Cast & Crew
In Los Angeles, at a benefit show for the Motion Picture Relief Fund at the Shrine Auditorium, prominent but fading movie star Norman Maine arrives drunk and out of control. To save his studio from embarrassment, Oliver Niles, the studio head, tells his publicity director, Matt Libby, to keep Norman away from the stage. Using the pretense of publicity photographs and interviews, Libby lures Norman into the pressroom. However, Norman soon guesses Libby's ruse, knocks Libby into a mirror, smashing it to pieces, then heads toward the stage, pushing through performers awaiting their cue. Onstage, the Glenn Williams Orchestra is performing, and when the band's vocalist, Esther Blodgett, sees Norman coming, she links arms and struts with him, incorporating him into the act, thus preventing him from disrupting their performance. As he bows and exits, the audience cheers, believing the star's appearance was planned.
Afterward, backstage, Esther is preparing to depart, when Norman takes her lipstick and draws a heart on the wall with their initials inside to mark the time she "saved" him from disgracing himself. He invites her to supper, but she must leave with pianist Danny McGuire for another job at the Ambassador Hotel's Cocoanut Grove. Later, after sobering up, Norman goes to the Grove and learns from the headwaiter that the band, after finishing their performance, went to the Downbeat Club on Sunset Blvd. Norman proceeds there and hears Esther sing. Impressed with her talent, he drives her home and urges her not to settle for little dreams. Telling her she is good enough to be in motion pictures, he offers to introduce her to Oliver. Early the next morning, influenced by Norman, Esther quits the band, which goes to San Francisco without her. Norman intends to follow up on his promise but, at six a.m., the studio car comes to take him away to his next movie assignment, which is shooting on location at sea for several weeks.
Unable to reach Esther himself, he tries to get in touch with her through crew members, but no one takes his request seriously, and he cannot remember her address. When she does not hear from Norman, Esther assumes he was just flirting with her. To make ends meet, she sings for a commercial, but then must support herself by working at a drive-in restaurant. After shooting on Norman's film is complete, he searches for her, but by then she has moved to a cheaper rooming house. Eventually, after recognizing her voice on the commercial, he tracks her down and arranges for her screen test at the studio. The studio personnel make her over with a blonde wig and nose prosthetic, but Norman comes to the rescue and has her change back to her normal appearance. After completing a bit role, she receives her first paycheck and learns that the studio has given her a screen name, Vicki Lester.
Oliver shows no interest in Esther, believing that she is simply a passing romantic fancy of Norman's, until Norman arranges for him to overhear her singing. Then she is given a role in a musical and, with Norman's guidance, overcomes her nervousness to become an overnight success. Norman then tries to back out of a relationship with her, claiming, "I destroy everything I touch," but Esther tells him that she loves him. Norman proposes to Esther during a recording session, unaware that a nearby microphone is picking up and recording everything they say. At first Esther refuses, claiming that Norman is too irresponsible and drinks too much, but after listening to the playback, she accepts, prompting everyone in the studio to cheer. When news of the engagement reaches the studio, Libby warns Oliver of trouble, but Oliver feels that marriage is just what Norman needs to overcome his problems. Libby plans a highly-publicized nuptial event, but Esther and Norman sneak off for a quiet marriage ceremony by a small-town justice of the peace, with Danny and two prisoners in attendance.
Libby, resenting the years he has covered up for Norman, is infuriated. After returning from their honeymoon, Norman and Esther throw a party at their new Malibu beach house, during which Oliver tells Norman that the New York studio heads have ordered his contract to be dropped. Pleased with this turn of events, Libby sends out press releases stating that Norman asked to be released from his contract. While Esther's career continues to rise, Norman spends his days at home, hoping to resume his career. However, when a deliveryman calls him "Mr. Lester," he realizes that his career is dead and he returns to drinking. At the next Academy Awards ceremony, Esther is named Best Actress. As she gives her acceptance speech, Norman drunkenly climbs onstage and makes his own speech, begging for a job. Gesturing wildly, he accidentally hits Esther in the face. While Norman spends time in a sanitarium to dry out, Oliver tells the depressed Esther that he will give Norman another chance. He offers Norman a part in a film, but Norman declines it, realizing that it is not a lead role. After his release from the sanitarium, Norman plans to remain sober.
At the Santa Anita racetrack, where he drinks ginger ale instead of his usual liquor, he encounters Libby, who tries to humiliate him. Norman overlooks Libby's malicious taunting, until the publicity man accuses him of living off Esther's income. Norman then hits Libby, who strikes back, knocking Norman to the floor. Hearing the crowd gossip that he is "drunk again," Norman orders a double scotch. After not hearing from Norman for four days, Esther becomes worried. When she gets a call informing her that Norman has been arrested for drunkenness, she and Oliver proceed to the court, where the judge sentences Norman to ninety days in jail. Pleading for the judge to suspend the sentence, Esther promises to be responsible for Norman, and the judge relents.
At home the next day, while Norman is sleeping, the crying Esther tells Oliver that she has decided to quit filmmaking. She wants to take Norman away for a new start, so that he can get back his health, and later, his career. Although Oliver regrets that Esther is sacrificing her career, he agrees to release her from her studio obligations, but warns her that Norman's talents are gone, ruined by twenty years of alcoholism. Having awakened, Norman overhears them through an open window. Later, pretending to be in a good mood, Norman tells Esther that he is going out for a swim and asks her to sing to him. As she sings, he swims toward the sunset, allowing himself to drown. Later, Libby reports Norman's "accidental" death to the newspapers. After the funeral, a gawking crowd encircles Esther as she leaves the church, causing her to break down. Secluding herself at the beach home, she refuses to answer phone calls.
Danny, who is now her studio accompanist, arrives to pick her up for a Shrine Auditorium benefit concert she promised to attend before Norman's death. When she refuses to go, Danny tells her she is wasting what Norman gave her and what he died to keep from destroying. His accusation succeeds in getting her to leave the house. Backstage at the auditorium, she sees the heart Norman drew on the wall. When she is asked by the emcee to say a few words, she proclaims, "Hello everybody. This is Mrs. Norman Maine."
