A Star Is Born (1954)

182 mins | Melodrama, Musical | 16 October 1954

Director:

George Cukor

Writer:

Moss Hart

Producer:

Sidney Luft

Production Designer:

Gene Allen

Production Company:

Transcona Enterprises
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HISTORY

Opening credits list nine performers without their character names; the ending credits list the character names of the top five leads. After screenwriter Moss Hart’s credit appears in the opening credits, the remaining writers’ credits read: “Based on the Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell, Robert Carson screen play” and “From a story by William A. Wellman and Robert Carson.” Irene Sharaff’s onscreen credit reads: “Art director and costumes for 'Born in a Trunk' by Irene Sharaff.” Although only Leonard Gershe is credited onscreen for the song “Born in a Trunk,” an Oct 1954 HR news item reported that longtime Garland friend and collaborator Roger Edens wrote the lyrics, but could not take credit because of an agreement with M-G-M.
       The following written acknowledgment appears during the opening credits: “Academy Award statuettes were used in this picture by permission of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.” A Sep 1954 LAT news item reported that fifty Oscar replicas were made of gold-painted plaster, which, according to the agreement between Warner Bros. and the Academy, were destroyed immediately after filming the scene and were not allowed to be stored in the prop shop.
       A Star Is Born marked Garland’s first completed film since the 1950 Summer Stock , and her first since her dismissal from M-G-M, the studio to which she had been under contract for many years. In the interim, she reportedly suffered much unhappiness, made several suicide attempts, divorced and remarried. Her third husband, Sidney Luft, who took over as her manager, organized her now legendary concert performances at the London Palladium and New York Palace and ... More Less

