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Janet Gaynor, Judy Garlvà, Barbra Streisvà, và Lady Gaga have each played a rising star in a version of A Star Is Born.

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Janet Gaynor in the first A Star Is Born. United Artists But looking beyond specific plot beats, it’s always, at heart, a story about what it takes to lớn be a celebrity in America, as well as what addiction does to cthảm bại relationships. The faces, details, settings, & character motivation may all vary, but A Star Is Born keeps getting remade for a reason: It’s a story of romance và mortality, with a swooning arc that borders on epic. It feels so familiar, so archetypal, that it seems almost as if someone must also have carved it inkhổng lồ cave sầu walls in prehistoric France, or drawn it in cuneikhung on some Sumerian scroll.

But of course, it’s not an ancient story — it’s one that depends on the quality machinations of the American celebrity-making machine. No wonder it’s proven so attractive to the filmmakers & actors who keep retelling the story, retooling it for another generation.

There are actually five Hollywood versions of the story — the first one is just a little different in some key details, & doesn’t have sầu the same title. And while they each shift focus và change certain details, the allure remains the same, particularly to Academy Awards voters, who nominated the first four films in multiple categories & seem likely to bởi the same with the newest version.

So if you want to lớn understand what’s most interesting about the 2018 A Star Is Born — and why the story keeps being reinvented — it’s worth looking at each of its predecessors, which intersect in dramatic and even tragic ways with the lives of the people who made them.

What Price Hollywood? (1932): The one where they don’t get together

Director: George Cukor

Writer: Gene Fowler and Rowlvà Brown, adapted from a story by Adela Rogers St. Johns

Starring: Constance Bennett & Lowell Sherman

Oscars: One nomination for Best Story


The legend: Some film buffs điện thoại tư vấn 1932’s What Price Hollywood? the true first version of A Star Is Born, because the basic arc strongly resembles the later films. The stories are similar enough that when What Price Hollywood? director George Cukor was asked to direct the first A Star Is Born five sầu years later, he refused. The similarities were so pronounced that RKO even considered suing, though they ultimately decided not khổng lồ.

The theme: What Price Hollywood? is the story of a young waitress and aspiring actress named Mary (Constance Bennett) who encounters a drunk, famous movie director Max (Lowell Sherman) one night at work. He brings her khổng lồ a movie premiere and promises her a screen test, but doesn’t remember any of it the next morning.

She does finally get her chance &, after some failed attempts, becomes an Academy Award-winning success. At the same time, Max’s career tanks, & he begins khổng lồ avoid Mary khổng lồ keep from dragging her down with hlặng. In the end, Max finally takes a hard look at himself and decides his dissipated self is a disgrace to lớn his former glory days. He shoots himself in the chest, bringing shame và controversy to Mary in the process.

The variations: The film’s plot isn’t exactly the same as the classic plot of A Star Is Born, in which the ingenue & the aging star always over up together. Mary và Max never have a lãng mạn connection: She marries another man, who grows jealous of her time & her career, and becomes pregnant by hlặng — a fact she discovers just after their divorce is finalized. After Max’s death by suicide, Mary flees to lớn France, where she và her ex reconcile.

But the marked similarities between What Price Hollywood? and the subsequent A Star Is Born show something key: a story like this has always been in Hollywood’s DNA. How stars get made has captured imaginations since the beginning — and how they fade has always felt like a tragedy. Put the two together in the same film, and the sparks fly.

What Price Hollywood? is available on DVD and is currently streaming on Filmstruck.

A Star Is Born (1937): The one that isn’t a musical

Director: William A. Wellman

Writer: William A. Wellman, Robert Carson, Dorothy Parker, và Alan Campbell

Starring: Janet Gaynor and Fredric March

Oscars: Seven nominations; one win for Best Writing (Original Story)


The legend: The first A Star Is Born was directed by William A. Wellman, whose 1927 film Wings won the first Academy Award for Best Picture. One of his co-writers was critic & satirist Dorothy Parker, for whom A Star Is Born represented one of her two Academy Award nominations before her left-wing politics landed her on the Hollywood Blackmenu.

