A Star Reborn – The restoration of the Judy Garland/George Cukor masterpiece.

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On July 7, 1983, the newly restored version of A Star Is Born, the film masterpiece directed by George Cukor and starring Judy Garland in her great screen comeback (and co-starring the incredible James Mason), premiered at the Radio City Music Hall in New York.  The premiere was an event.  Attendees included Mason, the film’s producer (and Garland’s third husband) Sid Luft, Kitty Carlisle Hart (widow of the film’s screenwriter, Moss Hart), and Judy’s children, Liza Minnelli, Lorna Luft, and Joey Luft – among many others stars, celebrities and fans.  Sadly, both Judy Garland and George Cukor had passed away before the reconstructed version was debuted.  Garland passed on June 22, 1969, and Cukor passed just six months prior to this premiere, on January 24, 1983, the night before he was scheduled to attend a screening of the reconstructed film.  Interestingly enough, the premiere date of July 7, 1983, would have been Cukor’s 84th birthday.

The premiere event was a huge success.  It was the first time a major film had been restored and re-premiered, ushering in a new era in film restoration.  Also in attendance was the driving force behind the restoration, the late Ronald Haver.  Haver had taken on the task of searching for the missing pieces of the film that were so brutally cut in 1954 after its original premiere.  And what a task it was.  The footage was assumed to be lost or destroyed.

A Star Is Born is unique in that after the world premiere in 1954 and all of the critical raves, the decision was made to cut the film down to a shorter length to allow for more showings per day in theaters around the country (and thus, more money for the theaters and the studio).  The studio that produced and released the film, Warner Bros., chopped entire sections out without any sensitivity to its narrative nor art.  Cukor was out of the country and unable to properly trim the film.  The result was that the studio simply hacked it.  It’s doubtful there is any other case in film history in which such a high profile film, and a true masterpiece for all involved, was so brutally and callously destroyed by a studio.  Included in the cuts were two Garland musical numbers (which remained on the soundtrack album without explanation) and several important scenes.  All prints of the film that had been shipped out were recalled and cut.  The devastation was such that Cukor vowed to never see the film again.

That’s where Ron Haver came in.  Haver masterminded the restoration from the scouring of vaults on his hands and knees for pieces of missing footage to the glorious 1983 premiere.  He wrote the lengthy article for American Film magazine that is a sort of abridged version of his excellent book, “A Star Is Born: The Making of the 1954 Movie and its 1983 Restoration.” The book is a must-read for all film fans and is still available on Amazon, and other sites.

Instead of re-explaining the story of the restoration myself, I think it’s best to let the words of Ronald Haver speak for themselves.  The following is the text for that article in the American Film Institute magazine from 1983 which as noted above is a sort-of abridged version of the book.

On July 7 in New York, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, in association with Warner Bros., is presenting a most unusual event: the premiere of a restored version of the 1954 classic A Star Is Born, with Judy Garland and James Mason.  Following the opening, the new-old film will travel to Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Dallas in a series of single-evening screenings.

The recovery of this lost classic is a saga in itself, one marked not only by the passion and diligence of the researchers, but by the spirit of cooperation among the various institutions – studios, archives, trade associations, and agencies, involved in the restoration.  This is a personal account of the effort to restore A Star Is Born to the original three-hour film that its director loved so much he could never bear to see the cut version. – Eds.

George Cukor’s 1954 version of A Star Is Born is legendary for the way it was edited against its director’s wishes.  About a half-hour was taken out of the film, and over the years, among Cukor aficionados, the search for the missing material took on aspects of the quest for the Holy Grail.

I know, because I’m one of them.  I was fifteen when I first saw A Star Is Born.  The ads proclaimed it “the most eagerly awaited motion picture of our time.”  It was Jack Warner’s all-or-nothing gamble on the comeback of Judy Garland.  She hadn’t made a movie in four years.  After a decade and a half on the MGM roster, she had been fired for “unreliability,” had a nervous breakdown, attempted suicide, and divorced her director-husband Vincente Minnelli.  Her third husband, a promoter named Sid Luft, masterminded her triumphant return to show business.