Opening credits list nine performers without their character names; the ending credits list the character names of the top five leads. After screenwriter Moss Hart’s credit appears in the opening credits, the remaining writers’ credits read: “Based on the Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell, Robert Carson screen play” and “From a story by William A. Wellman and Robert Carson.” Irene Sharaff’s onscreen credit reads: “Art director and costumes for 'Born in a Trunk' by Irene Sharaff.” Although only Leonard Gershe is credited onscreen for the song “Born in a Trunk,” an Oct 1954 HR news item reported that longtime Garland friend and collaborator Roger Edens wrote the lyrics, but could not take credit because of an agreement with M-G-M.
       The following written acknowledgment appears during the opening credits: “Academy Award statuettes were used in this picture by permission of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.” A Sep 1954 LAT news item reported that fifty Oscar replicas were made of gold-painted plaster, which, according to the agreement between Warner Bros. and the Academy, were destroyed immediately after filming the scene and were not allowed to be stored in the prop shop.
       A Star Is Born marked Garland’s first completed film since the 1950 Summer Stock , and her first since her dismissal from M-G-M, the studio to which she had been under contract for many years. In the interim, she reportedly suffered much unhappiness, made several suicide attempts, divorced and remarried. Her third husband, Sidney Luft, who took over as her manager, organized her now legendary concert performances at the London Palladium and New York Palace and arranged for her to make a “comeback.” According to a Sep 1952 HR news item, Sid Luft Productions announced plans to produce three films, one of which would be a remake of the 1937 Selznick film, A Star Is Born . According to a modern source, Luft had earlier negotiated with Edward L. Alperson, who owned the negative of the 1937 film and its remake rights, and with him formed Transcona Enterprises, which was named for a Canadian town in which Luft once lived. Although ^A Star Is Born was planned, according to contemporary sources, to be Transcona's first production, the 1954 Bounty Hunter (see above) marked the company's first release. An unsourced news clipping dated Sep 1952 found in the file for the film at the AMPAS Library reported that filming for A Star Is Born would begin after the birth of the Lufts’ baby in January, but production did not begin until the following fall.
       In Aug 1953, DV reported that James Mason was cast after “lengthy speculation” over who would play the part of “Norman Maine.” According to a Sep 1953 DV , William Powell turned down the part of “Oliver Niles.” Modern sources say that the following actors were considered for the leading role: Richard Burton, Tyrone Power, James Stewart, Gregory Peck, Glenn Ford, Cary Grant and Laurence Olivier.
       Trouble with the production began when, according to a Sep 1953 DV news item, Garland’s longtime musical arranger, Hugh “Skip” Martin, walked out of the project after an argument with her during the recording of “Lose That Long Face.” Art director Lemuel Ayers, who appears on an early HR production chart, was replaced by Malcolm Bert, who, according to a modern source, became ill. Modern sources state that the start of shooting was postponed due to Garland, who did not show up on the first day, and that her friend Harry Rubin was hired by Jack L. Warner to ensure that she got to the studio on time each morning. According to several contemporary
news items and articles, the production was burdened by Garland’s anxiety attacks and drinking problems.
       An Oct 1953 DV news item reported that the producers planned to shoot the film in the then popular 3-D format, but by the start of filming, the crew was shooting in WarnerScope. Eight days into shooting, according to various Oct 1953 DV , Var and LAHE news items, the studio decided that “the story is too intimate for WarnerScope” and arranged with Twentieth Century-Fox to use their new process, CinemaScope. Production halted while Twentieth Century’s Milton Krasner conducted test shots of the production number “The Man That Got Away.” A modern source states that footage already shot was then scrapped at a cost of $300,000. The change in format resulted in Sam Leavitt replacing Winton Hoch as director of photography. Hoch had earlier replaced Harry Stradling, when delays caused a scheduling conflict with another of Stradling’s assignments, Helen of Troy (see above).