The movie stars Janet Gaynor as Esther Blodgett, a fresh-faced young woman who moves khổng lồ Hollywood with stars in her eyes, and Fredric March as Norman Maine, a stumbling drunk whose career as a screen star is already on the wane when he meets Esther at a các buổi party where she’s working as a caterer.

He promises khổng lồ get her a screen test &, eventually, she’s signed lớn a studio contract and renamed Vickie Lester by studio executives, who find her real name off-putting. Esther và Norman fall in love sầu & elope; he struggles with her rising fame & spoils her Academy Awards speech; eventually, he kills himself by walking into the sea.

This was a comebaông chồng moment for Gaynor, who was no rising star: She had been a popular actress & huge box-office draw in the 1920s và early 1930s, beginning in silent films và transitioning successfully lớn sound. She was the first actress lớn win an Academy Award, and she won for three films in the same year, 1929: 7th Heaven, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, and Street Angel. (She’s the only actress to lớn ever win for more than one role.)

But by the middle of the 1930s, amid shifts and mergers aước ao movie studquả táo, her career started khổng lồ flag — especially with younger stars like Loretta Young và Shirley Temple gaining prominence.

Then she landed the role of Esther Blodgett (incidentally, the same year she starred in a film with What Price Hollywood? star Constance Bennett). The film was a huge success and revitalized her career, earning her a second Academy Award nomination, though she lost to Luise Rainer.

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Is the price for stardom a broken heart? United Artists A Star Is Born was Gaynor’s only Technicolor film, and the first Technicolor film for March, who originated the role of the alcoholic falling star và earned his third Osoto nomination for the film. (He’d won one previously, in 1931, và would go on lớn win an additional Osoto & two Tonys in the 1940s & 1950s.)

And while both March & Gaynor were aước ao cinema’s most recognizable faces, Gaynor’s recent misfortunes meant that it was easy to lớn root for her as she portrayed a young woman on the rise.

The theme: As the first real iteration of A Star Is Born, this one’s plot exemplifies a lot of the things that would mark future versions of the story.

To modern eyes, A Star Is Born’s gender politics can feel a little creepy, particularly Esther’s declaration at the kết thúc of the film — repeated in each successive film, but in different configurations — that she will be known by her late husband’s name, “Mrs. Norman Maine.”

Since her (older) husband has both helped her reach success and acted in ways that intentionally or unintentionally will sabotage that success, her dependence on hyên ổn can feel frustrating at times. And though the gender politics change a little with each iteration, the gap in age and questions about men’s & women’s routes to lớn fame remain.

Yet there’s an authentithành phố lớn the relationship between the two characters, và the jealousy between them, that feels as if it could have been drawn from life. In fact, it was rumored that the marriage of screen legover Barbara Stanwyông xã & Frank Fay was the film’s real-life inspiration.

Another aspect of A Star Is Born that would be repeated in future versions is the centrality of the female character, and, perhaps most importantly, the way that the role was seen as a way for an actress to breathe new life into lớn her career. The Norman character is an important one in A Star Is Born, but there’s a reason that the Esther character has always been played by an icon, và that reason, most likely, is that Janet Gaynor played her first.

The variations: Gaynor và March’s version is the only non-musical version of A Star Is Born. Instead, it’s framed as a screenplay; the first and last frames of the film are images of a script page. And so the whole thing takes on a kind of mythical chất lượng, a story of Hollywood fame, written và produced by the Hollywood famous.

Norman and Esther struggle to maintain control of their own star images, eloping in order khổng lồ avoid the prying eyes of celebrity journalists. The film is particularly clear-eyed about how the bạn magazines of early Hollywood và the tightly controlled images the studios created for its contracted stars affect the real people off screen — something that feels a little startling, given that those same studtiện ích ios responsible for this movie. That adds a layer of meta-commentary khổng lồ the entire endeavor that is mostly absent from other versions.

