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'A Star Is Born' Is Coming Back, Here's What It Should Avoid From The 1976 Version

Lady Gaga fills Barbra Streisand's heels.

Warner Bros.

A Star Is Born is one of those classic films from the golden age of Hollywood that gets remade every 20 years or so. The original 1937 version tells the story of a daisy fresh Midwestern girl who sets out to become a star and makes it with the help of a famous beau whose own luster is beginning to fade. The story has been retold many times ever since.

Janet Gaynor in '37, Judy Garland in 1954, and Barbra Streisand in 1976 have all led Hollywood productions of A Star Is Born as versions of its plucky heroine, songstress Esther Blodgett. This October, Lady Gaga gets a shot at the role in the latest remake. Here's the trailer:

Gaga's Esther (her name is "Ally" in the film) appears to be a demure version of the character. That would be a change from past portrayals. Gaynor was ambitious as Esther, Garland less so, but driven still. And Streisand was a little bit of everything in her portrayal. Her Esther doesn't yearn for the spotlight, like the original, but she certainly embraces it. One thing all the movies have in common, however, is the whirlwind fame can bring. It can lift you, and it can destroy you.

Time will tell what new life Gaga brings to old Esther. But, hopefully, she'll eschew the weirdness Streisand instilled in the character. The '70s were an experimental time, and 1976's A Star Is Born is certainly an experimental movie in retrospect. Updated for the rock 'n' roll generation, the story spends more time on the dark themes inhabited by the male lead, John Norman Howard (Kris Kristofferson), than the hopeful ones inhabited by Esther. The result is a more reckless, crude, and bohemian version. It's also strangely endearing (thanks mostly to Streisand). 

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in A Star Is Born (2018). (Warner Bros.)
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in A Star Is Born (2018). (Warner Bros.)

The newest A Star Is Born appears to have more in common with the '76 version than the two previous. It'll undoubtedly keep the main plot points from the original story, but it takes place in the world of country music. That makes Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson more immediate templates than Judy Garland and James Mason. It's not the best version, but it's the newest one we've got.

Looking back at A Star Is Born 1976, the movie hasn't aged too well. The original's timeless themes of loyalty, underdog talent, and the American Dream are overshadowed by camp silliness and Streisand's absurd afro. The new one should look to the first two versions for spiritual inspiration and to the '76 version for what NOT to do. Here are some things from 1976 the new adaptation hopefully avoids:

1. The Brillo pad hairstyle

Esther Hoffman, the Jewish-American version of Esther Blodgett, has the pipes of Ella Fitzgerald and the hair of Art Garfunkel. Why? Why does she look like Bozo's estranged, intellectual daughter?

It is kind of cute, actually...

2. John Norman Howard's violent streak

Kristofferson and Streisand in the 1976 version. (Warner Bros.)
Kristofferson and Streisand in the 1976 version. (Warner Bros.)

Originally a mere drunk named Norman Maine in the first two adaptations of A Star Is Born, the 1976 version souped up the character. Kristofferson brings some Jim Morrison to his role as John Norman Howard, rock star, blowing coke and leaving Schlitz cans all over America like a breadcrumb trail. But, "Johnny" is also a reckless asshole. He ghost rides a motorcycle into a concert crowd, injuring 17 people. He shoots a handgun at a helicopter. He throws a case of Jack Daniels through a plate glass window. I get the whole rock star thing, but man, this guy needs to be locked up! Here's hoping Bradley Cooper is the comatose drunk type.

3. Streisand and Kristofferson's lack of chemistry

For A Star Is Born to work, like the first two versions do, there needs to be some inkling of feeling between the Esther and Norman characters. He's a famous star. She's an unknown, and that dynamic switches over the course of the film as their love grows. But the '76 movie just puts two famous people together. Streisand lobbied hard for Elvis Presley to play the role of John Norman, and she went to Marlon Brando when Presley fell through. James Taylor was another top choice.

Kristofferson was far from Streisand's favorite actor and it shows onscreen. There are some sequences in the movie where she seems to avoid touching him. Watch the bath scene where she shies from him and tentatively washes his hand. When they kiss it's like mortal enemies circling each other. For his part, Kristofferson has admitted to being drunk during production, but he also said filming with Streisand was "an experience which may have cured me of the movies." He wasn't alone. Director Frank Pierson hated working with both Streisand and Kristofferson so much he wrote about it in two New York magazines at the time. Here's an excerpt from one:

'A Star Is Born' Is Coming Back, Here's What It Should Avoid From The 1976 Version
Warner Bros.

"Kris has had all he can handle. He doesn’t want to be told what to do with his music. He explodes. Barbra explodes. The mikes are open: They are screaming at each other over a sound system that draws complaints from five miles away. The press is delighted." 

4.  The galactically silly dialogue

These are actual lines of dialogue from A Star Is Born (1976):

"Pre-moistened Handi-wipes, fabric softener, stain remover, strawberry douche — everything for a perfect marriage kit!"
"Strawberry douche?"
"Unless you prefer apricot."

"Would you like to rub salt in your ass!?"

"I love you, Esther."
"I hate you."
"I love you."
"I hate you."
"I love you." (They kiss awkwardly.)
"I hate you."
"I love you."
"I hate you."
"I love you."
"I hate you."
"I love you."
"I love you." (Full make-out)

Enough said?

We sincerely hope Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga watched the 1976 version of A Star Is Born and said to themselves, "Not like that." While the '70s version has some redeeming qualities, it's very much a cautionary tale and an example of what not to do with a classic adaptation. 

'A Star Is Born' Is Coming Back, Here's What It Should Avoid From The 1976 Version
Warner Bros.
'A Star Is Born' Is Coming Back, Here's What It Should Avoid From The 1976 Version
Warner Bros.
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