In his seminal 1972 book, A Significance for A&P Parking Lots, or Learning from Las Vegas, architect Robert Venturi, along with Scott Brown and Steven Izenour, urged their fellow architects to “be more receptive to the tastes and values of ‘common’ people.” Graphic designers have taken that edict to heart ever since.

Ever since Valley of the Dolls topped the Best Seller list in 1966, it has sold more than 30 million copies. A back cover blurb for the Grove Press 1997 reissue refers to the novel as “The All-Time Pop-Culture Classic.” Still, how does a designer treat the work by Jacqueline Susann, an author many of her peers refused to acknowledge (Gore Vidal once quipped, “She doesn’t write, she types!”), with such aplomb that it winds up in the AIGA Design Archives? Cover designer Evan Gaffney offers this explanation:

Valley of the Dolls wasn’t just a Big Book—it was The Biggest Book, the first modern blockbuster, of which every word was written to empty another consumer’s pocket of $5.95. Its author sought a celebrity’s life as glamorous and decadent as her subjects. An instant bestseller, the book gained considerably more notoriety from its movie adaptation in 1967, and over time secured a prime pedestal in the pantheon of camp. In turn Valley of the Dolls, as a set of four words, has taken on a life of its own, existing as a reference not so much for a book or a movie, but for a way of life: do whatever it takes and look fabulous doing it.

“I designed the cover in layers. The front cover quotes the typography of the original cover, which gives way through the pill shapes to reveal the anxious faces of Jennifer, Anne, and Neely as they wait patiently on the bed for Mr. Right. The cover is a fight staged between the type and pills that the young women witness in silence. The three elements compete for attention, one on top of the other, as if this 5.5 x 8.5” surface could never contain them or all of the scandal, decadence, and heartbreak on the pages within.

“The thick curves and itty-bitty kitten-heel serifs of an extra-bold Didone still work today as typographic shorthand for dangerous women in danger. I love a serif with a little junk in the trunk.”

The 1966 original cover
The 1966 original cover

Dolls turned out to be an excellent shape for a die-cut; sturdy enough to survive the literature table at Urban Outfitters, and novel enough to lure those too cool to buy books with keyholes. The die-cut capsules solve the problem with the film still, which on its own references the movie too directly. Through the capsules, the reader becomes a voyeur, wanting more than just eye contact. Although the famous only reveal a small part of themselves to the world , Ms. Susann has an insider’s power to expose the rest. The cover is, literally, a page turner, in which the total picture can be understood only by advancing to the next page, and by extension, the 442 others that follow.”

A poster for the film adaptation
A poster for the film adaptation