Institute History

  • 1996 Sundance Film Festival


A Star Is Born became one of Wellman’s most acclaimed films when it received Academy Award nominations in every major category (Wellman and Robert Carson were the only winners for best original story). What started as an attempt at a behind-the-scenes look at Hollywood eventually evolved into a powerful portrait of the fragility of fame and the cost of stardom.

Janet Gaynor plays Esther Blodgett, a naive midwestern girl in love with the movies and determined to become a famous actress. After coming to Hollywood, she meets and marries her idol, Norman Maine (Fredric March in a shattering performance), whose career plummets as quickly as hers rises. Esther learns the hard way that “nothing you really want is ever given away free. You have to pay for it with your heart.” Wellman based Maine’s character on John Barrymore and other self-destructive stars he knew, which gives it added realism and poignance. Acerbic, articulate dialogue by Dorothy Parker and Alan Campbell, who knew only too well the pitfalls of tinseltown, and excellent supporting performances by Adolphe Menjou as the compassionate Oliver Niles and Lionel Stander as the arrogant, sharp-tongued Libby elevate A Star Is Born to the level of a true movie classic, one that captures both the glamor and the disillusionment that are Hollywood.

— Barbara Bannon

Screening Details

  • Section: William Wellman: American Storyteller
  • Film Type: Dramatic Feature
  • Country: U.S.A.
  • Run Time: 111 min.
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