Star Is Born, A (1954): Cukor-Judy Garland Masterpiece–Part Two

Producer Sid Luft Vs. Scribe Moss Hart

From the beginning, there were ongoing problems between producer Sid Luft (and Judy’s husband at the time) and Moss Hart.  Director George Cukor stuck to his basic philosophy, namely, that it was courtesy to the author to be given the opportunity to do whatever rewriting or changes are necessary: added dialogue, adlib, inserts.
Hart felt strongly that the last scene, when Danny talks Judy Garland into going to the Shrine auditorium, should remain intact. In his speech,  Danny says: “Took guts to do what he did, when he found he couldn’t lick it–but he did it. And the one thing he was proudest of–the only thing he ever did in his life that paid off–you–you’re tossing right back into the ocean after him. Who gives you that right? Because it hurts?”
The Catholic Legion of Decency gave A Star Is Born a Class B rating, because it made the “mistake” of portraying Maine’s suicide sympathetically. They found in the dialogue a justification, even a glorification, of suicide. In the end, despite censorship pressures, the line stayed intact.
Planning to start shooting on October 5, 1953, Cukor was happy that A Star Is Born would be done on a big screen and in glorious Technicolor.
At this point, the innovation of Warnerscope was a hit or miss concept, and in such state of experimentation that the picture could be hurt. The results of the tests Cukor made of Garland and Mason on Warnerscope were “distinctly unpleasing.” With Mason, the distortion was distracting; with Judy, disastrous. But Judy’s tests in Technicolor were great; she really looked radiant.
Though not the producer, Cukor strove for as much control as possible over the film, taking care of every small detail. It was Cukor who told the costume designers that Garland’s dress for the Academy Award scene in the film should be white, not black.  And for the “Tour De Force” number, he proposed that Garland wear black tights under a voluminous coat. He wanted the coat to have a brightly colored lining, so that in the course of the number it could be used to improvise another costume. Cukor suggested light colors for Garland, because the tests showed that some white near her face was very becoming.  For the “Lose Your Long Face” number Cukor brought in pictures of slum children circa 1890, and suggested that Garland dress as an “Anna Magnani waif,” with a little shawl over her head.
Production Halted October 21
Shooting began on October 12, but on October 21 the production came to a halt so that expensive tests could be made with the new technology of CinemaScope. The news was shocking to Cukor, because the film had already been in production for a week.  Once Cukor got used to CinemaScope, however, he found it challenging and even inspiring; each shot had to be planned and calculated carefully.
During the lengthy shoot, Cukor reported with “utmost humility” to Hart that they were getting exciting stuff–could it be otherwise with a Hart script? Indeed, the initial response to the rushes was great. Jerry Wald felt that Cukor had the making of a superb motion picture, at once commercial and artistic. It was quite a thrill for Wald to see Cukor bring Garland back to the screen as her old vibrant self, full of warmth and genuine emotion.
Hart too could not contain his eagerness to see the “Cukor’s stuff,” hearing from everybody this was his “magnum opus.” Hart asked Cukor to save some energy for his new script, which he planned for Cukor to direct at Fox. This was not nearly as noble as it sounded; Hart was completely selfish. If by any good fortune, Cukor would direct both pictures, they two men could form a Hollywood branch of the Uptown Literary and Mutual Admiration Society. Hart was planning to come to L.A. in January, to take a look at the picture and see if Cukor needed any more rewrites.
But A Star Is Born was far from a smooth production–Cukor didn’t relish starting the intricate job of editing without all the necessary material at hand. Before Jack Warner left for Europe, there were some unpleasant encounters, and Cukor congratulated himself for being firm. Warner didn’t think it enough to be a rich showman, he also considered himself a great cutter. Cukor respected his instincts as showman, but not his taste. He pointed out to Warner that he knew the material better than anybody, it was unfair not to take advantage of his experience.
Hart protested vigorously the way that the “The Fats in the Fire” number was cut. It is their big scene together, the one that kicks off their relationship and establishes Norman as the kind of person he really is. Hart wrote it that way and it should stay that way. Whoever cut it has calmly proceeded to take all the character and juice out, making it as dull and cliche as possible. At first, Cukor assumed that Hart was the one to make the cuts, but upon realizing it was not him, he was dismayed by Warner’s stupidity and duplicity. When Cukor compared the original scene with the cuts, he was appalled; the scene was emasculated.
Hart felt that he hardly deserved this kind of dismissal. He gave his hand, whenever Cukor asked for rewrites, and he was willing to come out on his own to help. Shouldn’t he expect a “return of the courtesy,” or at least informing him about the grotesque and harmful cutting that was done.
In Cukor’s view, Hart was absolutely right. Apparently, Warner himself was taken aback by the writer’s feelings, claiming to have no idea of the “shenanigans.” Luft, however, remained elusive as usual. Cukor had no idea what Luft thought–and he didn’t care either. But he was happy that Hart understood now how maddening it was to do business with such slippery customers as Luft and Warner.
It was not the first time that Cukor, Warner, Luft, and Hart became embroiled over script changes. At one point, when Cukor had been after Luft for some new pages, Luft delayed sending them. After a few days, Cukor demanded that Luft give the corrections right away to the Production Department. Cukor found himself one Monday morning, standing on the sidewalk at a telephone booth, outside a gas station in Laguna, waiting for Luft to call. It was then and there that he vowed never again to put up with such crap. But he maintained his sense of humor about it–Cukor said he felt similarly to what Edda Mussolini must have felt, stranded on a snowy day near the Swiss border.



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