A Star Is Born is a property almost as old as Hollywood itself, one that has been revisited in different forms for more than 85 years.
The narrative is one of nascent glory and success matched by an equally tragic fall and flame-out — while one star is born, another dies. Literally. (Spoilers, but c’mon, you’ve had 85 years.) To add to the pathos, the stars who are on opposite trajectories also happen to be desperately in love with each other, worshipping and feeding one another’s talent in a macabre dance of fame and romance.
In many ways, it’s the story of Tinseltown itself — the cost of fame, the darkly tragic allure of stardom, the way showbiz dreams will break your heart no matter how you might try to steel yourself.
This fall will see the release of the newest iteration of A Star Is Born, one that (like the 1976 version) moves the proceedings from the film industry to the music business. Bradley Cooper (who also directs) stars opposite Lady Gaga (who has penned new songs for the film) as Jackson Maine and Ally, the falling and rising stars at the center of the film.
With the Wednesday release of a trailer that has the internet using the fire emoji like it’s going out of style, let’s revisit the trailers for every previous version of A Star Is Born.
Here’s the latest, starring Cooper and Lady Gaga:
The trailer gives you a pretty good idea of the story arc: Cooper’s Jackson Maine is a huge country star, but his offstage ways (including drinking) have others in his life worried about him. He discovers Ally performing in a dive bar and encourages her to find her voice, while also falling in love with her. Their partnership becomes personal and professional until she takes the stage to sing “The Shallow,” a new song Gaga and Cooper wrote for the film alongside music producer Mark Ronson. It’s powerful, effective, and chill-inducing — and the movie’s two biggest selling points, the passion of the love story and Gaga’s voice, take center stage.
A Star Is Born (1976)
This film bears the closest resemblance to the 2018 version, being the first to focus on singers rather than movie stars. It is oh-so-’70s in its depiction of leads Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson in frequent states of half-undress, embracing in their home and more romantic vistas.
In structure, it’s fairly similar to the new trailer, showing John Norman Howard (Kristofferson) at the height of his game but on the verge of burning out, in contrast to fresh face Esther Hoffman (Streisand). We see more of the story here, including their marriage, their later fights, and firmer glimpses of Howard’s self-destructive downward spiral. He also ominously promises Esther he’s never gonna die!
The trailer showcases the film’s most notable asset — Streisand’s voice — singing “Evergreen,” the love theme she co-wrote with Paul Williams for the film. It went on to earn them both an Oscar. Will Gaga’s songwriting efforts for the new film follow suit?
A Star Is Born (1954)
This version of A Star Is Born is perhaps the most famous, because of its own place in Hollywood lore as Judy Garland’s comeback film. It was her first movie in four years, amid a bleak period of her life that included being dropped from her MGM contract, a suicide attempt, and efforts to beat a drug addiction)
Garland is the selling point in the trailer, which is fitting as the role was one she chased for over a decade. Her husband at the time, Sid Luft, was also given a producer credit on the film. James Mason, who plays her love interest, Norman Maine, gets a brief mention and a few shots, but this trailer is really all about Garland, her musical numbers, and the mythos of Hollywood filmmaking. This version situates Norman and Esther as film stars, not musicians. It’s a duller trailer, relying heavily on voice-over and title cards, as so many trailers from this era do.
However, Garland’s Esther/Vicki is also a singer, and the trailer, as with the two above, makes a meal of her singing voice, showcasing clips from “The Man that Got Away” and “Born in a Trunk,” which went on to become signature numbers in Garland’s concert repertoire. “The Man that Got Away” was nominated for an Oscar for Best Song (it didn’t win), proving once again that music is a crucial part of this story.
A Star Is Born (1937)
This lavish Technicolor production from David O. Selznick marks the first iteration of A Star Is Born — at least, it was the first film to carry the title. Unlike the other versions, it’s not a musical, but its plot follows the same basic structure.
Janet Gaynor and Fredric March star as Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester and Norman Maine, in a story partly penned by the legendary wit Dorothy Parker. Many believed the story was inspired by the real-life public demise of Barbara Stanwyck’s marriage to vaudeville actor Frank Fay.
The film is a frank, meta look at Hollywood from the inside (even ending on a winking shot of the screenplay), and the trailer frames it as such. It begins as a travelogue of glamorous Hollywood hotspots like the Trocadero, the Brown Derby, and Santa Anita Park — all fittingly set to the melody of “California Here I Come.” Then it transitions into a behind-the-scenes look at director William A. Wellman giving direction to March and Gaynor before actually showing glimpses of the film.
It pulls no punches with its voiceover, noting, “You will be shocked by the price that must be paid in heartbreak and tears for every moment of triumph in Hollywood,” and citing the film as “Hollywood’s first true story.”
Some cinephiles believe this version is the purest, most effective iteration (the Garland version was over-long and has been recut several times, while Streisand greatly overshadows Kristofferson in the 1976 film), and this trailer conveys that while also capturing how incisively it takes on Hollywood.
What Price Hollywood? (1932)
Depending on who you ask, What Price Hollywood? could be considered the ur-text for A Star Is Born — it tells the same basic story of fledging actress crossing paths romantically with actor on a downward turn. And it features many similar scenes, including being the first film to include the relatively new Academy Awards as a plot point. Director George Cukor even went on to helm the 1954 version of Star, and he famously declined Selznick’s offer to direct the 1937 version because he felt it too similar to What Price Hollywood?.
No trailer seems to exist, but this clip shows the first meeting between Mary Evans (Constance Bennett) and Max Carey (Lowell Sherman), as she waits on him at the Brown Derby (which mirrors Janet Gaynor and Fredric March’s first meeting in the 1937 version). Star Lowell Sherman partially inspired his own character as a notorious alcoholic himself, who died only two years after this film from pneumonia. In this scene, you can already see the blueprint for a story that still endures today.
The latest incarnation of A Star Is Born will hit theaters Oct. 5.