry who’ve clawed their way up from the bottom — so there’s no reason to believe the franchise doesn’t have yet another life.

As Neely O’Hara famously put it, “I didn’t have dough handed to me because of my good cheekbones; I had to earn it.”

MORTON ON MADONNA: Andrew Morton, who topped bestseller lists with his authorized biography of Monica Lewinsky and quasi-authorized biography of Princess Diana, will next try to climb inside the mind of Madonna. And he’ll do so without her permission.

St. Martin’s Press has paid a high six figures to preemptively buy North American rights to Morton’s unauthorized bio.

The singer who’s made an artform of reinventing herself every time her career has begun to flag remains, at 40-plus, an international sex symbol, motherhood notwithstanding. Her latest CD, “Music,” has sold 2.3 million copies to date.

The shelves of chain bookstores are already laden with throwaway biographies of the pop superstar, and it’s hard to imagine what new light Morton can cast on such an overexposed a subject.

But Morton has proven himself an adroit channeller of the psyche of female celebrities. He tore into the Starr report with “Monica’s Story,” revealing that America’s most famous intern viewed her relationship with the president as mature and mutually satisfying.

His new book, based on an array of new interviews, will expose “the unknown Madonna,” say his publishers. St. Martin’s will ship 500,000 copies of the book to stores in November.

ADVERTISING ‘DREAM’: Tight ad budgets rarely allow publishers to market their authors on television, but Scribner has laid out close to $500,000 to plug Stephen King’s new novel, “DreamCatcher,” on the air.

Ad firm Ziccardi & Partners, which has shot commercials for King and several publishers in the past, has produced a 15-second spot that director of creative services Joe Fontana said is supposed to look “extremely suspenseful, as if the scene was grabbed from the book itself.”

King will not be available for much “DreamCatcher” publicity, says Scribner publisher Susan Moldow. The spot allows the house to reach the largest possible audience with minimal participation from King.

It may also serve as a reminder to King, who’s constantly threatening to publish his books online, without the benefit of a publisher, of the value of a major corporate ad campaign.

The spot is hardly as slick as your average movie trailer. Cinematography of the no-frills ad is more “Blair Witch” than “Hannibal.” King strides into a rustic cabin, stares quizzically into the camera and recaps the plot in a single sound bite (“Four men who hunt together every year and a stranger in trouble make for the scariest novel in years”).

But Moldow says there was no reason to pump more money into a high-concept ad. The chief objective, she says, was to register the fact that King has a new book.

“If I was Nike and spent Simon & Schuster’s entire gross sales on TV ads I could be more entertaining, though I happen to think this is a very entertaining ad.”

BATTERY OF BOOKS FOR DOUBLE A: The studios may be buying fewer books nowadays, but indie production companies continue to find literary material in unexpected corners.

Producers Andrew Fierberg and Amy Hobby of Double A Films, which co-produced Michael Almereyda’s “Hamlet,” has bought “Touching From a Distance,” a biography of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, written by his widow. Michael Stock is adapting the script. Double A has also picked up Jim Knipfel’s memoir, “Quitting the Nairobi Trio,” an account of six months in a Minneapolis psychiatric hospital.

And another Gotham indie, Arrow Films, has optioned “Hannah and the Angels,” a series of children’s books by Linda Lowery Keep, published by Random House. The books concern a 12-year-old who travels through space and time with a group of angels. Arrow is developing a TV pilot based on the book.

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