       According to modern sources, after “The Man That Got Away” number was reshot, it was decided that Garland’s costume, designed by M-G-M’s Mary Ann Nyberg, did not hide the actress’s figure flaws when seen in the new format. Designer Jean Louis was brought in from Columbia to redesign some of the costumes and take over. Both designers were given credit onscreen. Another scene that was reshot was part of a fight sequence involving Mason, which had not been completed in WarnerScope, according to a DV news item, because of delays brought on by a brief illness suffered by the actor. A modern source reports that, by Thanksgiving, the film was nineteen days behind schedule and its budget raised to $4 million.
       A Sep 1953 DV news item reported that New Yorker cartoonist Saul Steinberg was hired to design the sets for the “Lose That Long Face” number. However, that sequence was one of several cut from the film after the release and he was not credited onscreen. According to a 15 Feb 1954 HR news item, filming was completed on 13 Feb, but two songs were going into rehearsal that week. After principal photography was completed, Garland shot a production number that was tentatively titled “Dancing Partners,” according to an Apr 1954 HR news item. According to a modern source, director George Cukor was scheduled to direct the film Bhowani Junction in India (see above), so dance director Jack Donahue , and then choreographer Richard Barstow, directed the number, “Lose That Long Face.” Several dramatic scenes were also reshot around this time. According to a modern source, the last sequence to be shot was the “Born in a Trunk” medley, and shooting was finally completed at the end of Jul 1954.
       Although their appearance in the film has not been confirmed, HR news items add the following performers to the cast: Don McCay, Monette Moore, Wally Ruth, Lauren Chapin, Del Armstrong, Frank Wilcox, Tex Brodus , James Gonzales , Frank Gerstle, Caryl Lincoln, Tom Cound, Onslow Stevens, Dorothy Marinson and the NBC music director Henry Russell as a studio conductor.
       According to HR news items, portions of the film were shot in the following locations: the Shrine Auditorium, Westside Drive-In and exterior of the Central Police Station in Los Angeles, several stores, Holmby Hills, Malibu, and streets and homes in Beverly Hills, CA. A HR news item reported that the funeral sequence was shot at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills, CA.
       Lavish premieres in Los Angeles and New York were planned for the film, which was advertised as costing $6 million and taking ten months to make. According to a modern source, Warner held an after-performance party at the Cocoanut Grove, a nightclub that is depicted in the film. A Sep 1954 HCN article reported that the success of the upcoming Los Angeles premiere would make or break Garland’s future career. Although reviews were generally favorable, Jack Moffit of HR complained that the 182-minute long film lacked an intermission. Despite recent successes of other lengthy films, such as Warner’s The High and the Mighty (see above) and the reissue of Gone With the Wind (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ), the length was a source of controversy, as the studio’s head of distribution and some exhibitors feared lost box office revenue would result from being able to show the film no more than three times a day.
       After the premiere, the film was cut by thirty minutes, removing some of the development of the relationship between Norman and Esther in the first reel and musical numbers “Lose That Long Face” and “Here’s What I’m Here For.” According to modern sources, both Cukor, who was not involved in the re-editing, and Garland were unhappy with the choice of cuts. A Dec 1954 Var news item reported that the board of directors of the Independent Theatre Owners of Ohio formally asked that exhibitors be allowed to choose which format length to show. However, according to a modern source, most theater owners ran the shorter version to allow more daily showings, so that few contemporary audience members had the opportunity to see the complete version.
