When the First Star Was Born

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It Happened in Hollywood. That was the original title of 1937’s A Star is Born. This influential film was one of the highest grossing film of the year, earned two Academy Awards, and spawned three remakes, all telling the tale of an industry outsider who falls for a legend circling the drain. Travel back and go behind the scenes of the original that started it all…

1. It was inspired by true life talent.

The film’s basis was Hollywood stars like John Barrymore, John Gilbert, and John Bowers. Bowers’ life most closely resembles that of Norman Maine. After a successful film career, he married a starlet on the rise. However, when Bowers’ career took a turn, his alcoholism became an inescapable issue. Then, in 1936, he set sail in a rented boat, only for his body to be found on a Malibu shore.

2. Pillow talk saved the project.

Director William Wellman presented the idea for the film to David O. Selznick, who didn’t think it would perform well. Wellman also told Selznick’s wife, Irene, daughter of the movie mogul L. B. Mayer, who thought it had the making of a great movie. She told the director not to worry. After the Selznick’s returned from a vacation in Honolulu, David greenlight the project.

3. Esther could have been a star.

Originally, Merle Oberon was to be the star of A Star is Born. However, Wellman didn’t think the sophisticated actress or her foreign-accent fit the bill. He instead preferred Janet Gaynor, who got the part. For her performance, Gaynor was nominated for an Academy Award.

4. Wellman drew from his own Oscar experience.

The infamous scene in which Esther’s husband crashes her award victory came in part thanks to Wellman’s own feelings about the Academy Awards. After his work for Wings, Wellman wasn’t nominated and wasn’t even invited to the ceremony – despite the filming winning two awards, including Best Picture. As a result, he gave his own acceptance speech that night in 1929 after a few too many to drink.