A Star Is Born: The Making of the 1954 Movie and Its 1983 Restoration

BOOK: A Star Is Born: The Making of the 1954 Movie and Its 1983 Restoration
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David 0. Selznick's Hollywood

David 0. Selznick's "Gone With the Wind"


Fay Kanin

Gene Allen

James and Clarissa Mason

Douglas Edwards

54-1 &ar s 3orn





Part One: A Star Is Born


loth Century-Fox's Revolution



Starting Over

Tension, Problems, and Crises

Part Two: A Star Is Born Again





Illustrations follow pages So and 210.


The saga of A Star Is Born is really two stories separated by nearly thirty
years. Part One concerns the actual production of the film, while the
second part deals with the Academy Foundation's 1983 project to restore
the film to its original form.

Part One came about because of the work involved in this restoration
effort. As I tried to track down the missing sections of the film, I began
talking to various people who had been involved in the production of the
picture. The stories they related of the difficulties in making the film were
fascinating-the technical uncertainties, the interplay of personalities, the
struggle to reconcile the opposing forces of artistic endeavor and commercial movie-making. I began to wonder how and why there could be so much
dissension, indecision, and conflict in the making of a movie in the heyday
of the studio system. For my own satisfaction, I determined to piece
together the complete story of the making of this version of A Star Is Born.
To do this, it was necessary to start with the original source material, which
meant the Warner Bros. studio files on the film. These are all carefully and
meticulously maintained at the Doheny Library at the University of Southern California by Robert Knutson and his staff, who were extremely cooperative and generous in their efforts to locate anything and everything that
had to do with A Star Is Born. Leith Adams was particularly diligent in
locating contracts, inter-studio memos, correspondence, script drafts, and,
most important, the daily production log of the picture-a record of everything that happened on the set on any given day. This production log was
invaluable as basic original source material; armed with this and the studio
memoranda I could jog the memories of the interviewees who had worked
in or on the film. First of these, of course, was Sid Luft, the producer of
A Star Is Born, who gave me two candid sessions outlining the genesis of
the project, its myriad problems, and the tug-of-war over the finished film. Earlier Mr. Luft had given extensive interviews on the subject of A Star
Is Born to Gerold Frank for his biography Judy; I'm grateful to Mr. Frank
and to his publishers, Harper & Row, for allowing me to use material from
the book relating to this period. Both Earl Bellamy and Russ Llewellyn, the
assistant directors on the film, were generous in their time and their memories of the film. Bellamy in particular deserves a major thank-you from me,
as our first interview was completely ruined by a malfunctioning tape
recorder; he kindly consented to do the whole thing over (all four hours of
it!). Gene Allen, the production designer for the film, took time out from
his busy schedule as the then president of the Academy of Motion Picture
Arts and Sciences and the executive director of the Society of Motion
Picture and Television Art Directors to explain the function of a production designer, the problems of this particular film, and the exhilaration of
working with George Cukor. Al Harrel very kindly supplied me with an
extensive interview he had taped with cinematographer Sam Leavitt that
dealt extensively and frankly with the problems of photographing A Star
Is Born. Makeup artist Del Armstrong shared his remembrances and his
insights, on both the production and Judy Garland, as did actress Lucy
Marlow and photographer Bob Willoughby. James Mason was extremely
frank and forthright in the many conversations we had about A Star Is Born
during our tour of the six cities that premiered the reconstructed version.
His death meant the loss of a true gentleman, a gifted artist, and a warm,
albeit brief, friendship. I am grateful to Hamish Hamilton, the British
publishers of his autobiography, Before I Forged for allowing the use of
excerpts concerning A Star Is Born, and to David Ehrenstein for supplying
me with an interview he conducted with Mr. Mason in mid-1983. S. Del]
Scott and Kurt E. Wolfe, trustees of the estate of Ray Heindorf, and Tina
Heindorf Morrow kindly allowed the use of excerpts from an oral history
of Mr. Heindorf conducted by the late Irene Kahn Atkins. Kitty Carlisle
Hart generously gave permission for the examination and use of the Moss
Hart papers at the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research,
Madison, Wisconsin. Irving Lazar talked to me about the genesis of the
film, as did Lauren Bacall, who was, as usual, forthright, frank, and astute
in her observations and memories of the period 1953-54. William Hendricks, for years Jack Warner's personal assistant, was also helpful in illuminating some of the murkier aspects of the making of the film, and
Lawrence D. Stewart graciously gave permission to quote from his unpublished piece "Ira Gershwin and the Man That Got Away." Selznick Proper ties, in the person of Jeffrey Selznick, allowed use of material from the
David 0. Selznick Collection at the University of Texas at Austin.

Trying to place all these events in the context of Hollywood at the time
meant detailed research, and for helping in this task I am very grateful to
Joan Cohen, Joseph McBride, Ned Comstock, and Ray Holland; and to the
staff of the Margaret Herrick Library at the Academy of Motion Picture
Arts and Sciences, particularly Linda Harris Mehr, Sam Gill, Bob Cushman, the late Carol Epstein, and Howard Prouty. A special note of appreciation is due Sandra Archer of the Margaret Herrick Library, who was never
too busy to answer any query or locate any item, and who generally made
this author's quest more pleasurable. Robert Osborne of The Hollywood
Reporter shared his memories of conversations with George Cukor; the late
Carlos Clarens made an enormous contribution by allowing me access to
material he was gathering for a biography of George Cukor, and John
Fricke supplied valuable papers on the production and distribution of the
film. At Warner Bros., both Fred Talmage and Lillian Wilson were enthusiastic and helpful, while the late Evelyn Lane spent much time and effort
locating the camera reports and the editor's log for A Star Is Born, both
of which were invaluable to an understanding of how the picture took final
shape. Folmar Blangsted's widow, Elsa, talked to me at length about her
husband, A Star Is Born, and Hollywood in general. Marshall Silverman at
Warners' legal department was helpful in obtaining the necessary clearances and permissions to quote from Moss Hart's screenplay and the
inter-studio correspondence on A Star Is Born, as well as granting permission for the use of frame enlargements from the film. Of course, the person
at Warner Bros. who deserves thanks most of all is Robert Daly, the
chairman of the board-for without his wholehearted enthusiasm, cooperation, and financial support, there would have been no reconstruction of
A Star Is Born and no reason for this book.

BOOK: A Star Is Born: The Making of the 1954 Movie and Its 1983 Restoration
11.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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