Star Is Born, A: Cukor-Garland Masterpiece–Sinatra’s Reaction and Oscar Nominations–Part Five

Hollywood Premiere

Working on a new picture, Bhowani Junction, in Pakistan, George Cukor couldn’t attend the Hollywood premiere of A Star Is Born, which George Huene described as “a double wow.” 
The town has never seen anything like it: traffic blocked off for several streets on either side of the Pantages Theater.  The streets crawled with police officers, and the sidewalks with spectators. On the roof of the Pantages, six enormous searchlights converged at a center, their beams forming an immense star which could be seen miles away. The front of the building was bathed by more lights than were used in the picture itself. With more stars in attendance than ever before at an opening, Cukor’s absence was really felt.
 
After the evening’s showing, in which scene after scene was greeted with huge and sincere applause, there was a big party at the Coconut Grove, which lasted until 5am in the morning! 
Jack Warner sent a telegram to Cukor in India: “Opening last night was fantastic acclaim for Judy. Everyone beyond anything anyone ever witnessed in a theater. Thanks again for the wonderful contribution you made.” 
On October 3, Garland telegrammed: “Premiere smash. Opening tremendous success with thanks due to you. Will send clippings.”
 
Cukor’s friends, scribes Sonia Levien and Zoe Akins, went to see the film and came away as Cukor fans more than ever before. His handling of all the details of such an overwhelming production seemed to them more than genius.
It showed off Cukor’s multiple skills as a politician, statesman, psychiatrist, magician, painter, writer, animal-trainer, nurse, elocutionist, dancer, mathematician, musician, cameraman, and dress-maker–everything but Garland’s husband! 
The two women felt that A Star Is Born was Cukor’s picture; with all due respect to Judy Garland, “she was almost incidental to it.”
 
Frank Sinatra and Kirk Dougals
 
Two telegrams relished by Cukor came from actors he never worked with. “You’re the goddamnest director that ever was, is, and will be,” Frank Sinatra wrote, “Don’t you dare ever die, we need you.” “I’m glad I voted for you for the Academy Award,” Cukor wrote in response. 
Kirk Douglas was so impressed with James Mason’s work that he wrote: “May I please work for you, please? I’ll learn to sing, dance, rollerskate or any damn thing you want.”
 
Columnist Sheila Grahame surpassed other raving critics with her prediction: “Here’s a nomination for next year’s Oscar-Judy Garland–she can’t miss!” The film proved to the world the depth and range of Garland’s talents as a dramatic actress.
It Was All Judy
For Cukor, the tragedy of Garland’s career was that she was not able to fully realize that potential. “It was all Judy,” Cukor said, giving her full credit for the film’s achievements and overall impact, “It was there when I got on the set, I didn’t put it.”
Even so, A Star Is Born reaffirmed Cukor’s status as Hollywood’s best actors director, one who brings out the best in each and every performer he had worked with.
 
Oscar Time
 
At Oscar time, “A Star Is Born” received six nominations, including Actor, Actress and Art Direction, but Cukor failed to receive a directorial nomination for what many consider his best work. 
However, the film that swept all the Oscar awards that year was Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront, starring Marlon Brando.
“It’s one of the great sorrows of my career,” Cukor later said about the picture’s butchered final version, “that I’m convinced cost Judy an Academy Award.”  The winner of Best Actress Oscar was Grace Kelly for a rather mediocre performance in The Country Girl.
 
Occasionally, Cukor would hear about the existence of an uncut print, and would go chasing after it, only to be disappointed.
It would take 29 years, for the film to be restored by film curator Ron Haver and be shown as Cukor wished.