A Star Is Born (1937 film)

A Star Is Born is a 1937 American Technicolor romantic drama film produced by David O. Selznick, directed by William A. Wellman from a script by Wellman, Robert Carson, Dorothy Parker, and Alan Campbell, and starring Janet Gaynor (in her only Technicolor film) as an aspiring Hollywood actress, and Fredric March (in his Technicolor debut) as a fading movie star who helps launch her career. The supporting cast features Adolphe Menjou, May Robson, Andy Devine, Lionel Stander, and Owen Moore.

A Star Is Born
Original theatrical poster
Directed byWilliam A. Wellman
Produced byDavid O. Selznick
Written by
Music byMax Steiner
CinematographyW. Howard Greene
Edited by
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
Running time
111 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1.2 million[2]
Box officeover $2 million[2]

The film has been remade three times: in 1954 (directed by George Cukor and starring Judy Garland and James Mason), in 1976 (directed by Frank Pierson and starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson), and in 2018 (starring Bradley Cooper, who also directed, and Lady Gaga).


North Dakota farm girl Esther Victoria Blodgett yearns to become a Hollywood actress. Although her aunt and father discourage such thoughts, Esther's grandmother gives Esther 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, himself out of work. When Danny and Esther go to a concert to celebrate Danny's employment, Esther has her first encounter with Norman Maine, 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’œuvres, she catches Norman's eye. He gets his longtime producer and good friend, Oliver Niles, 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.

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 Esther; she accepts when he promises to give up drinking. They elope without publicity, much to press agent Matt Libby's disgust, and enjoy a trailer-camping honeymoon in the mountains. When they return, Esther'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 Esther wins the industry's top award (the Academy Award for Best Actress), he interrupts her acceptance speech by drunkenly demanding three awards for the worst acting of the year and accidentally slapping her when he dramatically swings his arms back.

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. Norman goes on a four-day drinking binge and winds up arrested for drunk driving. In court, the judge sentences him to 90 days of incarceration, but Esther pleads with the judge to put Norman under her care. The judge, who is impressed with Esther's acting success, suspends Norman's sentence and puts Norman's custody into Esther's hands. Esther decides to give up her career to devote herself to his rehabilitation. After Norman overhears her discussing her plan with Oliver, he drowns himself in the Pacific Ocean.

Shattered, Esther decides to quit and go home. Showing up soon afterward is her grandmother, who has heard Esther is quitting. Her grandmother tells her of a letter Norman sent her when they got married. The letter stated how proud he was of Esther and how much he loved her. Because of her grandmother's words, and the reminder of Norman's deep love, Esther is convinced to stay in show business. At the premiere of her next film at Grauman's Chinese Theatre, when Esther 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."



A Star Is Born was filmed from October to December 1936 with an estimated budget of $1,173,639,[3] and premiered in Los Angeles, California, on April 20, 1937, at Grauman's Chinese Theatre.[4][5] The film's New York premiere took place two days later at Radio City Music Hall.[6]

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.[7] 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 and James Mason.[8] George Cukor, who directed the remake, suggested adding the scene in the 1937 film where Menjou offers the fading star a supporting role.

Adolphe Menjou (left)     and
Andy Devine (right) from the film's trailer


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 many similarities 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.[9]

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.[10][11]

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.


"A Star is Born", sung by Buddy Clark with the orchestra of Eddy Duchin. The lyrics were written by Dorothy Dick to the music of Max Steiner.


Contemporary reviews were very positive. Frank S. Nugent of The New York Times called the film "one of the year's best shows" as well as "good entertainment by any standards, including the artistic, and convincing proof that Hollywood need not travel to Ruritania for its plots; there is drama aplenty in its own backyard."[12] Variety raved: "A smash which unquestionably will rate among the half dozen best of the season ... While the story is somewhat reminiscent of other behind-the-scene yarns, the manner of its telling makes it convincing and distinguished."[13] Harrison's Reports called it "a powerful human interest drama" and "great entertainment."[14] Film Daily said it was "superbly done in all departments,"[15] and John Mosher of The New Yorker called it "a pleasant movie" with "many nice touches."[16]

Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports an approval rating of 100% based on 20 reviews, with an average rating of 7.69/10.[17]

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

Academy Awards

At the 10th Academy Awards, A Star is Born was nominated in seven categories, winning in one.[18] Wellman won the award for original story, the only Oscar he was to win during his career.[19] W. Howard Greene received an honorary Academy Award for the film's color photography; this award was recommended by a committee of leading cinematographers after viewing all the color pictures made during the year.[20]


