There’s a scene in AMC’s Mad Men where we spot ad man Don Draper reading The Best Of Everything, just one of so many period-perfect details that series got right (juxtaposed with a handful of anachronisms they didn’t).
Like Valerie Taylor’s 1959 pulpy novel The Girls In 3B, Rona Jaffe’s The Best Of Everything played a part in helping me to settle on the year 1959 to start my own work. Okay, technically the novel came out in September of 1958, not 1959, but its hit film adaptation was a 1959 release, and notably, the first novel bought by Hollywood before publication and while still in editing. Note: The original hardcover release actually depicted author Jaffe on the cover…that’s her right below on the right.
More polished and ‘big time’ perhaps than Taylor’s comparatively pulpier paperback original The Girls in 3B, Jaffe’s novel is a classic mid-twentieth century soap opera, foreshadowing many more books just like it, including the comparatively sex and drug-filled Valley Of The Dolls just 8 years later. Three young women seeking adventure and romance in New York meet in Fabian Publishing’s typing pool, where they report to icy editor Amanda Farrow played by Joan Crawford, lecherous old editor-in-chief Mr. Shalimar and handsome, honorable-when-he’s-not-drunk (which is nearly always) Mike Rice played by the somewhat wooden leading man Stephen Boyd.
Fashion’s reigning supermodel of the time, Suzy Parker, plays aspiring actress Gregg Adams, Diane Baker is naïve small-town rube April Morrison and Hope Lange is the lead, Radcliffe-educated and happily engaged Caroline Bender. Parker’s glamorous veneer crumbles when she falls hard for a director, then falls harder and right out of a window to her death. Diane Baker winds up with an oily playboy, gets pregnant and tricked into an abortion, but miscarries in a car crash en route to the operation (at least in the movie…not sure that’s how it went down in the novel). Fear not: She winds up with the handsome doctor caring for her after the accident. And ‘smart girl’ Caroline Bender played by Hope Lange moves up Fabian Publishing’s ranks, gets dumped by her hometown fiancé, is later propositioned by the newly married rat, ultimately takes over retiring Joan Crawford’s editorial position, but may or may not trade that for marriage with Stephen Boyd in the end.
It’s all melodramatic and sometimes groan-worthy stuff, but both the book and the film are like reference manuals for the period, from the clothes to the dialog, the workplace settings and the make-you-cringe office interplay, all wrapped up in the restrictive 1958/59 social dynamics. The novel’s still a terrific read, overdue for a re-read and it’s going onto my to-be-read stack right as soon as I get a chance over the next week or so. The movie’s a genuine guilty pleasure, and for someone writing in a 1959 setting, almost demands note-taking while watching.