A Star Is Born (1937 film)

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A Star Is Born
A Star Is Born 1937 poster.jpg
theatrical poster
Directed by William A. Wellman
Produced by David O. Selznick
Written by
Music by Max Steiner
Cinematography W. Howard Greene
Edited by
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • April 27, 1937 (1937-04-27) (US)
Running time
111 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,159,000[2]
Box office over $2 million[2]

A Star Is Born is a 1937 Technicolor romantic drama film produced by David O. Selznick and directed by William A. Wellman, with a script by Wellman, Robert Carson, Dorothy Parker and Alan Campbell. It stars Janet Gaynor as an aspiring Hollywood actress, and Fredric March as an aging movie star who helps launch her career. Other members of the cast include Adolphe Menjou, May Robson, Andy Devine, Lionel Stander and Carole Landis.


Janet Gaynor in A Star Is Born (1937)

North Dakota farmgirl Esther Victoria Blodgett (Janet Gaynor) yearns to become a Hollywood actress. Although her aunt and father discourage such thoughts, Esther's grandmother (May Robson) gives her her savings to follow her dream.

Esther goes to Hollywood and tries to land a job as an extra, but so many others have had the same idea that the casting agency has stopped accepting applications. Esther is told that her chances of becoming a star are one in 100,000. She befriends a new resident at her boarding house, assistant director Danny McGuire (Andy Devine), himself out of work. When Danny and Esther go to a concert to take their minds off their troubles, Esther has her first encounter with Norman Maine (Fredric March), an actor she admires greatly. Norman has been a major star for years, but his alcoholism has sent his career into a downward spiral.

Danny gets Esther a one-time waitressing job at a fancy Hollywood party. While serving hors d’œuvre, she catches Norman's eye. He gets his longtime producer and good friend, Oliver Niles (Adolphe Menjou), to give her a screen test. Impressed, Oliver gives her a new name ("Vicki Lester") and a contract. She practices her few lines for her first tiny role.

However, when the studio has trouble finding a female lead for Norman's current film, entitled The Enchanted Hour, Norman persuades Oliver to cast Esther. The film makes her an overnight success, even as viewers continue to lose interest in Norman.

Norman proposes to Vicki; she accepts when he promises to give up drinking. They elope without publicity, much to press agent Matt Libby's (Lionel Stander) disgust, and enjoy a trailer-camping honeymoon in the mountains. When they return, Vicki's popularity continues to skyrocket, while Norman realizes his own career is over, despite Oliver's attempts to help him. Norman stays sober for a while, but his frustration over his situation finally pushes him over the edge. He starts drinking again. When Vicki wins the industry's top award, he interrupts her acceptance speech by drunkenly demanding three awards for the worst acting of the year.

A stay at a sanatorium seems to cure Norman's increasingly disruptive alcoholism, but a chance encounter with Libby gives the press agent an opportunity to vent his long-concealed contempt and dislike for Norman. Norman resumes drinking. Esther decides to give up her career in order to devote herself to his rehabilitation. After Norman overhears her discussing her plan with Oliver, he drowns himself in the Pacific Ocean.

Shattered, Vicki decides to quit and go home. Soon afterward, her grandmother shows up and convinces her to resume acting. At the premiere of her next film at Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Vicki is asked to say a few words into the microphone to her many fans listening across the world; she announces, "Hello everybody. This is Mrs. Norman Maine."

Fredric March in A Star Is Born (1937)



A Star Is Born was filmed from October to December 1936 with an estimated budget of $1,173,639, and premiered in Los Angeles, California on April 27, 1937 at Grauman's Chinese Theatre.[1] In New York, the film premiered at Radio City Music Hall. The scene in the film where Menjou offers the fading star a supporting role was added at the suggestion of George Cukor, who directed the 1954 remake.

It is not known how much Dorothy Parker contributed to the finished script. When she first saw the film, Parker was proud of her contribution and boasted about both the script and the film, but in later life she believed that she had contributed nothing of significance.[3]

Early in their careers, Budd Schulberg (then a script reader for David O. Selznick) and Ring Lardner, Jr. (who was working in Selznick's publicity department) were assigned to write some additional dialogue for the film, a collaboration which produced Janet Gaynor's (and the film's) final words, "This is Mrs. Norman Maine." The line was used again in the 1954 Warner Bros. musical remake starring Judy Garland.[4]


Some film historians believe that the marriage of Barbara Stanwyck and Frank Fay was the film's real-life inspiration. John Bowers has also been identified as inspiration for the Norman Maine character and the dramatic suicide-by-drowning scene near the end of the film (Bowers drowned in November 1936). The film contains several inside jokes, including Gaynor's brief imitations of Greta Garbo, Katharine Hepburn, and Mae West; the "Crawford Smear", referring to Joan Crawford's lipstick; and the revelation that the glamorous Norman Maine's real last name is Hinkle. (Hinkle was the real last name of silent film star Agnes Ayres, and not far removed from Fredric March's real last name, Bickel.)

