With the upcoming release of the 2018 version of A Star is Born (this time starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper) it is a good time to look back at the original version starring Fredric March and Janet Gaynor. Fredric March was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance as the tragic Norman Maine (he lost to Spencer Tracy). Fredric was 40 years old when he acted in the film and his portrayal of a fading movie star remains one of his best.
The character of Norman Maine was loosely based on John Barrymore (who blew his career because of his alcoholism) and silent film icon John Gilbert (who’d died in 1936) whose career was ruined when The Talkies came into existence. John Gilbert’s voice was fine but it did not match what audiences were expecting it to sound like and his career went off the tracks. In the film, Norman Maine’s falling star is contrasted to the career of his love, the rising star Esther Blodgett whose Hollywood name becomes Vicki Lester played by Janet Gaynor. Similarly, John Gilbert’s career was failing when he was married to rising star film Virginia Bruce.
The film takes a hard look at the nasty underside of Hollywood stardom and is definitely one of the best films of the 1930’s. It would be remade in 1954 with Judy Garland and James Mason, again in 1976 with stars Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson and here we are in 2018 with the Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper version of this timeless Hollywood tale.