In early 1953 she and Luft made a deal with Warner Bros.; the company agreed to finance a remake of David O. Selznick’s A Star Is Born (1937).  Luft would produce, George Cukor would direct from a new script by Moss Hart, and Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin would compose the songs.  With James Mason as the alcoholic movie superstar Norman Main, who transforms band singer Esther Blodgett (Garland) into star Vicki Lester, filming got underway; the budget was $2 million.  Technical delays – caused by the new CinemaScope process – Garland’s emotional ups and downs, and Cukor’s perfectionism stretched the shooting schedule from three months to nearly seven, and the budget ballooned to an astronomical (for 1954) $5 million.

The picture was given the largest, gaudiest, most spectacular opening Hollywood had seen in years.  On September 29, 1954, dozens of spotlights formed a huge star over the Pantages Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, and more than twenty thousand fans jammed the area around Hollywood and Vine.  For the first time, television cameras covered a Hollywood opening live from coast to coast.

Life called it “a brilliantly staged, scored, and photographed film, worth all the effort” and the New York Times said it was “stunning.”  Several weeks later, though, Variety carried a short item noting that Warners would trim A Star Is Born from three hours to two and a half.  Although business had been good, theater owners had complained that the long-running time would keep the number of showings down to three per day instead of four or five, thus cutting into revenue.

In the film, Norman Maine tries to explain to Esther Blodgett what greatness is: “There are certain pleasures you get – little jabs of pleasure when a swordfish takes the hook…or watching a great dancer – you don’t have to know about ballet.  That little bell rings inside – that little jolt of pleasure.  That’s what happened to me just now.”  So it was with me and A Star Is Born one hot Sunday afternoon.  I was disappointed at seeing the shortened version because I wanted more of those “little jabs of pleasure.”  I wanted more of the art direction – so carefully and tastefully understated – and of the subtle richness of the photography that filled the huge CinemaScope screen with compositions, I’d never seen in a film.  I wanted to see and hear the two missing musical numbers.  I wanted more of the Moss Hart and Cukor’s observations of the Hollywood social scene, the studio atmosphere, and the ambiance of Los Angeles and its environs, more of the elegance and wry sense of humor that permeated the film.  But Warners had withdrawn the three-hour version, and it never reappeared.

In 1971, when I was a projectionist in Los Angeles at The American Film Institute, I had the chance to see all of George Cukor’s films.  Cukor and Gavin Lambert were screening them during research on Lambert’s book On Cukor.  I was completely in awe of Cukor, who was as witty, as elegant, and as forthright as his work.  I asked him if we could screen his personal print of A Star Is Born.  “I don’t have a copy,” he said.  “I don’t have any of my films.  All I have are scripts and stills.”  I implored the AFI’s film librarian to try to get the 181-minute version from Warners.  Back came the word: All the studio had was a stereo print that ran 154 minutes.  The day of the screening, Lambert showed up alone.  “Where’s Mr. Cukor?” I asked.  “He’s not coming,” he said.  How strange, I thought, not to want to see one of your best films.  His reason was later given in a remark recorded in Lambert’s book, “Judy Garland and I felt like the English queen who had ‘Calais’ engraved on her heart…neither of us could ever bear to see that final version.”

Two years later, when I was working at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with archivist David Shepard, we decided to show A Star Is Born as part of a Cukor retrospective, and to accompany it with a brochure, using stills and script extracts, to show exactly what had been cut.  Cukor lent us his script and his complete collection of stills from the film, and we were able to finally itemize just exactly what had been taken out and assess the damage to the story.

In the picture as it has been seen for the past twenty-nine years, Norman Maine, after hearing Esther Blodgett sing in an after-hours dive, talks her into quitting the band she’s been working with and promises to get her a screen test.  She decides to take him up on the offer.  Fade out.  Fade in: She’s at the studio being made up for her test.