The 1932 version of A Star Is Born is currently streaming on Filmstruck.

A Star Is Born (1954): The one that stars Judy Garland

Director: George Cukor

Writer: Moss Hart

Starring: Judy Garlvà and James Mason

Oscars: Six nominations; zero wins


The legend: In 1954, George Cukor — who had directed What Price Hollywood? almost a quarter century before but turned down the Gaynor/March A Star Is Born — was finally ready to take another crack at this story. The studio brought in Moss Hart, the wildly successful playwright và theatre director, lớn adapt the 1937 screenplay inlớn a movie-musical, with songs by Harold Arden and Ira Gershwin. They cast James Mason, the British actor who had made his transition to lớn Hollywood five years earlier, as Norman Maine.

And, most importantly, they cast Judy Garlvà as Esther.

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Garl& was, by most accounts, not entirely stable while shooting the film. It had been 15 years since her most famous role, as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. In the intervening years, her life had grown more tumultuous; she’d experienced breakdowns & addiction và several suicide attempts. In 1950, she negotiated a release from her contract at MGM. She hadn’t made a film since.

A Star Is Born was promoted as her comebaông xã film. Production was reportedly difficult, having lớn contend with Garland’s addictions, weight fluctuations, và illnesses. Executives at Warner Bros. also decided, after a significant portion of the film had been completed, to lớn reshoot so that it could be the first of the studio’s films in widescreen CinemaScope. Some sequences, including the lengthy “Born in a Trunk” musical sequence, were shot after Cukor had already departed the production for another project.

And after chạy thử screenings, it was cut drastically in length by executives without Cukor’s input, down to lớn 154 minutes. Cukor called it “very painful” khổng lồ watch. A number of the cut scenes and musical numbers were re-added in a nearly three-hour “reconstructed” version of the film, released in theaters & on home video. Some of the scenes had to be added using production stills & audio instead of moving footage. (This is the version you can watch today on Filmstruông xã.)

The theme: In this A Star Is Born, Esther is a singer whom Norman encounters one night as she sings in a club with her band after hours. (The tuy nhiên Garlvà sings, “The Man That Got Away,” was ranked No. 11 on AFI’s menu of 100 top songs in films, & is often re-recorded.)


The contours of the movie are much the same as the first one; Esther still becomes a Hollywood star — this time via a movie musical, Garland’s signature genre — và is signed to lớn a studio contract, và Norman’s mental health deteriorates as he watches her become more successful. He ruins her Academy Awards speech, and he kills himself, as in the previous version, by walking into lớn the sea. And after his death, at a tribute event, Esther introduces herself to lớn the crowd as “Mrs. Norman Maine.”

The variations: Yet the film feels different than the 1937 version, và is ahy vọng the best big-studio movie-musicals of the form’s mid-century heyday. Garl& owns the screen, her powerful voice unforgettable even though you visibly can see fluctuations in her physical health throughout the film.

Garland’s magnetism accounts for much of what distinguishes this Star is Born from the prior one — and makes Esther’s talents clear pretty much right from the start. When she’s called in khổng lồ substitute for the lead in a movie-musical who has to lớn withdraw, it’s no surprise that she nails it. It was hard for someone like Judy Garlvà to lớn not seem like a star.

Among the movie’s six Academy Award nominations was one for Garland, who was in a hospital room recovering from the birth of her son during the ceremony. NBC sent a camera crew to her hospital room, but she lost to lớn Grace Kelly for The Country Girl.

Though this version of A Star Is Born delivered the highly lauded comebaông chồng performance from a beloved star, Garland’s screen career never really recovered. She would persize on TV specials & as a musical entertainer, but illness plagued her. Garl& wouldn’t be in another film until 1961’s Judgement at Nuremberg, and she only made five films total after A Star Is Born. She died, in 1969, from a barbiturate overdose at age 47.