       The film garnered many nominations for Academy Awards, but no wins, a fact many film historians attribute to the release of the shorter, less powerful version. Mason and Garland were nominated for Best Actor and Actress, respectively, but lost to Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront and Grace Kelly in The Country Girl (see above). Garland, who had given birth to a son days before the ceremony, was unable to attend the event, but NBC got permission to install her bedroom with a camera, in order to broadcast her acceptance speech if she won. A modern source states that, when she lost, thousands of people sent her consolatory telegrams. According to the modern source, a telegram from Groucho Marx read: “Dear Judy: This is the biggest robbery since Brinks.” Marx was referring to one of the biggest bank robberies in U.S. history that had occurred four years earlier, in which a group of armed robbers stole almost three million dollars in cash, checks, money orders and other securities from the Brinks Building in Boston, MA.
       Other Oscar nominations included the art direction and set decoration of Malcolm Bert, Gene Allen, Irene Sharaff and George James Hopkins for Achievement in Art Direction; Harold Arlen’s song, “The Man That Got Away”; and costume designers Jean Louis, Mary Ann Nyberg and Irene Sharaff. Although Ray Heindorf was nominated for the Best Scoring of a Musical Picture, he lost to Adolph Deutsch and Saul Chapin of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers .
       Mar 1955 HR and DV news items reported that the Selznick Releasing Organization filed suit against Warner to restrain the 1955 version of A Star Is Born from being released outside the United States, United Kingdom and Czechoslovakia, where Selznick still retained rights to exhibit the 1937 version. The outcome of this dispute has not been determined.
       Despite the success of A Star Is Born , Garland’s career continued to decline. Her last years were marred by lawsuits, nervous breakdowns, divorces and custody battles. In the early 1960s, she gave a successful Carnegie Hall concert performance, and appeared in a handful of films, among them, two United Artist films, Judgment at Nuremberg and A Child Is Waiting (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70 ). Although she was considered for a role in Valley of the Dolls (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70 ), the part was given to Susan Hayward. Garland hosted a television variety show, The Judy Garland Show , which aired on the CBS network during the 1963-64 season, but it was cancelled early in the season. Her live concert performances were so troubled by her undependability and the decline of her voice that she was jeered at by a London audience. Although she planned future performances, on 22 Jun 1969, she was found in the bathroom by her fifth husband dead from an overdose of sleeping pills. After her death, her stardom grew to cult status.
       Over the years, the thirty minutes of excised footage from the 1955 A Star Is Born was mourned by Garland’s fans, who felt that its absence diminished her performance. After a Jun 1969 DV news item reported that the Granada Theatre in Los Angeles was showing a reissue of the uncut, 182 minute version of A Star Is Born , a later Jun 1969 DV news item disputed it, having discovered that the presentation was only 154 minutes long.
       According to an Apr 1983 NYT article, interest was resumed in the film when clips were shown at a 1981 tribute to Ira Gershwin. Several 1983 articles reported the following: With the support of Academy president Fay Kanin, Ron Haver, who was then head of the film department at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, sought and received permission to spend his two-week vacation searching Warner vaults for the missing footage. The museum extended Haver a six-month leave of absence to continue his search and Warner chairman Richard Daly committed $30,000 to the project. Eventually, Haver found footage of Norman proposing to Esther. Later, the two missing songs and other dramatic footage were recovered. With the help of Gene Allen, the rediscovered footage was pieced together with publicity stills and added to an original stereo soundtrack, which the studio had kept intact. Members of the restoration project included Liz Bechtold Blyth, Eric Durst, Craig Holst and D. J. Ziegler. The restored film was premiered in the summer of 1983. Cukor died the night before a special screening of the restored footage that was held at AMPAS' Samuel Goldwyn Theater on 24 Jan 1983. In 2008, Warner Bros. announced that Motion Picture Imaging, the studio's digital post and restoration facility, would be restoring A Star Is Born in a new, 6K resolution. The project reportedly would be the first for which the scanning, restoration work and mastering would be completed at that resolution. In 2005, A Star Is Born was ranked 7th on AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals list.