Dale Van Sickel
Louis Jean Heydt
Helen Eby Rock
Fred E. Ahlert
Gloria De Werd
B. G. Desylva
L. Wolfe Gilbert
George James Hopkins
H. Bert Jones
H. F. Koenekamp
Mitchell G. Kovaleski
Charles B. Lang
George A. Norton
Mary Ann Nyberg
Weldon H. Patterson
Richard Lee Wilson
Alma D. Young
* NOTICE: NO AUDIO FOR FIRST 45 SECONDS
Best Art Direction
Best Costume Design
Best Costume Design
Best Costume Design
Best Music Original Dramatic Score
The Essentials - A Star is Born ('54)
Norman Maine, a screen star whose alcoholism is beginning to interfere with his career, discovers Esther Blodgett, a singer with "that little something extra," star quality. He shepherds her through the birth of her career even as his own is falling apart, and as he does so, their love grows. But soon it becomes clear that his problems are ruining her life and Maine performs a final, desperate act to free Esther from her commitment to him.
Director: George Cukor
Producer: Sidney Luft
Screenplay: Moss Hart
Adapted from the Screenplay by Alan Campbell, Dorothy Parker and Robert Carson and the Story by Carson and William A. Wellman
Cinematography: Sam Leavitt
Editing: Folmar Blangsted
Art Direction: Malcolm Bert, Irene Sharaff
Music: Harold Arlen
Cast: Judy Garland (Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester), James Mason (Norman Maine), Jack Carson (Matt Libby), Charles Bickford (Oliver Niles), Tommy Noonan (Danny McGuire), Lucy Marlow (Lola Lavery), Amanda Blake (Susan Ettinger), Irving Bacon (Graves), Strother Martin (Delivery Boy), Grady Sutton (Carver), Joan Shawlee (Announcer), John Saxon (Usher),
Why A STAR IS BORN is Essential
A Star Is Born (1954) marks the apotheosis of Judy Garland's career, a multi-faceted role exploiting her talents for song, dance, comedy and tragedy alike as none of her other films ever did. In a sense, it was planned that way. Screenwriter Moss Hart drew on his knowledge of Garland and her career to re-structure the story for the 1954 version.
A Star Is Born marked the start of two profitable collaborations for director George Cukor. Special Visual and Color Consultant George Hoyningen-Huene, one of the nation's leading fashion photographers, and production designer Gene Allen would play a major role in shaping his directorial vision as he moved into directing in color. They would work with him on most of his later films, making notable contributions to the visual look of Bhowani Junction (1956) and Les Girls (1957) in particular.
Thanks to Huene and Allen's influence, and Cukor's immaculate taste, A Star Is Born was one of the first films to indicate how the CinemaScope process could be used artistically. Introduced only a year earlier, the wide-screen process had helped draw audiences to epics like The Robe (1953), the first film shot that way, but had stymied directors, who found the new image unwieldy. Director George Stevens suggested it was only good for photographing snakes. But by playing with color and composition, Cukor showed that it could actually enhance a film's effectiveness.
Ronald Haver's 1983 restoration of A Star Is Born was the first high-profile project of its nature, thereby raising public awareness of film preservation issues. It sparked a movement to rescue other lost films, with his innovative use of stills and soundtrack to fill in for scenes that no longer exist. Certainly, it opened new doors for film preservationists. Later projects that followed in the wake of Haver's A Star is Born restoration have included Frank Capra's Lost Horizon (1937), Raoul Walsh's Sadie Thompson (1928), Erich von Stroheim's Queen Kelly (1929) and Greed (1923-25).
Haver's search for missing scenes from the film, some illegally held by collectors, also increased public and industry awareness of piracy. In the year following the restoration's successful re-issue, legal action against private film collectors who had ignored the law and police raids on their homes increased significantly.
by Frank Miller
The Essentials - A Star is Born ('54)
Pop Culture 101 - A Star is Born ('54)
When Selznick decided to attempt a new version of the story for his own production company in 1937, he gave Cukor first shot at directing it, but the director turned him down, feeling he had nothing to add to the story. William Wellman, who also collaborated on the story, directed the film. For this version the young actress (Janet Gaynor) was helped by a fading star (Fredric March) who married her before realizing that his alcoholism was ruining her career and personal life.
Hollywood legend has suggested several models for the character of Norman Maine. Some claim the story was inspired by John Gilbert's marriage to stage actress Ina Claire, who enjoyed a spurt of popularity in the early days of talking pictures just as his career was sinking. Others have suggested that Maine was modeled on John Barrymore. The most likely candidate, however, is film director Marshall "Mickey" Neilan, whose promising career was destroyed by drinking and other scandals. He, too, had a wife whose success eventually eclipsed his, silent actress Blanche Sweet.
One sequence in both the 1937 and 1954 films was indeed inspired by John Barrymore's life. In 1937, Barrymore was in a sanitarium because of his drinking. Cukor visited him there to discuss his playing a role in Camille (he eventually cast Henry Daniell instead) and was struck by the place's failed attempt at homeyness. Rather than a hospital, it was just an old house that had gone to seed. When Barrymore took him into the sitting room, he asked one of the attendants, "Can we sit in here, Kelly? Nobody's going to come through and disturb us by pretending he's Napoleon." Cukor reported this scene to Selznick, who used it as the basis for the scene depicting Norman in the sanitarium.
In 1976, Barbra Streisand remade A Star Is Born, this time setting the story in the music business. She starred as rising singer Esther Hoffman, with Kris Kristofferson as her self-destructive mentor, John Norman Howard (a role turned down by Elvis Presley). The film received mixed reviews but scored a hit at the box office and brought Streisand and Paul Williams an Oscar® for Best Song for the picture's theme, "Evergreen."
For the past few years, there have been discussions of a new version of A Star Is Born, with rapper-turned-actor Will Smith in the Judy Garland role. The reversed-gender production would feature Smith as a rising star helped by a self-destructive diva.
by Frank Miller
Pop Culture 101 - A Star is Born ('54)
Trivia - A Star is Born ('54) - Trivia & Fun Facts About A STAR IS BORN
The crowd shots of the Motion Picture Relief Fund benefit at the film's opening combined footage shot for the film with newsreels from the world premiere of The Robe, the picture that had prevented Richard Burton from playing Norman Maine.
The shots of dancers backstage at the Shrine Auditorium were modeled on the Degas' painting Dancers Adjusting Their Slippers.