Originally, there were nine additional scenes between the offer and the screen test.  Esther the next morning says goodbye to the members of the band, while across town a hungover Norman is being poured into a limousine and taken off to a midsea location for three weeks.  She waits for his call; meanwhile, he, out at sea, is making frantic efforts to locate her, but cannot remember the name of the motel where she is staying.  In the ensuing weeks, Esther tries to find work, moves to a cheap rooming house in the downtown Bunker Hill section of Los Angeles, gets a singing job (doing voice-over for a puppet commercial for shampoo), and finally ends up as a carhop at a Sunset Boulevard drive-in.  Norman, having returned, hears her voice on the television commercial and tracks her down.  They have an awkward reunion on the roof of the rooming house, which then fades to the studio makeup scene.

1983-12-2 DailyMail UK

Also removed from the film was a two-minute scene of Norman driving a nervous Esther, now Vicki, to the preview of her first starring picture, trying to calm her; she makes him stop the car and gets sick all over an oil derrick.  Another deletion was a five-minute segment showing Vicki recording a song while Norman watches; afterward, his marriage proposal and her refusal are picked up by an open microphone and played back by the engineers, leaving her no choice but to accept.  The final deletion removed both of Vicki’s renditions of the song “Lose That Long Face’; one had followed Norman’s drunken humiliation of her at the Academy Awards ceremony, and the other had come immediately after her dramatic breakdown in her dressing room with Oliver Niles, the producer (Charles Bickford).  A total of twenty-seven minutes was taken out.  The deletion of the growing emotional involvement of Norman and Esther eliminated much of the story’s poignancy and diminished its tragedy.

I was very proud of the brochure; George looked at it cursorily, murmuring, almost to himself, “They don’t deserve a good picture,” and then beyond a brief “It’s very nice” never said another word.  Evidently, it only served to remind him of one of the major disappointments of his career.

One thing the brochure did was to generate renewed interest at Warner Bros. In finding the missing footage.  Rudi Fehr, then vice-president in charge of post-production, told me that he had his people go through their records and storage vaults and that they turned up nothing.  Evidently, the cut sect6ions had been kept for several months and then destroyed, a common practice at most major studios.  I was convinced that if I could get free, unlimited access to the studio vaults, a careful combing through all those thousands of cans of film would turn up the footage, possibly in mismarked cans.  But studios don’t like novices, no matter how well-meaning, rummaging through their vaults, so it looked as though I wouldn’t get the chance.

One day, from out of nowhere, came a call from an apprentice film editor at Warner Bros. Named Dave Strohmaier; he told me that he had come across the complete mixed soundtrack to the three-hour picture.  He had not, however, been able to turn up any footage.  Then, one evening in November 1981, at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, I hosted a tribute to lyricist Ira Gershwin, which ended with an excerpt from A Star Is Born: Judy Garland singing “The Man That Got Away.”  Introducing the finale, I commented on the fact that two of Arlen and Gershwin’s best songs had been removed from the film.  Fay Kanin, president of the Academy and someone with a long and close relationship with George Cukor, said afterward how wonderful it would be if the complete version of the film could be found.

In addition to being a writer of great sensitivity (Friendly Fire, Hustling), Fay, who has a deep-seated and passionate commitment to film, to film history, and to preservation, is a member of the AFI Board of Trustees’ Preservation Committee, chaired by Jeanine Basinger and including Brian O’Doherty of the National Endowment for the Arts, Jean Firstenberg of the AFI, Mary Lea Bandy of the Museum of Modern Art, and several other individuals concerned with national archive issues.  At the request of the committee, the AFI’s board has designated the next ten years the Decade of Preservation. A Star Is Born seemed a perfect vehicle to highlight the problems of preservation.  Questions had already been raised about the stability of the film’s color negative; the master stereo soundtracks had evidently been erased years ago; and existing prints were on the old Eastmancolor release stock, which has a tendency to fade.  So Fay contacted Robert Daly, chairman of the board of Warner Bros., and he eventually granted permission to go through the company’s film-storage facilities.