       The 1937 Selznick production of A Star Is Born was directed by William A. Wellman and starred Fredric March and Janet Gaynor (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ). In 1976, Jon Peters produced a remake of A Star Is Born for Warner, which was directed by Frank Pierson and starred Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. A Jul 2002 People magazine article reported that Will Smith had negotiated with Sony Pictures to star in a reversed-role version of the story. At the time of the announcement, Smith stated that he hoped to cast Jennifer Lopez in the new production, but, as of spring 2005, she was no longer attached to the project, which Joel Schumacher was signed to direct. As of summer 2008, the project remained unproduced. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
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DATE
PAGE
Beverly Hills Newslife
16 Nov 1953.
---
Box Office
2 Oct 1954
p. 26.
Box Office
9 Oct 1954.
---
Citizen News
24 Sep 1954.
---
Colliers
30 Apr 1954
pp. 32-33.
Daily Variety
8 Aug 1953.
---
Daily Variety
12 Aug 1953.
---
Daily Variety
16 Sep 1953.
---
Daily Variety
14 Oct 1953.
---
Daily Variety
22 Oct 1953.
---
Daily Variety
29 Sep 1954
p. 3.
Daily Variety
4 Mar 1955
p. 1, 4.
Daily Variety
26 Jun 1969.
---
Daily Variety
30 Jun 1969.
---
Daily Variety
17 Jun 1983.
---
Daily Variety
11 Jul 1983.
---
Daily Variety
13 Jul 1983.
---
Film Daily
29 Sep 1954
p. 7.
Hollywood Citizen-News
29 Sep 1954.
---
Hollywood Reporter
8 Sep 1952
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Jul 1953
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Sep 1953
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Oct 1953
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Oct 1953
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Oct 1953
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Nov 1953
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Dec 1953
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Dec 1953
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Dec 1953
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Jan 1954
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Jan 1954
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Jan 1954
p. 2, 5.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Feb 1954
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Feb 1954
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Feb 1954
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Mar 1954
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Mar 1954
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Mar 1954
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Apr 1954
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Jul 1954
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Sep 1954.
---
Hollywood Reporter
4 Oct 1954.
---
Hollywood Reporter
12 Oct 1954.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 Oct 1954.
---
Hollywood Reporter
9 Nov 1954.
---
Hollywood Reporter
17 Feb 1955
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Mar 1955
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Nov 1955.
---
Hollywood Reporter
26 Jun 1969.
---
Hollywood Reporter
13 Apr 1983.
---
Hollywood Reporter
12 Jul 1983.
---
Hollywood Reporter
23 May 2008.
---
Life
13 Sep 1954
pp. 163-167, 170.
Look
18 May 1954
pp. 63-65.
Look
19 Oct 1954
pp. 83-84.
Los Angeles Examiner
30 Sep 1954
sect. II, p. 6.
Los Angeles Examiner
16 Apr 1983.
---
Los Angeles Herald Express
21 Oct 1953.
---
Los Angeles Herald Express
21 Jul 1983.
---
Los Angeles Times
20 Dec 1953
p. 1, 3.
Los Angeles Times
10 Sep 1954.
---
Los Angeles Times
30 Sep 1954
p. 1, 3.
Los Angeles Times
10 Oct 1954
pt. IV, p. 2; sect. II, p. 2.
Los Angeles Times
15 Apr 1983
p. 1, 15-16.
Los Angeles Times
9 Jul 1983.
---
Los Angeles Times
17 Jul 1983.
---
Los Angeles Times
21 Jul 1983.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
16 Oct 1954
pp. 178-79.
New York Times
12 Oct 1954
p. 23.
New York Times
17 Oct 1954.
---
New York Times
24 Oct 1954.
---
New York Times
15 Apr 1983.
---
Newsweek
1 Nov 1954.
---
People
18 Jul 2002.
---
Redbook
Aug 1954.
---
Saturday Review
30 Oct 1954.
---
The American Weekly
26 Sep 1954
p. 19.
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25 Oct 1954.
---
Variety
28 Oct 1953.
---
Variety
23 Dec 1953.
---
Variety
29 Sep 1954
p. 6.
Variety
22 Dec 1954.
---
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Tom Kingston
Eddie Dew
Bob Jellison
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITER
Scr
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Cam op
