Widower Irving Mansfield Reveals the Family Secrets of Wife Jacqueline Susann

UPDATED 03/14/1983 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 03/14/1983 at 01:00 AM EST

Our dreams were remarkably similar: We both wanted to be someone. We wanted to stand out from the crowd, lead remarkable lives and be surrounded by people of talent and accomplishment.

Irving Mansfield in Life With Jackie

For a Philadelphia girl whose high school yearbook stated her ambition was to own a mink coat and a Brooklyn boy whose mother hoped he'd be a gym teacher or a buyer at Macy's, Jacqueline Susann and Irving Mansfield came as close as any couple to realizing their dreams—until her untimely death in 1974 at the age of 53.

Now Mansfield, 74, has written (with former Good Housekeeping editor Jean Libman Block) a touching homage to his 35 years as the husband of Susann. Life With Jackie (Bantam, $14.95) details his wife's traumatic 1962 mastectomy, the heartbreak of their autistic son and her final, painful bout with cancer. It's also chockablock with anecdotes revealing her fancies and foibles. Jackie stole paper clips from desk tops, begged then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to change the birth date on her passport, and once retorted to an interviewer: "Is that a hat you're wearing or a breaded veal cutlet?"

Actually, Mansfield had intended to keep these facts to himself until he discovered that writer Barbara Seamans {Free and Female) was planning a biography of Jackie to be published in 1984. Wanting to tell his story, Mansfield began the project—with trepidation. "I thought I'd be on the couch if I had to go over some of the terrible things that happened," he confesses. His hardest task after Jackie's death was destroying her diaries: "She wanted me to burn them. I was dying to read them, but also afraid I'd find something I never knew about."

This month the man who masterminded Jackie's publicity blitzes is on his own countrywide promotion tour. But Mansfield will be hard pressed to match his wife's success. Valley of the Dolls sold 25 million copies and was on the best-seller list for 62 weeks. The Love Machine and Once Is Not Enough sold more than five million each.

Ironically, Susann's ambition was not to be a writer but an actress. "Jackie," says Mansfield, "did her best to become somebody onstage and never quite made it." Meanwhile he produced the Milton Berle shows on radio and Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts for TV. He ditched it all in 1965 to help his wife's career.

Because Jackie was so secretive, few knew about their autistic son, Guy, now 36. "He was the most delicious child in the world," says Mansfield. "Then one day when he was 3½ he came out of the park screaming and only said one line the rest of his life." (One day Jackie had muttered, "Guy, when are you going to talk?" and was stunned when he blurted, "When I'm ready." He never spoke again.) He's been institutionalized in the East most of the time since, and Jackie and Irving rarely missed a weekend visit. Jackie never even told her mother she had cancer, though on her last book tour she was often too weak to stand.

Since her death, Mansfield admits, he's had trouble adjusting to being alone. A willing keeper of the flame, he promoted her posthumous novel, Dolores, and was executive producer for the 1981 miniseries Valley of the Dolls. Her Steuben glass animal collection, her plants and her antiques remain in his Manhattan apartment, but Mansfield has finally taken the bronze book containing Jackie's ashes from his library shelf and put it in a cemetery. He also dates—his most frequent companion is Philadelphian Beverly Robinson—and does not rule out remarrying. But the flame is not out yet. The book's dedication reads: "To Jackie—No day goes by that I do not think of you—nor a night that I do not dream..."

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