September 2014

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15 SEP-OCT 14 / CINEMONTAGE commits suicide. Selznick revised the storyline for the 1937 partial remake, A Star Is Born, to revolve around the self- destructive star Norman Maine (Fredric March), his devoted wife Esther Blodgett (Janet Gaynor) — whom he discovered and made into the star Vicki Lester — and the paternal head of the studio, Oliver Niles (Adolph Menjou). He approached Cukor to direct this version but the latter declined because of the similarity to the 1932 film he had helmed. But it is the Garland version that is legendary because of her electrifying rendition of "The Man That Got Away," composed by Harold Arlen with lyrics by Ira Gershwin. Arlen also composed her other signature song, "Over the Rainbow" for The Wizard of Oz (1939), one of the greatest musical numbers captured on film. Garland's third best-known song, also from A Star Is Born, is "Born in a Trunk," composed by Roger Edens, who was her musical mentor at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. After 15 years with MGM in an unbroken string of classic musicals, the 28-year-old Garland was fired by the studio for her substance abuse problems and unreliability. After being replaced on three musicals — The Barkleys of Broadway (1949), Annie Get Your Gun (1950) and Royal Wedding (1951) — because she failed to report for work, she was released by both the studio and her husband at the time, director Vincente Minnelli. Why did Garland choose A Star Is Born for a comeback? Perhaps she wanted to show MGM that she could be a producer and star of an Arthur Freed/ Vincente Minnelli-style musical without them. She loved the story ever since she had appeared in a radio version of the movie in 1942. MGM studio chief Louis B. Mayer had agreed to a remake at the time, but his boss, Loew's president Nicholas Schenck, refused because it was too downbeat. Soon after, her addictions caused her to become her own version of Norman Maine. At one point in the story, Mayer sent Garland to rehab in 1949, just like Niles did to Maine. By 1951, Garland had married Sid Luft, who managed her hectic concert and recording career. When the movie rights to A Star Is Born were sold by Selznick to producer Edward Alperson, Luft and Garland entered into partnership with Alperson in 1952 to remake the movie with the newly created Transcona Enterprises, which made an independent deal with Jack Warner to fund the movie, to be produced by Luft, and release it through Warner Bros. British bad boy Errol Flynn, Warner's star for 15 years, was the new model for Norman Maine. Garland originally wanted Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton or Cary Grant before James Mason was signed. One of the most accomplished actors of his time, Mason could express the delusional nature of a male star depressed by bad formula movies because he had resisted being seduced by Hollywood. Luft hired Moss Hart to write the screenplay and, ironically, Cukor to direct. Because the director and writer loved Garland, they enabled her unreliable behavior. Hart followed the 1937 screenplay by Robert Carson, Dorothy Parker and Alan Campbell, but he wrote some unnecessary plot diversions involving Maine. With the musical numbers added, the film was overlong. Cukor was a superb adapter of Broadway plays to the screen, but admitted that he had little interest in musicals. No songs were written for the other characters, so the result was a musical in which only the female star sang. When filming was complete, Warner realized that there was no big production number that revealed why Vicki/Esther (Garland) became a star. Cukor had already departed the production to prepare Bhowani Junction (1956), so Richard Barstow choreographed a production number to "Born in a Trunk," which added even more time, but centered the film. The film premiered at 196 minutes, which was cut down to 182 minutes when released for its first run. Exhibitors demanded the film be cut to a normal running length. Editor Folmar Blangsted, under Warner's direction and without cooperation from Cukor, cut out 27 minutes to achieve a still-long exhibition time of 155 minutes. Because the film was already in the first-run theatres, an agreement was reached that the shortened prints would be shipped and substituted for the long version. Blangsted excised reels or combined reels rather than do a full re-editing job with re-recording. Most of the 27 minutes involved superfluous scenes of Maine not being able to get Esther a screen test after she had quit the band at his urging because he was on extended location shooting. She becomes a carhop until he gets her a test. Another scene cut was Maine's proposal to Esther on a sound stage, where CONTINUED ON PAGE 54 George Cukor was a superb adapter of Broadway plays to the screen, but admitted that he had little interest in musicals.

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