The beach house scenes were actually shot on the studio sound stage. Cukor created the illusion that the ocean was right outside by asking the special effects department to superimpose the reflection of the ocean on the glass doors. They also created a light breeze to move Garland's scarf. Since a regular fan would have been too noisy and required post-dubbing, the crew built a wind tunnel to pump in air from outside while also muffling the sound of the fans.
One day when Garland refused to leave her dressing room, Cukor, who hated summoning actors, decided to see what he could do to get her on the set. When he walked into the room, she was the picture of dejection. "Is anything wrong?" he asked. Then he realized how absurd the question was and started laughing. Garland laughed too and said, "This is the story of my life. I'm about to shoot myself, and I'm asked if there's anything wrong." Then she came out to film the scene.
When Cukor complimented Garland on the intensity of her performance in two takes of her temperamental scene after Norman's suicide, she quipped, "Oh, that's nothing. Come over to my house any afternoon. I do it every afternoon. But I only do it once at home."
A Star Is Born was the only Judy Garland film to be released in stereo.
A Star Is Born was the first film to have its premiere telecast nationally. The live telecast was so well received that it was repeated the following evening. This program is now available on the most recent VHS and DVD releases of the film.
Film projects offered to Garland as a result of her performance in A Star Is Born included Carousel, South Pacific, The Three Faces of Eve and musical versions of Alice Adams, Saratoga Trunk and All About Eve. She also was mentioned for film biographies of Helen Morgan, Sophie Tucker, Laurette Taylor, Gertrude Lawrence and Fannie Brice. She never appeared in any of these. In fact, she would not make another film for seven years, when she won an Oscar® nomination for Best Supporting Actress for Judgment at Nuremberg (1961).
FAMOUS QUOTES FROM A STAR IS BORN (1954)
" There are certain pleasures you get - little jabs of pleasure. When a swordfish takes the hook, or when you watch a great fighter getting ready for the kill, see?...If you had ever seen a bullfight in your life, you'd know a great bullfighter the moment he set foot to the ring -- from the way he stood, from the way he moved -- or, or a dancer. You don't happen to know about ballet? That little bell rings inside your head, that little jab of pleasure. And that's what happened to me just now. You're a great singer!" - James Mason as Norman Maine.
"You've got that little something extra that Ellen Terry talked about. Ellen Terry, a great actress long before you were born. She said that that was what star quality was -- that little something extra. Well, you've got it." - James Mason as Norman Maine.
"Do you know the only thing I can think of right now? The only thought that comes into my mind is the way I wash my hair. You see, when anything happens to me, good or bad, I make straight for the shampoo bottle." - Judy Garland as Esther Blodgett.
"I can remember my first job singing with the band. And then one-night stands clear across country by bus. Putting on nail polish in the ladies rooms of gas stations. Waiting on tables. Wow! That was a low point. I'll never forget it. And I'll never never do that again, no matter what. But I had to sing. I somehow feel most alive when I'm singing." - Judy Garland as Esther Blodgett.
"Listen, Esther, a career is a curious thing. Talent isn't always enough. You need a sense of timing -- an eye for seeing the turning point -- or recognizing the big chance when it comes and grabbing it. A career can rest on a trifle. Like -- like us sitting here tonight. Or it can turn on somebody saying to you, 'You're better than that. You're better than you know.' Don't settle for the little dream. Go on to the big one...Scared? Scared to take the plunge?" - James Mason as Norman Maine.
"He gave me a look at myself I've never had before. He saw something in me nobody else ever did. He made me see it too. He made me believe it." - Judy Garland as Esther Blodgett.
"If you'll be kind enough to glance between my shoulder blades, Mr. and Mrs. Gubbins, you'll find there a knife buried to the hilt. On its handle are your initials." - Jack Carson as Matt Libby.
"You know, Oliver, I sometimes think I was born with a genius -- an absolute genius -- for doing the wrong thing." - James Mason as Norman Maine.
" I know most of you sitting out there by your first names, don't I? I made a lot o' money for you gentlemen in my time through the years, didn't I? Well, I need a job now. Yeah, that's it...that's the speech. That's the -- I need a job. That's what I wanted to say. I -- I need a job. It's as simple as that. I -- I need a job, that's all. My talents, I may say, are not confined to dramatic parts. I can play comedy, too." - James Mason, as Norman Maine, interrupting his wife's acceptance speech at the Oscars®.
"...sometimes, I hate him. I hate his promises to stop, and then the watching and waiting to see it begin again. I hate to go home to him at nights and listen to his lies...I hate me cause I've failed too." - Judy Garland as Esther Blodgett.
"I shall have to introduce myself all over again to a lot of people. They won't know me when I'm not drinking." - James Mason as Norman Maine.
"Friends, my eye! Listen. I got you out of your jams because it was my job, not because I was your friend. I don't like you. I never did like you. And nothing made me happier than to see all those cute little pranks of yours catch up with you and land you on your celebrated face." - Jack Carson as Matt Libby.
"Sympathy? That's not what you're getting from me, baby. You don't deserve it! You know what a great monument to Norman Maine you are? He was a drunk, and he wasted his life, but he loved you. And he took enormous pride in the one thing in his life that wasn't a waste -- you. His love for you and your success, that was the one thing in his life that wasn't a waste, and he knew it. Maybe it was wrong to do what he did, but he didn't want to destroy that -- destroy the only thing he took pride in. And now you are doing the one thing he was terrified of. You're wiping it out! You're tossing aside the one thing he had left. You're tossing it right back into the ocean after him....You're the only thing that remains of him now, and if you just kick it away, it's like he never existed. Like there never was a Norman Maine at all." - Tommy Noonan as Danny McGuire.
"Hello everybody -- this is -- Mrs. Norman Maine." - Judy Garland as Mrs. Norman Maine.
Compiled by Frank Miller
Trivia - A Star is Born ('54) - Trivia & Fun Facts About A STAR IS BORN
The Big Idea - A Star is Born ('54)
The role of screen newcomer Esther Blodgett was nothing new to Garland. She had played her in a 1942 radio adaptation for Lux Radio Theatre. Before she left MGM, she had pitched a musical remake to Louis B. Mayer as a follow-up to Summer Stock (1950), but he rejected the idea, claiming that her fans would never accept her as the wife of an alcoholic. When Luft proposed the project to her in September 1951, she jumped at the idea.
