In many ways, it begins with a love for those on the outside. Gay men are often drawn to strong women who go against the grain of society. Obviously, gay men feel connected to that outsider status. Valley of the Dolls paints a world that was quite shocking to a 1967 audience. The film includes pill popping, plenty of drinking, smoking, talk of sex, even a few carefully done sex scenes, and a line about abortion. When something is labelled shocking, people are drawn to it, and especially those, who by their very nature, shock people (i.e. gays).
For those gay men who were born and raised in the 60s and 70s, there weren't gay films or Logo or gay characters on nearly anything. We still have a long way to go in good inclusion of gay characters in film and television, but we are quite a few steps ahead of the 60s and 70s. This is one reason a film like Valley of the Dolls was and is attractive to a gay audience. It is a glimpse into a sordid world. We are also a sucker for overly dramatic scenes, and this movie has plenty. From a 2010 perspective, the film is hilarious and the dialogue is as campy as you can get, but that is all part of the fun.
I was also amazed by the gay references in the film. There are quite a few lines about fags and queers. They are not positive. It is these lines that make the film even more interesting from a current gay perspective. There is an underlining homophobia that seeps into the film so easily and gives a snapshot of that time period.
The gay poet, David Trinidad, loves to write about films and actresses from the 1960s. When I taught a pop culture poetry class at Florida State University, I taught his poem "The Shower Scene in Psycho." In this poem, he splices together three threads. The first is a frame by frame description of the shower scene in Psycho. The second is a description of the Manson killings that resulted in the death of Sharon Tate who stared in Valley of the Dolls. The last thread of the poem is the story of a young man buying Valley of the Dolls (the book) and then eventually going to see it in the theater. The poem is an examination of violence and curiosity. Now, after seeing the film, I can't help but think about the young gay men who saw this film in the 60s. Why were they pulled in by it?
The gay references in the film have something to do with it. The lines are homophobic, but I imagine they were thrilling to a young man questioning his sexuality in a world that didn't want to talk about it. Sometimes just hearing those words, even in a negative context, lets you know that gay people do exist. There are fags and queers out there. I can relate to this, because I grew up in a small Midwestern city where I knew no other gay people. Hearing any gay reference caught my attention. When you combine that with the over-the-top acting, the scandalous boozing and pill popping, you've got yourself a gay hit.
Valley of the Dolls is well worth the viewing. If you haven't seen it, I suggest you get some cocktails and let the dolls take you on a fabulous two hour ride.
-Stephen (Bitchy Fag)