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The mother of all A Star Is Born movies, directed by William Wellman, came out 81 years ago. This was the Selznick International production starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March that begot the 1954 version with Judy Garland and James Mason; the 1976 production with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson; and Warner Bros.’ latest staging with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper that opens Oct. 5.
All follow the same storyline: A girl with dreams of stardom (in the first two films, it’s in the movies; in the next two, it’s in pop music) makes it to the top with the help of a male star, whom she loves, but whose addiction problems cause his career to decline just as hers rises.
“We as a culture are drawn to stardom,” notes Turner Classic Movies’ Ben Mankiewicz. “And part of that attraction is the notion that it might be fleeting. And this film tells that story perfectly.”
The Hollywood Reporter was wildly enthusiastic about the 1937 drama’s prospects and predicted Born was “due for a record-smashing career everywhere.”
THR was wrong. The $1.2 million production ($21 million now) grossed $4.5 million, or $79 million today. This put it in the mid-range for box office in 1937. The year’s big hit was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. With rereleases, the animated film has earned almost $1 billion in today’s dollars — making Snow White a much bigger star than Gaynor.
This story first appeared in the Oct. 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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