The original film's producer, David O. Selznick, had put re-make rights up for auction in the '40s when his production company, Selznick International, went out of business. They were picked up by Edward Alperson. He joined Luft and Garland to create Transcona, their own production company, to market the project.
Transcona sold A Star Is Born to Warner Bros. as the first part of a nine-picture deal that included three films starring Garland and six others produced by Luft without her. The deal was announced in December 1952.
Transcona's contract included a list of acceptable directors and co-stars for the film. At the top of the former list was George Cukor, one of Hollywood's best directors of female stars. They never had to go any further down the list. Luft called Cukor to arrange a meeting at the Brown Derby. Before they could even sit down, the director told him that if he was looking for someone to direct Garland, he'd be happy to do it. Cukor was paid $6,250 a week for his work, but since he was under contract to MGM at the time, he only got $4,000 a week from his home studio.
Finding a leading man was much harder. Laurence Olivier was the first name on the list, but he wasn't interested. Richard Burton was next, but he was already committed to make The Robe at 20th Century-Fox. Tyrone Power was too expensive. Stewart Granger read for the role, but after two rehearsals decided that he didn't like Cukor's approach to film acting. Cukor suggested Humphrey Bogart, who was a huge fan of the first film, and Frank Sinatra, who desperately wanted the role. Studio head Jack Warner felt Bogart was too old and Sinatra, who had not yet made his own career comeback in From Here to Eternity (1953), was considered too difficult. Errol Flynn also campaigned for the role, but Warner blackballed him from negative past experiences.
One name on the list that interested everybody was Cary Grant. The thought of Hollywood's most debonair actor sinking into alcoholic despair on screen was irresistible. Accounts differ as to why he turned down the role. Luft, who courted him avidly for the part, says that Warner refused to give Grant a percentage of the gross. Cukor, however, suggests more personal reasons. Grant had misgivings from the start, but finally Cukor got him to consent to a private reading, with the director reading all the other roles. Grant was brilliant, and Cukor enthused, "Can there be any doubt? This is the part you were born to play!" "Of course," Grant replied. "That is why I won't." Apparently, the role struck too close to home and his refusal to do it triggered a rift between the longtime friends that would last for years.
When Grant turned down the role, Luft and Garland turned to the actor they'd always considered their fallback, James Mason. The British star was already a respected actor with acclaimed performances in such films as Odd Man Out (1947). He'd also revealed a brooding romantic side in art-house hits like The Wicked Lady (1945) and The Seventh Veil (1946). In addition, he and Garland had become friends when he'd first moved to Hollywood to star in Madame Bovary (1949), directed by her ex-husband Vincente Minnelli. He was thrilled at the chance to work with her.
To complete the production team, Luft signed Moss Hart, an acclaimed playwright and Oscar®-winning screenwriter, to adapt the script; Harold Arlen, who had written "Over the Rainbow," to write the music; and Ira Gershwin to do the lyrics.
In tailoring the screenplay for Garland's talents, Hart transformed Esther Blodgett from a North Dakota farm girl who becomes a star in costume dramas to a seasoned singer who leaves her current job with a band to become a Hollywood musical star. They also combined aspects from two characters from the original - Esther's grandmother and an assistant director - to create the role of Danny, the band leader who stands by Esther after Norman's death.
The Production Code Administration, Hollywood's self-censorship organization, was concerned that the film not romanticize Norman's suicide. In particular, when Esther's friend, Danny, tries to talk her out of her depression after Norman's death, they demanded that Hart cut the line "It took guts to do what he did when he found out he couldn't lick it. But he did it." Instead, Danny says, "Maybe he was wrong to do what he did."
Since this would be his first color film, Cukor enlisted noted fashion photographer George Hoyningen-Huene as a special visual and color consultant. During production meetings, Cukor was impressed with one of set designer Lemuel Ayres' staff, Gene Allen, and elevated him to a position as production designer. He would continue to collaborate with Huene and Allen through the rest of his career.
by Frank Miller
The Big Idea - A Star is Born ('54)
Behind the Camera - A Star is Born ('54)
The first major delays were technical. Cukor had started making the film in WarnerScope, a wide-screen process Warner Bros. had designed to compete with CinemaScope. But even studio management knew the process wasn't perfected. Albert Warner, who supervised the studio's technical side, was negotiating for the use of CinemaScope as the film started shooting. After two weeks of filming, he asked that they test the process, so "The Man That Got Away" number was shot in two versions, one in WarnerScope and one in CinemaScope. It was obvious the latter version was superior, so they had to start the film over, at a cost of $300,000. They also had to redo the number to make better use of the new screen size. As a result, the film fell behind schedule a total of 18 days.
At first the limitations of working in CinemaScope presented an obstacle to Cukor. There was a whole set of rules about what would and would not work in the new system. The so-called experts advised against certain camera moves, certain colors, tight close-ups and too much quick cutting. Finally he and his two consultants on the film, production designer Gene Allen and color consultant George Hoyningen-Huene, decided to ignore the rules and make up new ones as they went along. As a result, A Star Is Born was one of the first films to make truly creative use of the CinemaScope process.
Garland's musical mentor, Roger Edens, came over from MGM to supervise the arrangements of her numbers.
Garland was on her best behavior during the early days of shooting, but she slowly lost control. She first called in sick on November 9, which kept her off the film for four days. She got sick again shooting outdoor locations and missed three more days. She was sick again for two days in December. Then they had to postpone a scene because she didn't like her costume. Other days, she had to leave early because she was too tired or sick to go on. By February, they were 41 days behind schedule. In late March, she took two weeks off to get herself off all prescription medications. Ultimately, the production would drag on for nine months.
Making matters worse was the fact that Garland wasn't always home resting when she was sick. She'd take a day off, then Cukor would read in Louella Parsons' column that she had spent the night singing at a nightclub. She'd leave early and go to the races. None of this was released to the press. Instead, the Warners PR department attributed the delays to Garland's relentless perfectionism.