The 1954 version of A Star Is Born is currently streaming on Filmstruck.

A Star Is Born (1976): The one phối in the music industry

Director: Frank Pierson

Writers: John Gregory Dunne, Joan Didion, & Frank Pierson

Starring: Barbra Streisvà and Kris Kristofferson

Oscars: Four nominations; one win for Best Original Song (“Evergreen”)


The legend: Garland’s performance in the 1954 version was truly iconic, but about trăng tròn years later, another legover decided it was time for another version of the story — this time, a much different version. Barbra Streisvà executive-produced the film alongside her then-partner Jon Peters; she also wrote some of the songs and starred in it, playing Esther (who acquires a new surname, Hoffman, here). That makes it the first version in which one of its stars took an active sầu role in its production — something that would be echoed in the 2018 version.

Unlượt thích her predecessors in the role of Esther, Streisand was in no need of a comebachồng in 1976. She was at the top of her game, & A Star Is Born would be her 10th film. Married screenwriting duo John Gregory Dunne & Joan Didion, along with director Frank Pierson, wrote the new screenplay.

And by now, with the Star Is Born story firmly rooted in Hollywood’s iconography, the casting was extremely important as well. Streisand and Peters considered Neil Diamond & Marlon Branvày for the male lead. At one point, they wanted Elvis, but his manager’s demands proved too much. Eventually country musician Kris Kristofferson was cast in the Norman role, his character rechristened as John Norman Howard.

The theme: In this version of the movie, the young, aspiring talent — played by Streis& — is discovered by a drunk, aging star as she’s performing in a nightclub. He trails her back lớn her apartment, sleeps outside in his oto, và then meets her for breakfast, where he falls in love sầu with her và gives her a big break. She falls for hyên, too, & they marry.

But while she becomes more successful, he becomes a jealous wrechồng in thrall khổng lồ his drug và alcohol addictions — even after they move lớn a remote desert trang chính. She inspires hyên to create some great work, & he loves her. But he eventually, in the kết thúc, drives his oto off the road in what we’re meant to lớn underst& is suicide. At his memorial service, she sings a tuy vậy he wrote for her that she found on a cassette tape after his death. And she introduces herself as “Esther Hoffman Howard.”

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Kristoffersen & Streis& in A Star Is Born. Warner Bros. The variations: This version of the story deviates significantly from its predecessors in one huge way: Instead of being mix within the star-making machinery of Hollywood, Dunne, Didion, và Pierson moved the tale to lớn the music industry. And so A Star Is Born became the tale of an aging rocker và a young crooner, and shifted its awards-show sequence from the Oscars lớn the Grammys.

It also became an obvious artifact of the 1970s. This version of A Star Is Born is more sexually explicit than previous ones — it was 1976, after all — and John Norman Howard’s decline feels steeper than those of his predecessors. Esther’s reclamation of her husband’s name feels more influenced by the feminist movement of the era: she adds his last name lớn her full maiden name, rather than calling herself “Mrs. John Norman Howard.” And just stylistically, it feels like a sản phẩm of its time — in contrast to the controlled and tightly produced nature of its Hollywood predecessor, it feels loose, with more kinetic camera movement.

The response to this version of the film was mixed; you can find people who hate it, and others who declare it’s the best of the bunch. It was generally disliked by critics, but it was a massive sầu hit, becoming the third highest grossing film of 1976 — probably owing to both Streisand’s and, to a lesser degree, Kristofferson’s fame, as well as to lớn high interest in seeing Streisvà in a role that most iconically belonged khổng lồ Judy Garl&.

Among mỏi the film’s Osoto nominations was one for the tuy vậy “Evergreen (Love sầu Theme from A Star Is Born),” which Streisvà composed & performed with lyrics from Paul Williams. When it won, Streis& became the first woman lớn win an Osoto for composing. And it was a massive hit, spending three weeks at No. 1 in the United States and becoming one of Streisand’s biggest hits.