This film also has some similarity to the earlier film What Price Hollywood? (1932), released by RKO Radio Pictures. The 1932 film's original title was The Truth About Hollywood based on a story by Adela Rogers St. Johns. St. Johns loosely based her plot on the experiences of actress Colleen Moore and her husband, alcoholic producer John McCormick (1893–1961), and the life and death of director Tom Forman, who committed suicide following a nervous breakdown.[5]

Four years after What Price Hollywood? was released, Selznick approached George Cukor and asked him to direct A Star Is Born. Cukor felt the plot was too similar to What Price Hollywood? so he declined. RKO executives considered filing a plagiarism suit against Selznick International Pictures because of the similarities in the story, but eventually chose not to take legal action. Cukor later directed the 1954 musical remake starring Judy Garland.[6][7]

A common Hollywood myth about the film is that Lana Turner appeared as an extra in one of the scenes in the film. Turner often denied the myth over the years, mentioning that she was discovered several months after the picture had finished production.



By the end of 1939 the film had earned a profit of $181,000.[2]

Academy Awards[edit]



Adaptations to other media[edit]

At the time of the release of the film, a 15-minute transcription – a pre-recorded radio show issued on 16-inch disc – promoting the film's release was made. The narrated promotional radio show included sound clips from the film. The show was recorded and released through the World Broadcasting System, with disc matrix number H-1636-2.

The film was adapted as a radio play on the September 13, 1937 episode of Lux Radio Theater with Robert Montgomery and Janet Gaynor, the November 17, 1940 episode of The Screen Guild Theater starring Loretta Young and Burgess Meredith, the December 28, 1942 episode of Lux Radio Theater with Judy Garland and Walter Pidgeon, the June 29, 1946 episode of Academy Award Theater, starring Fredric March, the May 23, 1948 episode of the Ford Theatre and the June 16, 1950 episode of Screen Director's Playhouse starring Fredric March.


A Star Is Born has already been remade twice, in 1954 with Judy Garland and James Mason, and in 1976 with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. Warner Bros. has plans to finance another remake, with Clint Eastwood possibly directing the film, while singer-actress Beyoncé Knowles is "in negotiations" with the studio to play the female lead. On October 11, 2012, it was announced that Knowles had withdrawn from consideration.[9] In March 2015, it was announced that Bradley Cooper entered negotiations to direct and co-produce the remake.[10]

The entire film

Ownership and copyright status[edit]

Selznick International Pictures sold the film's copyright including film, story, screenplay, and score to Warner Brothers in 1954. Warner that year issued the first movie remake.[11] However in 1965, the film entered the public domain (in the USA) due to Warner's failure to renew its copyright registration in the 28th year after publication.[12][13] The original 35mm master elements remain with Warner Bros.

Home media[edit]

The film was released on Blu-ray in the U.S. by Kino Lorber Inc. on February 2012, featuring an authorized edition from the estate of David O. Selznick from the collection of George Eastman House.



  1. ^ a b Brown, Gene (1995). Movie Time: A Chronology of Hollywood and the Movie Industry from its Beginnings to the Present. New York: MacMillan. p. 135. ISBN 0-02-860429-6. 
  2. ^ a b c David Thomson, Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick, Abacus, 1993 p 245
  3. ^ Marion Meade, Dorothy Parker:What Fresh Hell is This?
  4. ^ Cdlib.org Ring Lardner, Jr. Interview
  5. ^ TV Guide review
  6. ^ McGilligan, Patrick, George Cukor: A Double Life (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991) ISBN 0-312-05419-X
  7. ^ Levy, Emanuel, George Cukor: Master of Elegance (New York: William Morrow & Company, 1994) ISBN 0-688-11246-3
  8. ^ "The 10th Academy Awards (1937) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2014-02-18. 
  9. ^ Svetkey, Benjamin (January 20, 2011). "Clint Eastwood in talks to direct Beyonce in 'A Star is Born' remake". Entertainment Weekly. 
  10. ^ Ford, Rebecca; Kits, Borys (March 24, 2015). "Bradley Cooper to Make Directorial Debut With 'A Star Is Born' Remake". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 24, 2015. 
  11. ^ "Classic Film Museum, Inc. vs Warner Bros. Inc.". Citations and Case Summaries. copyrightdata.com. Retrieved 24 May 2012. 
  12. ^ Fishman, Stephen (2010), The Public Domain: How to Find & Use Copyright-Free Writings, Music, Art & More (5th ed.), Nolo (retrieved via Google Books), ISBN 1-4133-1205-5, retrieved 2010-10-31 
  13. ^ Pierce, David (June 2007). "Forgotten Faces: Why Some of Our Cinema Heritage Is Part of the Public Domain". Film History: An International Journal 19 (2): 125–43. doi:10.2979/FIL.2007.19.2.125. ISSN 0892-2160. JSTOR 25165419. OCLC 15122313. 

External links[edit]

Streaming audio