“Hello, everybody. This is Mrs. Norman Maine.”
A STAR IS BORN
- the saga
1 . Directed by William A Wellman . 1936
Hollywood's favourite story about Hollywood... because they keep on telling it!
It started life as a tale by Hollywood journalist Adele Rogers St John (based on actress Colleen Moore and First National production chief John McCormick), filmed in typical David O Selznick style in 1932 as... What Price Hollywood? Constance Bennett (instead of Clara Bow) played the saucy waitress falling for polo-playing millionaire Joel McCrea (rather than Bruce Cabot) after being made into a star by Lowell Sherman - as a dipso director, largely based on himself and, indeed, his brother-in-law John Barrymore.
Five years on, this first re-make solved
all the faults of the original (credited to four writers)
by adding... three more writers
Including Dorothy Parker… combining the alcoholic actor and millionaire lover into the most durable second banana in Hollywood history - also partly based on Mary Pickford's first husband, Owen Moore, who had a small role in the re-make. (Lana Turner had a walk-on).
Norman Maine . Fredric March had no rivals for Maine - also based on several real actors, including John Barrymore , John Gilbert ... and John Bowers , who did drown off Malibu during the film's production.
Esther Blodgett/Vicky Lester . Selznick dithered between Elizabeth Bergner, Janet Gaynor and Margaret Sullavan for what Sullavan called a story of "bizarre, elaborate theatricalism." Gaynor won. Her Esther farm girl character was renamed Vicky Lester and sure enough, by 1938, there was an actress of that name making movies at RKO!
2 . Directed by George Cukor . 1953
Moss Hart loses Cary Grant, round two. The Broadway playwright scripted the next re-mould withGrant in mind.All ofhim.Every last quibble foible, bottle, complex, depression. And he'd caught him rather too correctly.
Grant would have nothing to dowith it.
Throughout December, 1952, Cary was wooed by Judy Garland's producer husband, Sid Luft - every day at Hollywood Park races, every night over dinner at Chasen's,Romanoff's or at the Lufts' home."I was," laughed Luft, "beginning to talk like him."
Luft just wasn't listening.
He thought it was all a matter of money. Grant suggested $300,000 against 10% of the gross profits. Warner boss Jack Warner,whose budget had been under $3m, refused any profit participation and offered "a flat $450,000"- and that doubled his budget. Grant was just playing. He had already decided to retire
George Cukor took over the courtship.He had Grant read the script aloud at his pool - while the lovers, Greta Garbo and Katharine Hepburn, swam naked. The veteran director never forgot the experience... of Grant, that is.
"Hewas," said Cukor, "absolutely magnificent,dramatic and vulnerable,beyond anything I'd ever seen him do.But when he finished,I was filledwithgreat,great sadness. I knew Cary could never expose himself like that in public."
Cukor told Grant: “This is the part you were born to play.”
Grant told Cukor: “That’s why I won’t.”
He didn't and Cukor never forgave him. (Three films later, in February 1953, Grant announced his retirement. But there was still "plenty of room up front" until 1966).
Luft next considered their neighbour and close pal. Bogart talked about doing it. "ButJack [Warner] brushed him off quickly - the contrast, facially, between this young pretty girl and this older, withered-up man was just too much....He was probably right."
Result: Bogie quit Warners after 20 years.
Judy lost more of her top ten choices...Guys fled for two reasons.They had no (death?) wish to be seen as (or with...) a Hollywood hasbeen. They didn’t dare work with Judy because as Bing Crosby said: "There wasn’t a thing that gal couldn’tdo - except look after herself. "
Jack Warner was not enthusiastic about Laurence Olivier. Richard Burton was too busy changing the very face of the screen with CinemaScope in The Robe.
No one got a hard-on for Montgomery Clift, Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn, Henry Fonda, Ray Milland, Gregory Peck, Tyrone Power, Frank Sinatra, James Stewart or Robert Taylor. Much less for Garland's most surprising nominations, Glenn Ford and… Stewart Granger who told Cukor where to shove the script for continually telling him how to act in his test. "I walked out. What a shame. I could've played the part on my head."
Judy’s list was meaningless. Mason wasn’t even on it.
And then Luft said Yes… to Sinatra.
They had first talked about it before the famous comeback in From Here To Eternity, 1952. "Frank was a great friend of our's, an old and close friend of Judy's - and he wanted to do it.I thought he and Judy would be great together. But at the time, his name was poison... taboo."