CinemaScope test sequences
Asst cam
Asst cam
Stills
Best boy
Best boy
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
Prod des
Art dir for "Born in a Trunk"
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATORS
Set dec for "Lose That Long Face"
Props
COSTUMES
Cost des
Cost des
Cost for "Born in a Trunk"
Ladies' ward
Ladies' ward
Men's ward
Men's ward
MUSIC
Mus dir
Vocal arr
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
DANCE
Dances created and staged by
Asst dance dir
Pianist
Dance-In
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Miss Garland's makeup created by
Miss Garland's hair styles by
PRODUCTION MISC
Scr supv
Bus mgr
COLOR PERSONNEL
Spec col des adv
Technicolor col consultant
Technicolor tech
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the screenplay A Star Is Born written by Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell and Robert Carson, from a story by William A. Wellman and Robert Carson (Selznick International Pictures, 1937).
SONGS
"Born in a Trunk," music by Roger Edens, lyrics by Leonard Gershe
"The Man That Got Away," "It's a New World," "Someone at Last," "Here's What I'm Here For," "Lose That Long Face," "I'm Off the Downbeat," "Green Light Ahead" and "Gotta Have Me Go with You," music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Ira Gershwin
“Swanee,” music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Irving Caesar
+
SONGS
"Born in a Trunk," music by Roger Edens, lyrics by Leonard Gershe
"The Man That Got Away," "It's a New World," "Someone at Last," "Here's What I'm Here For," "Lose That Long Face," "I'm Off the Downbeat," "Green Light Ahead" and "Gotta Have Me Go with You," music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Ira Gershwin
“Swanee,” music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Irving Caesar
“Black Bottom,” music by Ray Henderson, lyrics by B. G. DeSylva and Lew Brown
“I’ll Get By (As Long as I Have You),” music by Fred E. Ahlert, lyrics by Roy Turk
“You Took Advantage of Me,” music by Lorenz Hart, lyrics by Richard Rodgers
“The Peanut Vendor,” music by Moises Simons, lyrics by Marion Sunshine and L. Wolfe Gilbert
“My Melancholy Baby,” music by Ernie Burnett, lyrics by George A. Norton
“When My Sugar Walks Down the Street,” music and lyrics by Irving Mills, Gene Austin and Jimmy McHugh.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
16 October 1954
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 29 September 1954
New York opening: 11 October 1954
Production Date:
12 October 1953--13 February 1954
addl shooting through late July 1954
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
16 October 1954
Copyright Number:
LP5396
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Sound System
Color
Technicolor
Widescreen/ratio
CinemaScope
Duration(in mins):
182
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
16751
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In Los Angeles, at a benefit show for the Motion Picture Relief Fund at the Shrine Auditorium, prominent but fading movie star Norman Maine arrives drunk and out of control. To save his studio from embarrassment, Oliver Niles, the studio head, tells his publicity director, Matt Libby, to keep Norman away from the stage. Using the pretense of publicity photographs and interviews, Libby lures Norman into the pressroom. However, Norman soon guesses Libby’s ruse, knocks Libby into a mirror, smashing it to pieces, then heads toward the stage, pushing through performers awaiting their cue. Onstage, the Glenn Williams Orchestra is performing, and when the band’s vocalist, Esther Blodgett, sees Norman coming, she links arms and struts with him, incorporating him into the act, thus preventing him from disrupting their performance. As he bows and exits, the audience cheers, believing the star’s appearance was planned. Afterward, backstage, Esther is preparing to depart, when Norman takes her lipstick and draws a heart on the wall with their initials inside to mark the time she “saved” him from disgracing himself. He invites her to supper, but she must leave with pianist Danny McGuire for another job at the Ambassador Hotel’s Cocoanut Grove. Later, after sobering up, Norman goes to the Grove and learns from the headwaiter that the band, after finishing their performance, went to the Downbeat Club on Sunset Blvd. Norman proceeds there and hears Esther sing. Impressed with her talent, he drives her home and urges her not to settle for little dreams. Telling her she is good enough to be in motion pictures, he offers to introduce her to Oliver. ... +


