Rural North Dakota, 1937: Esther Blodgett (Janet Gaynor) dreams of becoming a Hollywood actress, much to her family’s dismay. Her Grandmother (May Robson) is the only one in the family who supports her ambition. And she’s vocal about it. Right from the get-go, she defends Esther after her other family members tease her and she literally convinces Esther to take the train to Hollywood immediately.
So, off she goes to Tinseltown. It’s a wonderland filled with sun and, well, movies. Esther wastes no time.
She finds a hotel and immediately goes in search of a career in the film business. She heads over to the Central Casting Corporation to figure out how to become a film extra. She’s greeted with a grim reality: Work in Hollywood is tough to find. The Central Casting clerk (portrayed by Peggy Wood, who would go on to play the Mother Abbess in The Sound of Music) tells Esther: “You know what your chances are? One in a hundred thousand.”, to which Esther retorts, “But maybe I’m that one.” Soon after, she meets a lovable guy named Danny McGuire (Andy Devine) who just so happens to be an assistant film director. They hit it off and become fast friends. Danny gets Esther a gig as a waitress at a Hollywood party.
Esther and the audience soon meet the illustrious but troubled movie star Norman Maine (Fredric March). Esther first spots Norman at the Hollywood Bowl, who drunkenly attended a show with his insufferable girlfriend. Anyway, back to the party: Norman’s eyes practically light up at the sight of Esther. After pulling one of his usual drunken stunts, Norman plans on getting drunk at the party right away. But his attention soon turns completely to Esther. He helps her put dishes away in the kitchen but after one dish breaks, he basically says, “Screw it”, knocks the rest of the dishes onto the floor, and leads Esther outside to ditch the party. I’m not sure what happens after the party (I’m not sure anything does), but Norman drops her off at the hotel and decides he’s going to help get Esther a job as an actress.
The next morning rolls around and Esther finds herself in a major Hollywood studio doing a screen test with the one and only Norman Maine. Nervous and innocent, Norman calms her fears and tells her she’s going to be great. The studio loves her. Esther signs a contract and becomes Vicki Lester, the rising star of Hollywood. Her first motion picture sees her co-starring with Norman. We see the dark side of Norman start to appear more prominently at this point. People are starting to notice Vicki Lester, but they’re starting to forget about Norman Maine.
We also see love blossoming. But is love enough to save Norman Maine from a declining career in movies? You’ve got to watch to find out.
Fredric March and Janet Gaynor are fantastic as an onscreen couple. Although both of them give great performances, I think March makes the biggest impact in the film. His performance is fascinating; much subtler (IMO) than James Mason’s Norman Maine in the 1954 remake. On a side note, I think Mason does a great job, as well. I just think Fredric March is even better in the role.
Since A Star is Born is in the public domain, you can find a handful of prints on YouTube, so it won’t cost you a thing to watch it. If you can’t already tell, I highly recommend watching it.
Special thanks to Now Voyaging for hosting this blogathon and congrats on hosting her first ever blogathon!
8 thoughts on “The William Wellman Blogathon: “A Star is Born” (1937)”
This is my fave version of the “Star is Born” franchise. Gaynor and March are terrific, but I think it’s Wellman’s direction that elevates it. You’ve made me want to watch this again!
Much agreed – Please do give it another watch in your spare time. 🙂
Thanks for posting about this film! I think it tends to get forgotten in favor of the Judy Garland remake. Great post! Thank you for joining the blogathon!
Totally agree! And I do enjoy the ’54 version (I LOVE Judy.) I feel the exact same way with “Love Affair” (1939) vs. its remake–and much more popular film– “An Affair to Remember”. Thanks for hosting the blogathon! Excited to see where this takes you in the future,
I love this film – Fredric March is excellent, must agree. As you’re a pre-Code fan, have you seen the earlier Cukor film, ‘What Price Hollywood?’, which this was a sort of unofficial remake of? Lowell Sherman is fantastic in that. Great piece, hope it gets more people checking out this great Wellman film.
Thanks, Judy! I haven’t seen the entire film, but I did catch a little of it on TCM awhile back. Someone else commented about that movie, so I’m thinking I should catch it in its entirety next time it airs. 😉