Cukor wasn't thrilled, Warner hated the idea, only Garland and herhusband were keen about the fading Sinatra asthe fading Maine. No one even queried the notion of two fading starssearching for acomeback in the samefilm.
Nor the factthat Sinatra would hardly have agreed notto sing in a Garlandmovie, thus changing Maine into a singer... an idea that did not happpen until 1976.
Cukor eventually went acalling on Marlon Brando while he was asking for the loan of Roman ears inJulius Caesar. “Why would you come to me?” asked Brando. “I’m in the prime of my life… If you’re looking aroundfor some actor to play an alcoholic has-been, he’s sitting right over there”- pointing at James Mason, his bete-noir because of the way Mason’s lover (and his wife’s), the director Joseph Mankiewicz, wasthrowing scenes Mason’s way.Brandobawled them both out onthe set. “You’re the hottest ménage à trois in town. But that’s no excuse for you to favour your fuck-boy here over me. It’s not professional.”
Mason never thanked him for one of his finest roles-merely called Brando “one of the dwellers inthe lower circles of Hell.”
3 . Directed by Frank R. Pierson . 1976
"If I can't playa self-destructive musician - what can I play?" said singer-actor Kris Kristofferson.
That could have been Elvis talking.
Because as far as Time magazine was concerned, his screen career was done. “His cheeks are now so plump that he looks like a kid blowing gum. Age and affluence have altered his style. His songs have about as much rock as a rocking chair and the most widely deplored pelvis in history has practically ground to a halt. The Presley phiz moves even less - it just twitches now and then, maybe to scare off flies…”
This time, Elvis came second. The 1971 draft of the re-make was written for “Sweet Baby James” Taylor but he’d had enough of movies after his “torturous” 1970 debut in Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop, 1970.
Then, during his (unsuccessful) first gig at Las Vegas in March 1975, Barbra Streisand came a-calling with her ex-hairdresser-turned-lover-turned producer Jon Peters. They wanted Elvis to reprise the old Fredric March/James Mason alcoholic movie star role, Norman Maine, now written as a fading, drunken rock star called John Norman Howard. E was flattered. Of course, he was. He hadn’t made a film since 1969 and nothing great since 1958.His manager, the the omnipresent dumbass and self-styled “Colonel” Parker was horrified: Mah boy playing a loser… and what the… blazes, shall we say… did a hairdresser know about producing movies. Actually, as had long been obvious, Mickey Mouse knew more about producing than The Colonel did!
In April, First Artists - the UA-style combine set up up by Barbra, Dustim Hoffman, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen and Sidney Poitier - offered $500,000 plus 10% from the first box-office dollar. No, barked Parker, a million plus $100,000 in expenses, the 50% cut… and top-billing By the time Elvis wrapped up Vegas and gone out on tour, the idea was, as his biographer Peter Guralnick put it, ancient history
So here was the film that could have saved Presley’s movie career.
Indeed, his life…
Barbra Streisand was Esther Hoffman. And The Boss as Frank Pierson found out. La Barb wanted her James Mason to be Elvis, Brando orNeil Diamond (!).
Or, then again, Mick Jagger... Not often she wanted a co-star uglier than herself.
Pierson was still writing the script when...
“Brando!” yelled La Barb.
“I’ve always wanted to work with Brando.
Why does it have to be a musical?”
Co-producer Jon Peters said they met Marlon to talkabout playing John Norman Howard. "He was cute!The sonuvabitch, he wanted to screw Barbra! They'd make a great pair - Streisand and Brando."
Not the billing to win Brando. Or Elvis.
Edward Asner was beaten by film-maker Paul Mazursky, to the role of Brian.Despite his TV fame from 1970, Ed never won a film for ten years" until John Travolta proved you could bring your television following into the theatre."
Frank Pierson later wrote about the horror of working with La Barb- egocentric, manipulative and controlling. They never spoke or worked together again.
It could have all been so much easier...
When La Barb refused the first draft, Jon Peters decided his original thought was best - Cher!
Then again, most hot singers hadn been in the mix throughout the 70s - such as Liza Minnelli, Helen Reddy, Diana Ross.
If nothing else, Che r was a more credible rock star. She was tempted enough to start work with Kristofferson It was the standard 30s ploy: When your star leaves, hire her rival… and your intended star comes to heel. As Peters anticipated, Streisand caved.
Pity about that…