And while opinions are mixed on this version of A Star Is Born compared lớn its predecessors, there’s no doubt that it’s a star turn for Streis& — though the fact that she hardly needed it may have hampered its chances overall. It also served as the primary inspiration for the newest version of the film.

The 1976 version of A Star Is Born is streaming on Amazon Prime & available for digital rental on Amazon, YouTube, iTunes, Google Play, and Vudu.

A Star Is Born (2018)

Director: Bradley Cooper

Writers: Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, và Will Fetters

Starring: Lady Gaga và Bradley Cooper

Oscars: To be determined


The legend: This remake of A Star Is Born is Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut, but there were lots of other ways this movie could have gone. At one point, Clint Eastwood was supposed lớn direct the film. Jennifer Lopez, Alicia Keys, Rihanmãng cầu, và Beyoncé were all floated as possible female stars, with a host of leading men attached as well — Will Smith, Leonarvì chưng DiCaprio, Tom Cruise, Christian Bale.

But finally, in 2016, Cooper was signed on not just as co-star but director, & Lady Gaga was added soon after. The movie started shooting in 2017 at Coachella. Scenes were later shot at Glastonbury as well, where the 1976 film’s star, Kris Kristofferson, gave sầu four minutes of his phối to Gaga for her performance. The film finally premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2018.

The theme: Bradley Cooper’s version of A Star Is Born draws most clearly from Streisand’s in a number of ways. As in that film, the 2018 version is mix in the music industry; it’s about a blues-rocker whose star is falling due to lớn his addictions và a woman with undeniable talent as a pop star; and there’s a scene phối at the Grammys.

Also as in Streisand’s version, this is a true passion project for Cooper, who went through extensive vocal and musical coaching. He’s kept his personal connection lớn the film’s material private, but with his fingers in the film’s directing, writing, songwriting, and performing, it’s clearly something about which he feels strongly.

Like both the 1954 and 1976 versions of the film, this A Star Is Born seems poised to lớn nab, at minimum, an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song, this time for the power ballad “Shallow,” which Cooper and Gaga perkhung at a pivotal moment in the film. But it seems to be a likely candidate for a few other nominations as well — including for Sam Elliott, who plays Jackson’s older brother and manager, and on whom Cooper modeled his own performance.

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Bradley Cooper và Lady Gaga in A Star Is Born. Warner Bros. The variations: But there are differences, too. Now, the male star is named Jackson Maine (Cooper), a nod to lớn the Norman Maines of earlier films, and the female star (Lady Gaga) has shed the name “Esther” entirely, for “Ally.”

It’s also the first version that seems to have sầu almost entirely kicked the male jealousy trope, or at least considered it unjustified. Jackson experiences a bit of envy that Ally is experiencing success, và in some cases it causes hyên lớn lash out. But Ally calls him on it, & they handle it lượt thích any couple would. It’s not his jealousy that ultimately does Jackson in; it’s his addictions — partly his reaction, it turns out, to a very troubled childhood — that ultimately are his biggest problem.

As such, this version of A Star Is Born is most interested not in the machinations of celebrity, but in the way relationships between successful, creative people can both spawn & hamper that creativity — & how addiction can play into that. That distinction feels natural and authentic in 2018, perhaps because stardom feels less mysterious in a world of Instagram influencers and YouTube stars than it did in the past. The bigger question has become whether & how people who attain fame can remain grounded.

Will this be the final A Star Is Born? It seems unlikely. As long as there is Hollywood, there will probably be more versions of the same old story. The shape they take & the details will morph with the times, but the core story — a love story, a melodrama, and a tragedy all wrapped into lớn one — seems lớn hold unending appeal.

The 2018 version of A Star Is Born opens in theaters on October 5.

Correction: An earlier version of this piece contained inaccuracies regarding the plot of What Price Hollywood? as it pertains to lớn Max & Mary’s relationship and her Academy Awards win. They have sầu been corrected.


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