Adaptations to other media

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,[21] 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 been remade three times, in 1954 with Judy Garland and James Mason, in 1976 with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, and in 2018 with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. All three movies have been nominated for at least four Academy Awards.[22] It was remade, albeit unofficially, in Hindi as Aashiqui 2 (2013),[23] which in turn was remade in Telugu as Nee Jathaga Nenundali (2014).[24]

Selznick International Pictures dissolved leaving the film's rights to financier John Hay Whitney. Whitney then sold the film to Film Classics, Inc. in 1943. With declining rerun revenue, Film Classics placed the film up for sale with producer Edward L. Alperson with the intent to remake the film. Instead Alperson sold the film's copyright including film, story, screenplay, and score to Warner Bros. in 1953.[25] Warner in 1954 issued the first remake.[26] In 1965, the film entered the public domain in the United States because Warner did not renew its copyright registration in the 28th year after publication.[27][28] The original 35mm master elements remain with Warner Bros. The rights to the film's story, screenplay, and score also remain with Warner Bros.; thus it still has exclusive rights to all three remakes as well as any future remakes.[26]

Home media

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

See also


  1. Hanson, Patricia King, ed. (1993). The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures Produced in the United States: Feature Films, 1931-1940. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. pp. 2368–2369. ISBN 0-520-07908-6.
  2. Thomson, David (1993). Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick. Abacus. p. 245. ISBN 978-0-349-10523-9.
  3. 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.
  4. "1937". GraumansChinese.org. Retrieved September 6, 2015.
  5. "'Courageous' Set For Two-A-Day on Coast". Variety. New York: Variety, Inc.: 21 April 7, 1937.
  6. "The Broadway Parade". Film Daily. New York: Wid's Films and Film Folk, Inc.: 2 April 19, 1937.
  7. Meade, Marion (1989). Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This?. Penguin Publishing Group. p. 259. ISBN 978-1-101-46219-5.
  8. McGilligan, Patrick (1997). "Ring Lardner, Jr.: American Skeptic". Backstory 3: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 60s. Berkeley: University of California Press. Retrieved September 4, 2015 via California Digital Library.
  9. "What Price Hollywood?". TV Guide. Retrieved September 4, 2015.
  10. McGilligan, Patrick (1991). George Cukor: A Double Life. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-05419-X.
  11. Levy, Emanuel (1994). George Cukor: Master of Elegance. New York: William Morrow & Company. ISBN 0-688-11246-3.
  12. Nugent, Frank S. (April 23, 1937). "Movie Review - A Star is Born". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved September 6, 2015.
  13. "Film reviews". Variety. New York: Variety, Inc.: 15 April 28, 1937.
  14. "A Star Is Born". Harrison's Reports. New York: Harrison's Reports, Inc.: 71 May 1, 1937.
  15. "Reviews". Film Daily. New York: Wid's Films and Film Folk, Inc.: 7 April 23, 1937.
  16. Mosher, John (May 1, 1937). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. New York: F-R Publishing Corp.: 81.
  17. "A Star Is Born (1937)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved August 10, 2019.
  18. "The 10th Academy Awards (1937) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved February 18, 2014.
  19. Booker, Keith M. (2011). Historical Dictionary of American Cinema. Scarecrow Press. p. 410. ISBN 978-0-8108-7459-6.
  20. Franks, Don (2004). Entertainment Awards: A Music, Cinema, Theatre and Broadcasting Guide, 1928 through 2003 (3rd ed.). McFarland. p. 214. ISBN 978-1-4766-0806-8.
  21. "Those Were The Days". Nostalgia Digest. 41 (3): 32–39. Summer 2015.
  22. "Here's how all 3 versions of 'A Star Is Born' did at the Oscars". Retrieved February 25, 2019.
  23. Ramnath, Nandini (October 12, 2018). "'A Star Is Born' film review: Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga set the screen on fire". Scroll.in. Retrieved February 3, 2019.
  24. "Telugu remake of 'Aashiqui 2', 'Nee Jathaga Nenundali' stills". Deccan Chronicle. June 16, 2014. Retrieved February 3, 2019.
  25. Jackson, Matthew (March 6, 2017). "11 Classic Films in the Public Domain". Mental Floss. Retrieved June 12, 2018.
  26. Hayes, David (ed.). "Classic Film Museum, Inc. vs Warner Bros. Inc". Citations and Case Summaries. copyrightdata.com. Retrieved May 24, 2012.
  27. Fishman, Stephen (2014). The Public Domain: How to Find & Use Copyright-Free Writings, Music, Art & More. Nolo. p. 176. ISBN 978-1-4133-2028-2.
  28. 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.
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