Cukor was an expert on pushing actresses to an emotional brink and then capturing it on film. For Garland's breakdown scene in Esther's dressing room, he drove her so hard that she threw up before the first take. Then he made her do the scene over and over until he had it just right. But he was also an expert in easing tension on the set through humor. After the final take, Garland was sobbing uncontrollably. He came up to her quietly, put his hand on her shoulder and said, "Judy, Marjorie Main couldn't have done that any better!"
In March, studio executives viewed a rough-cut of everything that had been completed up to that point. Cukor wasn't happy with the footage, but everyone else was delighted.
One addition Luft and Warners felt necessary was a number to demonstrate Esther's triumph in her first big film. Rather than take a chance on a new number that might not go over, Luft convinced Warner to authorize a medley of standards. The sequence would become the "Born in the Trunk" number, including performances of "I'll Get By," "You Took Advantage of Me," "Black Bottom," "The Peanut Vendor Song," "Melancholy Baby" and "Swanee." The number would add 18 minutes to the already long film and cost an additional $250,000. Cukor, who objected to the sequence, had already planned his annual vacation to Europe, so Warners took him off salary and the film's choreographer, Richard Barstow, directed it instead. Allen and Huene personally oversaw the shoot in order to protect Cukor's vision.
For the last two weeks of production, during which the "Born in a Trunk" number was completed, Jack Warner approved a night-time shooting schedule to better accommodate Garland's "body clock." This added still more to the budget, as the unions required extra payments for evening work.
Shooting finally ended on July 28, 1954, with retakes of the "Peanut Vendor" song from the "Born in a Trunk" sequence. The first preview was only five days away. The film's final budget was $5,019,770, making it Warner Bros.' most expensive film and the second costliest in Hollywood history, just behind David O. Selznick's Duel in the Sun (1946), which had cost just $205,000 more.
The film's completion was particularly joyous for Garland and Luft, who had just learned that she was pregnant for the third time.
Shortly before the premiere, Cukor cut the film down to 181 minutes. Among the footage removed was a segment from the "Born in the Trunk" number (Garland's duet with her father to "When My Sugar Walks Down the Street" - a number she had performed at the start of her career with the Gumm Sisters); Norman's return to the Shrine Auditorium to try to learn Esther's name; Norman and Esther planning the beach house; and a montage of scenes from Norman Maine's leading roles. The musical number is included in the most recent DVDs of the film but the other footage has never been recovered.
A Star Is Born premiered at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood on September 29. The New York premiere on October 11 was so big it had to be held at two theatres, the Victoria and the Capitol.
In October 1954, after the film had opened and been reviewed, Harry Warner, head of the studio's business side in New York, decided that the picture was too long. He ordered another half-hour of cuts so that exhibitors could get in one more showing per day. By this time, Cukor was in India filming Bhowani Junction, so he was unable to influence the re-editing of the film. The cuts included an entire sequence in which Norman and Esther lose touch with each other while Norman is on location. A comic scene of her getting sick on the way to her first preview was also deleted, along with two complete numbers, "Here's What I'm Here For," the song Esther is recording when Norman proposes to her, and "Lose That Long Face," the number she does before and after she breaks down in her dressing room. The cuts represented most of the scenes that developed Norman and Esther's relationship. To make matters worse, the studio melted the negative from the cut scenes to retrieve the film's silver content. Word of the cuts hit the press and generated such a strong backlash against the film that attendance dropped precipitously. As a result, despite the film's promising opening, it ended up losing money.
With the film's box-office failure, Garland and Luft were broke. Both Jack and Harry Warner had advanced Luft money against his share of the profits. With they failed to see their money returned from ticket sales, they both ended up suing Luft to get their money back. And the Lufts' contract with Warners for future pictures was cancelled.
In 1974, film historian Ronald Haver was doing a Cukor retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. For the showing of A Star Is Born, he put together a brochure featuring stills from the cut scenes and descriptions of what was missing. This triggered interest at Warner Bros., where an apprentice film editor discovered the complete three-hour soundtrack in the sound department's storage vaults. Haver wanted to create a restored version using the soundtrack with stills filling in for the missing scenes, but was unable to raise the budget through the LA County Museum.
In 1981, Haver enlisted the help of writer Fay Kanin, president of the Motion Picture Academy® and a member of the National Committee for Film Preservation. She pitched the restoration project to Warner Bros. chairman Robert Daly, who gave Haver the go-ahead. Haver went through film storage vaults on both coasts and dug up leads about private, illegally obtained footage held by private collectors. He even had to call the police to track down one collector who had a 35mm negative of "Lose That Long Face. Eventually he assembled about 20 minutes of the missing half-hour, including both cut musical numbers and the proposal scene. Along the way, he also found a negative and print of the 1932 version of The Animal Kingdom, a film long thought lost; a pristine 35mm print of the 1934 Of Human Bondage and the original negatives for the 1937 A Star Is Born, along with costume and photographic tests for the 1954 version. Other treats he found included newsreel footage and kinescopes of the film's premieres in Hollywood and New York and the first CinemaScope version of "The Man That Got Away."
Ultimately, Haver put together a 176 minute restored print, featuring the newly discovered footage, restored footage from the shorter version and stills to fill in for the sequences nobody could find.
Haver showed the restored version to Daly on January 24, 1983. Daly was so impressed that he authorized a theatrical reissue through Warner Classics. Haver had invited Cukor to this screening, but the director died the day before.
The restored A Star Is Born received its world premiere at the Radio City Musical in New York on July 7, 1983. As soon as the lost musical numbers appeared, the audience started applauding. At the end, the audience gave the film a standing ovation. Both of Garland's daughters, Liza Minnelli and Lorna Luft, were in the audience. Afterwards, they had to be taken to a dressing room, where it took them 20 minutes to stop crying.
by Frank Miller
Behind the Camera - A Star is Born ('54)
A Star is Born (1954) - A Star is Born (1954)
The story of a singer whose star rises at the same time her alcoholic husband (James Mason) sees his own movie career disintegrate, A Star Is Born gave Garland not only her most intense dramatic role but a brilliant Harold Arlen/Ira Gershwin score that provided her with a signature tune - "The Man That Got Away." Other songs include "Gotta Have Me Go with You," "It's a New World," "Somewhere There's a Someone" and "Born in a Trunk." The latter song was built into an elaborate production number for Garland that was filmed without Cukor's approval after he had finished his work on A Star Is Born.