In late spring 1982, I began my search on the East Coast at the old, meticulously maintained Vitagraph storage facilities in Brooklyn, owned by Warners since the late twenties.  Nothing useful there, though, and the same was true of the laboratories in midtown Manhattan that had struck the prints.  The next stop, back in Los Angeles, was the Technicolor labs in Universal City, where I was aided by Bob Schulte, who went through the history of A Star Is Born’s print holding with me.  Technicolor had made the first set of prints for the full-length road-show version in 1954; according to its September 1954 records, the company struck 150 four-track stereo prints on Eastmancolor stock for the first run.  No more additional work was done until an order came through to cut the master negative.

When A Star Is Born was cut, reels 3A and 3B were combined to form a new, shorter reel known as 3AB.  Cuts were also made in 4A, 5A, 6B, 9A, and 9B.  The excised negative material, the “Trims and Deletions,” as the order phrased it, were put in tin cans and shipped to the studio.

Below:  The original laserdisc release of the newly restored version.

A later print order called for another 150 prints of the short version made by the Technicolor dye-transfer process, to be used during the second run.  From the shortened master negative were also made all the subsequent printing materials for 16mm and foreign 35mm use.  So much for finding a full-length 16mm or overseas print.

The next step was trying to determine what happened to the 150 full-length four-track prints.  According to the old studio files now kept at the University of Southern California and the Warner Bros. Distribution records at Princeton University, orders went out in 1954 from the editorial department to all the film exchanges across the country, telling them how to cut the prints and instructing them to send the excised material back to the studio.  We thought perhaps some zealous editor-inspector might have kept the extra footage.

During the summer months, the Academy placed ads in trade publications but turned up nothing of interest.

Below, the 1999 laserdisc release.

Everything seemed to point to the studio.  If the material wasn’t there, then it was pretty certain not to exist.  Warners’ editorial and film library is under the calm but firm control of Fred Talmage, vice-president in charge of postproduction, the nerve center for everything that happens to a picture after it comes off the sound stages.  When I told him that I wanted to spend my summer vacation prowling through the studio vaults, Fred just smiled, shook his head, and said, “Well, Ron, Whatever turns you on.”

Our first stop was the Sound Department’s storage area under what is known as the old Technicolor building to make certain that Dave Strohmaier had been correct about the complete track being there.  It’s a huge subterranean basement, stretching under the studio for nearly a quarter of an acre, lit by bare bulbs, and in some areas thick with a fine dust that covers thousands of cans of soundtracks and magnetic tape.  Two Sound Department veterans, Ed Chaplin and Phil Birch took Fred and me through the narrow aisles.  We began pulling out cans marked “A STAR IS BORN, Long Version YD-YF Mag Track,” which meant that this was a monaural dialogue, music, and sound effects track on magnetic film.  There were twenty-three cans, and the only way to find out if they were what we were looking for was to playback one of the reels to see if it had the missing material on it.  Reel 3A was pulled; if all was well, it would have Esther saying goodbye to the band – and by God it did!  Things were off to an auspicious start.

Below:  The original VHS of the cut version (pre-1983 restoration) and the original release of the newly restored version on VHS.

Finding the soundtrack was half the battle; now all we had to do was locate the picture to match it.  Fred turned me over to Don Adler, who’d been working in the film vaults for almost thirty years, cataloging every single piece of exposed film on its journey from camera to release print.  I asked him what would have happened to the cans shipped back to the studio from Technicolor containing the cut negative.  “In those days,” he said, “we’d keep it for six months, then junk it.”  Was it possible that some of it might not have been junked?  “Possible, but not likely.”  According to Don’s inventory, there were some miscellaneous cans of A Star Is Born material in one of his storage areas.  There were about twenty cans, none of which had the appropriate Technicolor numbers on them.  Not one of the reel numbers on the cans corresponded to the reels that had been trimmed, but here was my chance to prove or disprove my theory about the possibility of mismarked cans.

