The Many Incarnations of 'A Star is Born'

Movies show everything from fantasy worlds to real life situations. Movies also love depicting Hollywood, the good and the bad. Mostly the bad because that makes for more thrilling and preposterous drama.

A Star is Born is one of the definitive movies about Hollywood. It has everything from an aging, alcoholic matinee idol to an unexpected star on the rise. When people reference A Star is Born on its own, they usually mean the Judy Garland-James Mason version from 1954. Even when you google A Star is Born, the Judy Garland version comes up first. This isn't that surprising considering that the 1954 film version was Judy Garland's triumphant comeback to the screen, and the beating heart of America (please don't judge me for using that cliched phrasing). Also, it's just a really great movie. Judy excels as an actress and a performer, which she didn't always get to show off simultaneously during her MGM days. It also features 'The Man That Got Away,' which makes you feel a strangely awesome blend of melancholy and cheerfulness at the same time. What many people might not know is that the 1954 Star is Born was a remake and remade: in 1937 William A. 'Wild Bill' Wellman directed the first Star is Born movie, starring Janet Gaynor, and in 1976, Frank Pierson directed Barbara Streisand. These three films are probably known by those who love and revere film (Lorelai Gilmore is one of those people), but what might not be well-known is that in 1932, George Cukor made a little film called What Price Hollywood?, which ended up being the basis for A Star is Born. 

It fascinates me when well-known movies are loved around the world, and people don't know that they might be inspired by lesser-known ones. For example, did any of you know that Mamma Mia was partly inspired by Buona Sera Mrs. Campbell (1968)? Or that Gun Crazy (1950) partially inspired Bonnie and Clyde (1967)? Didn't think so.

What Price Hollywood? is one of those great, early movies that isn't necessarily good because the camera work is outstanding, but because of the story. Constance Bennett stars as a Brown Derby waitress/would-be actress who meets a drunk Lowell Sherman and convinces him to set up a screen test for her. She eventually becomes a major star and falls in love with playboy Neil Hamilton. Brimming with drama, the movie is one of the earliest examples to show the bad things that happen in Hollywood (alcoholism, suicide, jealousy). 

While the plot of A Star is Born changed a bit--the Lowell Sherman character became the romantic interest of Constance Bennett's character, who in turn became Esther Blodgett (then Vicki Lester after a name-change in all the movies)--the 'behind-the-scenes-Hollywood' feeling and all the drama that comes with it were still in the movie. Also, according to some rumors, the screenwriters for A Star is Born (1937), Robert Carson, Dorothy Parker, and her husband Alan Campbell, used stories about Barbara Stanwyck's troubled first marriage to Frank Fay as basis for the film.


I think you all basically understand what these film are about, but I just wanted to show you how many times one story can be used in Hollywood (even when it's a story about itself), and how certain films in popular culture usually originate from an original piece, much like how many films are based on books, but not everyone is usually aware of that.

I also wanted to talk about all these versions because, yes, I wanted other people to know about them, and because I'm sure A Star is Born, all versions, will be back in the entertainment headlines soon because Bradley Cooper is directing and starring in a new version with Lady Gaga. This way you'll be well-informed before everyone at your office starts talking to you about them.


The many incarnation film posters: