Star Is Born started out in 1937 as an early Technicolor feature film. It told the story of two stars whose marriage goes on the rocks because one is on the way up and the other is on the way down. Frederic March played the loser, an aging, self-destructive type; Janet Gaynor was his wife, a young movie hopeful. The picture itself won an Oscar for Best Original Story, which was something of a lark; its premise, in fact, had been lifted from What Price Hollywood?, a feature made in 1932 by George Cukor.
Ironically, it was Cukor who directed A Star Is Born when it was remade in 1954, with James Mason. The plot was rewritten a little bit to allow musical numbers by Mason's co-star, Judy Garland. A high point was Judy's classic rendition of "The Man Who Got Away"; her "love theme" from A Star Is Born.
The next twenty years were peaceful on the retread front; everyone assumed that A Star Is Born was "dated" property, and two versions were more than enough. But then, somebody got the bright idea of changing the setting -- adapting the old concept to the world of rock music. In 1974, rumors began: Streisand was up for the female lead in Rainbow Bridge, a third remake of A Star Is Born. Cher and others had been in the running; Kris Kristofferson was pretty much set for the male lead. Then, in April 1975, a source close to Elvis Presley said that he would "definitely co-star in the movie, newly titled Rainbow Road." That bit of inspired casting never came off, of course, and is one of the great rock'n'roll "ifs." We can only speculate as to the kind of sparks Streisand and Presley might have struck if they'd been able to work together onscreen.
Kris Kristofferson wound up with the part, and, quite credibly, made it very much his own. A gifted singer-songwriter, he'd gained great fame in the early seventies with such tunes as "Why Me" and "Loving Her Was Easier" (he'd also written "Help Me Make It Through the Night"). Thanks to his popularity (and Barbra's), the film found a huge fan market -- even though critics, by and large, were less than impressed.
"In many respects, this is a filmed Streisand concert," wrote one reviewer. "It's simply set against a soggy soap opera. As in Funny Girl and The Way We Were, there's a brassy woman, intent on a guy less strong than she is. She can't control her ambitions, and in the end, her main squeeze is lost. How many times is Barbra going to play the same role?"
Streisand served as the picture's executive producer; her boyfriend, Jon Peters, was producer. The two edited their film at home, allowing no one to see it before the world premiere. It was finally released on December 18, 1976. Within eighteen months, it had earned back a spectacular profit -- more than $65 million.
Barbra also came up with the title theme, which she wrote with Paul Williams. Despite its greeting card sentimentality, it became enormously popular, and is still a standard song chosen by many couples to be sung at weddings. Streisand's version broke in mid-December 1976, and reached number one in March 1977. In all, it spent nearly six months on the charts. Later, it earned three Grammy Awards: Best Female Vocal Performance, Best Arrangement Accompanying a Vocalist, and Song of the Year. The soundtrack album was a pretty big hit too, despite carrying the highest list price of any pop album to that time -- $8.98. After seven months in the Top 20, it had sold over three and a half million copies.
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