In Los Angeles, at a benefit show for the Motion Picture Relief Fund at the Shrine Auditorium, prominent but fading movie star Norman Maine arrives drunk and out of control. To save his studio from embarrassment, Oliver Niles, the studio head, tells his publicity director, Matt Libby, to keep Norman away from the stage. Using the pretense of publicity photographs and interviews, Libby lures Norman into the pressroom. However, Norman soon guesses Libby’s ruse, knocks Libby into a mirror, smashing it to pieces, then heads toward the stage, pushing through performers awaiting their cue. Onstage, the Glenn Williams Orchestra is performing, and when the band’s vocalist, Esther Blodgett, sees Norman coming, she links arms and struts with him, incorporating him into the act, thus preventing him from disrupting their performance. As he bows and exits, the audience cheers, believing the star’s appearance was planned. Afterward, backstage, Esther is preparing to depart, when Norman takes her lipstick and draws a heart on the wall with their initials inside to mark the time she “saved” him from disgracing himself. He invites her to supper, but she must leave with pianist Danny McGuire for another job at the Ambassador Hotel’s Cocoanut Grove. Later, after sobering up, Norman goes to the Grove and learns from the headwaiter that the band, after finishing their performance, went to the Downbeat Club on Sunset Blvd. Norman proceeds there and hears Esther sing. Impressed with her talent, he drives her home and urges her not to settle for little dreams. Telling her she is good enough to be in motion pictures, he offers to introduce her to Oliver. Early the next morning, influenced by Norman, Esther quits the band, which goes to San Francisco without her. Norman intends to follow up on his promise but, at six a.m., the studio car comes to take him away to his next movie assignment, which is shooting on location at sea for several weeks. Unable to reach Esther himself, he tries to get in touch with her through crew members, but no one takes his request seriously, and he cannot remember her address. When she does not hear from Norman, Esther assumes he was just flirting with her. To make ends meet, she sings for a commercial, but then must support herself by working at a drive-in restaurant. After shooting on Norman’s film is complete, he searches for her, but by then she has moved to a cheaper rooming house. Eventually, after recognizing her voice on the commercial, he tracks her down and arranges for her screen test at the studio. The studio personnel make her over with a blonde wig and nose prosthetic, but Norman comes to the rescue and has her change back to her normal appearance. After completing a bit role, she receives her first paycheck and learns that the studio has given her a screen name, Vicki Lester. Oliver shows no interest in Esther, believing that she is simply a passing romantic fancy of Norman’s, until Norman arranges for him to overhear her singing. Then she is given a role in a musical and, with Norman’s guidance, overcomes her nervousness to become an overnight success. Norman then tries to back out of a relationship with her, claiming, “I destroy everything I touch,” but Esther tells him that she loves him. Norman proposes to Esther during a recording session, unaware that a nearby microphone is picking up and recording everything they say. At first Esther refuses, claiming that Norman is too irresponsible and drinks too much, but after listening to the playback, she accepts, prompting everyone in the studio to cheer. When news of the engagement reaches the studio, Libby warns Oliver of trouble, but Oliver feels that marriage is just what Norman needs to overcome his problems. Libby plans a highly-publicized nuptial event, but Esther and Norman sneak off for a quiet marriage ceremony by a small-town justice of the peace, with Danny and two prisoners in attendance. Libby, resenting the years he has covered up for Norman, is infuriated. After returning from their honeymoon, Norman and Esther throw a party at their new Malibu beach house, during which Oliver tells Norman that the New York studio heads have ordered his contract to be dropped. Pleased with this turn of events, Libby sends out press releases stating that Norman asked to be released from his contract. While Esther’s career continues to rise, Norman spends his days at home, hoping to resume his career. However, when a deliveryman calls him “Mr. Lester,” he realizes that his career is dead and he returns to drinking. At the next Academy Awards ceremony, Esther is named Best Actress. As she gives her acceptance speech, Norman drunkenly climbs onstage and makes his own speech, begging for a job. Gesturing wildly, he accidentally hits Esther in the face. While Norman spends time in a sanitarium to dry out, Oliver tells the depressed Esther that he will give Norman another chance. He offers Norman a part in a film, but Norman declines it, realizing that it is not a lead role. After his release from the sanitarium, Norman plans to remain sober. At the Santa Anita racetrack, where he drinks ginger ale instead of his usual liquor, he encounters Libby, who tries to humiliate him. Norman overlooks Libby’s malicious taunting, until the publicity man accuses him of living off Esther’s income. Norman then hits Libby, who strikes back, knocking Norman to the floor. Hearing the crowd gossip that he is “drunk again,” Norman orders a double scotch. After not hearing from Norman for four days, Esther becomes worried. When she gets a call informing her that Norman has been arrested for drunkenness, she and Oliver proceed to the court, where the judge sentences Norman to ninety days in jail. Pleading for the judge to suspend the sentence, Esther promises to be responsible for Norman, and the judge relents. At home the next day, while Norman is sleeping, the crying Esther tells Oliver that she has decided to quit filmmaking. She wants to take Norman away for a new start, so that he can get back his health, and later, his career. Although Oliver regrets that Esther is sacrificing her career, he agrees to release her from her studio obligations, but warns her that Norman’s talents are gone, ruined by twenty years of alcoholism. Having awakened, Norman overhears them through an open window. Later, pretending to be in a good mood, Norman tells Esther that he is going out for a swim and asks her to sing to him. As she sings, he swims toward the sunset, allowing himself to drown. Later, Libby reports Norman’s “accidental” death to the newspapers. After the funeral, a gawking crowd encircles Esther as she leaves the church, causing her to break down. Secluding herself at the beach home, she refuses to answer phone calls. Danny, who is now her studio accompanist, arrives to pick her up for a Shrine Auditorium benefit concert she promised to attend before Norman’s death. When she refuses to go, Danny tells her she is wasting what Norman gave her and what he died to keep from destroying. His accusation succeeds in getting her to leave the house. Backstage at the auditorium, she sees the heart Norman drew on the wall. When she is asked by the emcee to say a few words, she proclaims, “Hello everybody. This is Mrs. Norman Maine.”
+

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.