Garland's performance was met with superb notices, including Time magazine's rave as "just about the greatest one-woman show in movie history." The movie won seven Academy Award nominations for Best Actress (Garland), Actor (Mason), Art Direction, Set Decoration, Costume Design, Musical Score and Song ("The Man That Got Away"). It was widely anticipated that Garland would win the award itself, and on the night of the ceremonies, television cameras were set up in her room at the hospital where she had given birth to a son, Joe Luft. In later years Garland loved telling a bitterly funny anecdote about how unceremoniously she was treated by the television crew when it was announced that the winner was instead Grace Kelly for The Country Girl (1954). At the time, Garland friend Groucho Marx decried her Oscar loss as "the biggest robbery since Brink's." A Star Is Born did not win in any category.
After the initial roadshow engagement, Warner Bros. cut some 45 minutes from the movie, much of which was replaced in a 1983 restoration by Ronald Haver. A Star Is Born was remade most recently in 1976 with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. Predating the Garland version is a 1937 version starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. The inspiration for all versions is most likely a movie called What Price Hollywood? (1932), which was directed by Cukor and has a strikingly similar story line.
Producer: Sidney Luft, Vern Alves (associate)
Director: George Cukor
Screenplay: Moss Hart, from original screenplay by Dorothy Parker and Alan Campbell, story by Robert Carson and William A. Wellman
Production Design: Gene Allen
Cinematography: Sam Leavitt
Original Music: Harold Arlen, Ray Heindorf (uncredited)
Lyricist: Ira Gershwin
Musical Direction: Ray Heindorf
Editing: Folmar Blangsted, Craig Holt (restored version)
Costume Design: Jean Louis, Mary Ann Nyberg, Irene Sharaff
Principal Cast: Judy Garland (Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester), James Mason (Norman Maine), Jack Carson (Matt Libby), Charles Bickford (Oliver Niles), Tommy Noonan (Danny McGuire), Lucy Marlow (Lola Lavery).
by Roger Fristoe
A Star is Born (1954) - A Star is Born (1954)
Critics' Corner - A Star is Born ('54)
Judy Garland received Best Actress awards from Look magazine, Film Daily and Box Office Publications. She and James Mason also received the Golden Globes for Best Actor and Actress in a Comedy/Musical.
A Star Is Born received six Oscar® nominations: Best Actress (Garland), Best Actor (Mason), Best Art Direction, Best Song ("The Man That Got Away"), Best Scoring of a Musical Picture and Best Costumes. It might have scored more had Warner Bros. not decided, based on its declining box office figures, to not place any trade ads promoting the film.
By Oscar® night, Garland was eight months pregnant, which made her performance of the number "The Man That Got Away" impossible, if not in poor taste. She had ordered a designer maternity gown, but went into labor early and delivered her son, Joey, by caesarian section the day before the awards. To capture her anticipated victory in person, NBC had a special platform constructed outside the window of her hospital room and sent a crew to wait for the announcement of Best Actress.
When Grace Kelly was announced as the Oscar®-winner for The Country Girl the crew, which had been joking with Garland before the ceremonies, silently packed up and went home.
A Star Is Born did not win a single Oscar®. James Mason lost the Best Actor Academy Award to Marlon Brando for On the Waterfront, while the Best Song award went to the title number from Three Coins in the Fountain. Industry insiders have suggested that the major problem was Warners' failure to get behind the film. By contrast, Kelly had both Paramount Studios, which had released The Country Girl, and her home studio, MGM, behind her in the race. Others have suggested that word of Garland's behavior during filming also helped cost her the award.
Garland put on a good front for the press, reminding them that she had won a special Oscar® for The Wizard of Oz (1939) years earlier and that her real award was her infant son, but she really was heartbroken and thought her Oscar® loss proved she was hated in Hollywood. After the awards, Groucho Marx sent her a telegram that captured the feelings of many fans over the years: "Dear Judy, this is the biggest robbery since Brink's."
A Star Is Born was voted a place on the National Film Registry in 2000.
by Frank Miller
The Critics' Corner on A STAR IS BORN
A Star Is Born had a promising theatrical opening, but attendance dropped seriously once the press reported that Harry Warner ordered 30 minutes cut from the film, damaging its structure. As a result, it lost money at the box office, taking in only $5.9 from U.S. and international markets during its initial release. It would take ancillary markets and the re-issue of the 1983 restoration to push it into the profit column.
"The year's most worrisome movie has turned out to be one of its best. In it, one time teenage star Judy Garland, now 32 and out of movies for four years, not only makes a film comeback almost without precedent, but puts herself right in line for an Oscar®....A brilliantly staged, scored and photographed film...principal credit for the success of A Star Is Born goes to [the] imaginative, tireless, talented Judy." - Life magazine.
"A remarkable range of entertainment is developed upon the screen. George Cukor gets performances from Miss Garland and Mr. Mason that make the heart flutter and bleed....It is something to see, this A Star Is Born." - Bosley Crowther, The New York Times
"Judy Garland gives what is just about the greatest one-woman show in modern movie history. She has never sung better. Her big, dark voice sobs, sighs, sulks, and socks them out like a cross between Tara's Harp and the late Bessie Smith." - Time magazine.
"A star is shorn...every cut leaves a gaping hole. Not only the emotional pattern but the very sense of the thing is lost." - Bosley Crowther, commenting on the film's re-editing in The New York Times
Critics' Corner - A Star is Born ('54)
Because the role of Norman Maine is that of a has-been actor, it was rejected by Humphrey Bogart, 'Cooper, Gary' , Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and Cary Grant (who at first accepted it) before being finally accepted by 'Mason, James' .
The sequence in which Esther receives a studio makeover was inspired by Judy Garland's similar experience early in the filming of Wizard of Oz, The (1939).
In the scene after the movie premiere, Matt Liddy is at a party where he passes a man and says, "Hey, Ray! Great score, the best!" The man is Ray Heindorf, musical director for this film.
