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A Star is Reborn


Opinion

With a fourth version of the classic movie due later this year, what makes the Star is Born story so fascinating?

Image of A Star is Reborn

It was a great movie – remade twice. And there have long been plans for another version with rumoured interest from Clint Eastwood, Joel Schumacher, Beyoncé, Will Smith and Russell Crowe. Now the film is due for release in October with Bradley Cooper directing Lady Gaga (or Stefani Germanotta as we must learn to call her).

The first version of A Star is Born dates from 1936 and was remade in the 1950s and 1970s. The allure of this dramatic story of a young starlet who marries a fading star, with her career flourishing while his fades, cannot be denied. Sometimes in real life he eclipses her. Sometimes one gets too big and fades from view while the other is suddenly hot again. There are scores of famous couples whose story follows that trajectory – think of Sonny and Cher, Katie Price and Peter Andre, Cheryl and Ashley, Charlie Brown and Snoopy, Kate and William.

Think of Rihanna and Chris Brown (they were both quite famous, then he beat her up before the Grammys). His popularity went downhill while she became a pop goddess. Nicole Kidman made a lot of good films while she was with Tom Cruise – but it always appeared he was controlling and stifling her. When they divorced, she instantly shone in Moulin Rouge and her career has excelled ever since while Cruise embarrassed himself jumping on Oprah’s sofa and is no longer the megastar he was.

Johnny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie were a real-life young married couple and were in the geeky film Hackers – he then found massive fame in Trainspotting. Everyone thought he would be the big star since he was the most handsome, but Ewan Macgregor eclipsed him. Jolie on the other hand got some massive gigs with Girl, Interrupted, Gone in 60 Seconds, and quickly offed and left Johnny behind.

Russell Brand married Katy Perry in 2010. His was a ridiculously quick rise to fame, being a complete druggy/God’s gift to women kind of guy, and for some reason this US pop princess fell for him, helped him into rehab, married him, was blissfully happy… for a while. She’s had to put up with a lot from him as her career went stratospheric. Meanwhile he be a tosspot.

In the classic Star is Born story the budding starlet rises just when the man who has opened the doors of opportunity for her (and with whom she falls in love) finds himself on the skids. The 1937 original featured Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. The much-loved 1954 musical had Judy Garland and James Mason while in 1976 Barbra Streisand played opposite Kris Kristofferson.

The story is so popular because the situation is more common than might be imagined. Certainly, it’s a powerful fantasy for many women who feel thwarted in a dead-end career. And for every star that waxes, one must wane.

Perhaps it is only an unusually resourceful kind of woman who is able to elbow men out of the way and carve her own territory. And switching roles often upsets the balance in a relationship. Virginia Woolf once said “women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice his natural size”. When the woman takes away that mirror and the man is no longer getting the attention he expects his whole world is shifted.

“The future is female” as a famous 1970s feminist slogan and in today’s job market where attention to detail, self-confidence and a degree of concentration are prized, women’s skills are very much in demand. Men beware.

Why do successful women so often eclipse their menfolk? It may be that only when her man is on the way down can a woman take charge of her own destiny. Alternatively, ego-bashed men frequently perform less well when they meet their match in the form of an assertive, high-performance wife. Many of the complaints businesswomen have of their male colleagues revolve around this very problem.

Perhaps one of the first examples comes from the late 1930s when the American, Nobel prizewinning novelist Sinclair Lewis was outmatched by his columnist wife Dorothy Thompson who was described in 1939 as “undoubtedly the most influential” American woman after Eleanor Roosevelt. Thomson was one of the first reporters to bring the danger of Nazi Germany to the attention of the American public. Her marriage to Lewis was also one of the most volatile and well-publicised unions of the century but as Sinclair’s career declined in an alcoholic haze her star rose higher and higher.

Tina Turner came out from the shadow of her abusive husband Ike. The ins and outs of her rise and his fall were made into a movie What’s Love Got To Do With It? and a new musical called Tina. Another Tina who out-strode her husband was Tina Brown. She was 22 and camped outside the office door of Harold Evans, the editor of the London Times, until he agreed to see her. Four years later Evans, 25 years Tina’s senior, married her and in 1978 Ms Brown became editor of the society rag Tatler and was charged with turning it into a successful, provocative monthly. She then rose to New York and turned Vanity Fair into a successful, provocative monthly. She moved on to edit the New Yorker, established her own magazine Talk and moved on to create the online newspaper The Daily Beast.

When Sean Penn met Madonna in 1985 he was billed as “the next James Dean” while she was little more than a novelty disco act. But even before their much-publicised wedding the tables rapidly began to turn. He became box office poison while she made one hit record after another. Madonna has gone on to sell record millions with countless top ten hits. In 1988 Penn and Madonna broke up. Mr Penn went on to appear in a succession of dreadful films while, despite several movie bombs of her own, Madge became a cultural icon.

Along with Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein shot to fame when he helped expose the Watergate scandal in the Washington Post. He co-wrote the book All the President’s Men which was later filmed. Bernstein married the journalist Nora Ephron in 1976 and seven years later she wrote the novel Heartburn (loosely based on their marriage breakdown) which was later made into a movie. Ephron became a successful screenwriter (Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally). Meantime Bernstein wrote a swiftly remaindered memoir of his communist parents and an equally disappointing Hillary Clinton biography.

Showbiz and its relation to women have undergone a revolution in the last six months. It remains to be seen if the re-booted, Lady Gaga version of A Star is Born will have as much resonance as the previous incarnations.