Opening credits list nine performers without their character names; the ending credits list the character names of the top five leads. After screenwriter Moss Hart's credit appears in the opening credits, the remaining writers' credits read: "Based on the Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell, Robert Carson screen play" and "From a story by William A. Wellman and Robert Carson." Irene Sharaff's onscreen credit reads: "Art director and costumes for 'Born in a Trunk' by Irene Sharaff." Although only Leonard Gershe is credited onscreen for the song "Born in a Trunk," an October 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that longtime Garland friend and collaborator Roger Edens wrote the lyrics, but could not take credit because of an agreement with M-G-M.
The following written acknowledgment appears during the opening credits: "Academy Award statuettes were used in this picture by permission of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences." A September 1954 Los Angeles Times news item reported that fifty Oscar replicas were made of gold-painted plaster, which, according to the agreement between Warner Bros. and the Academy, were destroyed immediately after filming the scene and were not allowed to be stored in the prop shop.
A Star Is Born marked Garland's first completed film since the 1950 Summer Stock, and her first since her dismissal from M-G-M, the studio to which she had been under contract for many years. In the interim, she reportedly suffered much unhappiness, made several suicide attempts, divorced and remarried. Her third husband, Sidney Luft, who took over as her manager, organized her now legendary concert performances at the London Palladium and New York Palace and arranged for her to make a "comeback." According to a September 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item, Sid Luft Productions announced plans to produce three films, one of which would be a remake of the 1937 Selznick film, A Star Is Born. According to a modern source, Luft had earlier negotiated with Edward L. Alperson, who owned the negative of the 1937 film and its remake rights, and with him formed Transcona Enterprises, which was named for a Canadian town in which Luft once lived. Although ^A Star Is Born was planned, according to contemporary sources, to be Transcona's first production, the 1954 Bounty Hunter marked the company's first release. An unsourced news clipping dated September 1952 found in the file for the film at the AMPAS Library reported that filming for A Star Is Born would begin after the birth of the Lufts' baby in January, but production did not begin until the following fall.
In August 1953, Daily Variety reported that James Mason was cast after "lengthy speculation" over who would play the part of "Norman Maine." According to a September 1953 Daily Variety, William Powell turned down the part of "Oliver Niles." Modern sources say that the following actors were considered for the leading role: Richard Burton, Tyrone Power, James Stewart, Gregory Peck, Glenn Ford, Cary Grant and Laurence Olivier.
Trouble with the production began when, according to a September 1953 Daily Variety news item, Garland's longtime musical arranger, Hugh "Skip" Martin, walked out of the project after an argument with her during the recording of "Lose That Long Face." Art director Lemuel Ayers, who appears on an early Hollywood Reporter production chart, was replaced by Malcolm Bert, who, according to a modern source, became ill. Modern sources state that the start of shooting was postponed due to Garland, who did not show up on the first day, and that her friend Harry Rubin was hired by Jack L. Warner to ensure that she got to the studio on time each morning. According to several contemporary
news items and articles, the production was burdened by Garland's anxiety attacks and drinking problems.
An October 1953 Daily Variety news item reported that the producers planned to shoot the film in the then popular 3-D format, but by the start of filming, the crew was shooting in WarnerScope. Eight days into shooting, according to various October 1953 Daily Variety, Variety and Los Angeles Herald Express news items, the studio decided that "the story is too intimate for WarnerScope" and arranged with Twentieth Century-Fox to use their new process, CinemaScope. Production halted while Twentieth Century's Milton Krasner conducted test shots of the production number "The Man That Got Away." A modern source states that footage already shot was then scrapped at a cost of $300,000. The change in format resulted in Sam Leavitt replacing Winton Hoch as director of photography. Hoch had earlier replaced Harry Stradling, when delays caused a scheduling conflict with another of Stradling's assignments, Helen of Troy.
According to modern sources, after "The Man That Got Away" number was reshot, it was decided that Garland's costume, designed by M-G-M's Mary Ann Nyberg, did not hide the actress's figure flaws when seen in the new format. Designer Jean Louis was brought in from Columbia to redesign some of the costumes and take over. Both designers were given credit onscreen. Another scene that was reshot was part of a fight sequence involving Mason, which had not been completed in WarnerScope, according to a Daily Variety news item, because of delays brought on by a brief illness suffered by the actor. A modern source reports that, by Thanksgiving, the film was nineteen days behind schedule and its budget raised to $4 million.
A September 1953 Daily Variety news item reported that New Yorker cartoonist Saul Steinberg was hired to design the sets for the "Lose That Long Face" number. However, that sequence was one of several cut from the film after the release and he was not credited onscreen. According to a February 15, 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item, filming was completed on 13 Feb, but two songs were going into rehearsal that week. After principal photography was completed, Garland shot a production number that was tentatively titled "Dancing Partners," according to an April 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item. According to a modern source, director George Cukor was scheduled to direct the film Bhowani Junction in India, so dance director Jack Donahue, and then choreographer Richard Barstow, directed the number, "Lose That Long Face." Several dramatic scenes were also reshot around this time. According to a modern source, the last sequence to be shot was the "Born in a Trunk" medley, and shooting was finally completed at the end of July 1954.
Although their appearance in the film has not been confirmed, Hollywood Reporter news items add the following performers to the cast: Don McCay, Monette Moore, Wally Ruth, Lauren Chapin, Del Armstrong, Frank Wilcox, Tex Brodus, James Gonzales, Frank Gerstle, Caryl Lincoln, Tom Cound, Onslow Stevens, Dorothy Marinson and the NBC music director Henry Russell as a studio conductor.
According to Hollywood Reporter news items, portions of the film were shot in the following locations: the Shrine Auditorium, Westside Drive-In and exterior of the Central Police Station in Los Angeles, several stores, Holmby Hills, Malibu, and streets and homes in Beverly Hills, CA. A Hollywood Reporter news item reported that the funeral sequence was shot at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Santa Monica, CA.
Lavish premieres in Los Angeles and New York were planned for the film, which was advertised as costing $6 million and taking ten months to make. According to a modern source, Warner held an after-performance party at the Cocoanut Grove, a nightclub that is depicted in the film. A September 1954 Hollywood Citizen-News article reported that the success of the upcoming Los Angeles premiere would make or break Garland's future career. Although reviews were generally favorable, Jack Moffit of Hollywood Reporter complained that the 182-minute long film lacked an intermission. Despite recent successes of other lengthy films, such as Warner's The High and the Mighty and the reissue of Gone With the Wind (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40), the length was a source of controversy, as the studio's head of distribution and some exhibitors feared lost box office revenue would result from being able to show the film no more than three times a day.
After the premiere, the film was cut by thirty minutes, removing some of the development of the relationship between Norman and Esther in the first reel and musical numbers "Lose That Long Face" and "Here's What I'm Here For." According to modern sources, both Cukor, who was not involved in the re-editing, and Garland were unhappy with the choice of cuts. A December 1954 Variety news item reported that the board of directors of the Independent Theatre Owners of Ohio formally asked that exhibitors be allowed to choose which format length to show. However, according to a modern source, most theater owners ran the shorter version to allow more daily showings, so that few contemporary audience members had the opportunity to see the complete version.
The film garnered many nominations for Academy Awards, but no wins, a fact many film historians attribute to the release of the shorter, less powerful version. Mason and Garland were nominated for Best Actor and Actress, respectively, but lost to Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront and Grace Kelly in The Country Girl. Garland, who had given birth to a son days before the ceremony, was unable to attend the event, but NBC got permission to install her bedroom with a camera, in order to broadcast her acceptance speech if she won. A modern source states that, when she lost, thousands of people sent her consolatory telegrams. According to the modern source, a telegram from Groucho Marx read: "Dear Judy: This is the biggest robbery since Brinks." Marx was referring to one of the biggest bank robberies in U.S. history that had occurred four years earlier, in which a group of armed robbers stole almost three million dollars in cash, checks, money orders and other securities from the Brinks Building in Boston, MA.
Other Oscar nominations included the art direction and set decoration of Malcolm Bert, Gene Allen, Irene Sharaff and George James Hopkins for Achievement in Art Direction; Harold Arlen's song, "The Man That Got Away"; and costume designers Jean Louis, Mary Ann Nyberg and Irene Sharaff. Although Ray Heindorf was nominated for the Best Scoring of a Musical Picture, he lost to Adolph Deutsch and Saul Chapin of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
March 1955 Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety news items reported that the Selznick Releasing Organization filed suit against Warner to restrain the 1955 version of A Star Is Born from being released outside the United States, United Kingdom and Czechoslovakia, where Selznick still retained rights to exhibit the 1937 version. The outcome of this dispute has not been determined.
Despite the success of A Star Is Born, Garland's career continued to decline. Her last years were marred by lawsuits, nervous breakdowns, divorces and custody battles. In the early 1960s, she gave a successful Carnegie Hall concert performance, and appeared in a handful of films, among them, two United Artist films, Judgment at Nuremberg and A Child Is Waiting (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70). Although she was considered for a role in Valley of the Dolls (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70), the part was given to Susan Hayward. Garland hosted a television variety show, The Judy Garland Show, which aired on the CBS network during the 1963-64 season, but it was cancelled early in the season. Her live concert performances were so troubled by her undependability and the decline of her voice that she was jeered at by a London audience. Although she planned future performances, on June 22, 1969, she was found in the bathroom by her fifth husband dead from an overdose of sleeping pills. After her death, her stardom grew to cult status.
Over the years, the thirty minutes of excised footage from the 1955 A Star Is Born was mourned by Garland's fans, who felt that its absence diminished her performance. After a June 1969 Daily Variety news item reported that the Granada Theatre in Los Angeles was showing a reissue of the uncut, 182 minute version of A Star Is Born, a later June 1969 Daily Variety news item disputed it, having discovered that the presentation was only 154 minutes long.
According to an April 1983 New York Times article, interest was resumed in the film when clips were shown at a 1981 tribute to Ira Gershwin. Several 1983 articles reported the following: With the support of Academy president Fay Kanin, Ron Haver, who was then head of the film department at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, sought and received permission to spend his two-week vacation searching Warner vaults for the missing footage. The museum extended Haver a six-month leave of absence to continue his search and Warner chairman Richard Daly committed $30,000 to the project. Eventually, Haver found footage of Norman proposing to Esther. Later, the two missing songs and other dramatic footage were recovered. With the help of Gene Allen, the rediscovered footage was pieced together with publicity stills and added to an original stereo soundtrack, which the studio had kept intact. Members of the restoration project included Liz Bechtold Blyth, Eric Durst, Craig Holst and D. J. Ziegler. The restored film was premiered in the summer of 1983. Cukor died the night before a special screening of the restored footage that was held at AMPAS' Samuel Goldwyn Theater on 24 January 1983.
The 1937 Selznick production of A Star Is Born was directed by William A. Wellman and starred Fredric March and Janet Gaynor (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40). In 1976, Jon Peters produced a remake of A Star Is Born for Warner, which was directed by Frank Pierson and starred Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. A July 2002 People magazine article reported that Will Smith had negotiated with Sony Pictures to star in a reversed-role version of the story. At the time of the announcement, Smith stated that he hoped to cast Jennifer Lopez in the new production, but, as of spring 2005, she was no longer attached to the project, which Joel Schumacher was signed to direct.
Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1954 National Board of Review.
Released in United States Fall October 1954
Released in United States March 1977
Released in United States May 1994
Released in United States June 1994
Released in United States 1998
Shown at New York Lesbian & Gay Film Festival May 12-22, 1994.
Shown at WideScreen Film Festival in Long Beach, California October 23-25 and October 30 - November 1, 1998.
This was a remake of the 1936 version starring Janet Gaynor, but also based on Cukor's own "What Price Hollywood?" (1932). It was also remade again in 1976, starring Barbra Streisand.
Director Cukor's finished version was edited and re-edited by the Warner Brothers into various shorter versions.
Released in USA on video.
Selected in 2000 for inclusion in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.
A restored version, the most complete around, was supervised by archivist Ronald Haver, edited by Craig Holt, and still photographed by Lize Bechtold Blythe and Eric Durst.
Released in United States Fall October 1954
Released in United States March 1977 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Double Vision-Two different classics made from the same story) March 9-27, 1977.)
Released in United States May 1994 (Shown at New York Lesbian & Gay Film Festival May 12-22, 1994.)
Released in United States June 1994 (Shown in New York City (Anthology Film Archives) as part of program "25 Years of Exposure" June 17-23, 1994.)
Released in United States 1998 (Shown at WideScreen Film Festival in Long Beach, California October 23-25 and October 30 - November 1, 1998.)