I wound through the film, squinting at the 35mm images, looking for something that was familiar to me from the stills of the missing sequences.  Can 7A had the first love scene between Norman and Vicki, immediately after her preview triumph.  It takes place on the terrace of an exclusive Hollywood nightclub and is supposed to dissolve into a scene in producer Oliver Nile’s office when they announce they’re going to be married.  Instead, I found I was staring at the missing scene on the recording stage with Vicki singing “Here’s What I’m Here For,” followed by the proposal and live microphone pickup.

Below: The 1999 re-release of the film on VHS, laserdisc, and for the first time on DVD.

I must have let out a loud yelp because Don came running back into the office to see if something had happened to me.  I was jumping up and down with excitement.  If this one sequence was there, could the others be far off?  Don helped me carry in the other cans of film, and I reeled through negative can after negative can, hoping that lightning would strike twice.  It didn’t, but for the next two days, I examined every single rack and every single label on every single can of film in that basement storage area.

“Where next?” I asked Don. “ Try the stock-footage library,” he replied. “I think they have a lot of leftover material from the film.”  Every studio has one of these libraries;’ after a picture is put together, an editor goes through all of the unused film and selects material that might be useful in some future film.  The Warners stock-footage library is under the iron rule of Evelyn Lane, an imposing woman who stands for no-nonsense from anyone.  Her long days are spent in a cramped bungalow office stacked with miscellaneous cans of film, overflowing file cabinets, rewinds, and editing tables.

Below:  The 2010 deluxe Blu-ray “digi-book” edition, plus the new set in the standard DVD format as well as the non-digi-book Blu-ray release.

“A Star Is Born?  Down there in the bottom drawer,” she said, pointing while cradling a telephone on her shoulder and typing up a requisition slip.  She hung up and swung around to explain that all of the Warners features are listed by title, with individual index cards for each piece of stock footage from the movie.  She pulled out the bottom drawer and there, neatly typed on five-by-seven-inch cards, were the descriptions of all the unused negative segments from A Star Is Born, with a sample frame of each negative on each card.  They were all broken down into subject categories – “Apartment Houses,” “Automobile Traffic,” Drive-in,” “Life Rafts,” “Los Angeles Exteriors’ – with a one-line description of what was one each piece of film.  I pulled out the card marked “Bus” and read, “Day.  But with lettering GLENN WILLIAMS ORCHESTRA on side pulls away from Motel.”  I began to get excited again.  This was Esther’s goodbye to the band.

There were nearly two hundred entries for A Star Is Born, and some of this negative material had been printed up for possible use.  Evelyn took me to the vault holding the printed material, and I began going through dozens of cans, finding numerous takes of the film’s scenes, mostly long and medium shots, carefully edited so that the principals are not visible.

Below: The 1958 soundtrack re-release on LP; 1955 extended play 7″ vinyl edition in the 45rpm format; 1955 Australian LP edition.

Hoping there might be more than this among the negative material, I asked Evelyn to take me to that storage vault, made up of long, narrow concrete bunkers filled with rank upon rank of film cans – 150 of them from A Star Is Born.  Each can had several tightly wound rolls of negative material with a paper label describing the contents.  The label on can number 90 read: “Judy Garland sings ‘Lose That Long Face.’”  The anonymous stock-footage editor had saved every alternate take of the musical numbers in the film, including the puppet commercial.  There seemed a good chance that all the missing dramatic footage, in alternate takes, might be here too.

For the next three weeks, I went through the 150 cans, examining every roll, but the all-important close-ups and medium shots of the leads playing the deleted scenes were nowhere to be found.  My last hope was the storage vaults for the library prints, the copies that are kept for use by the studio.  I worked my way through all these vaults, finding nothing until finally only one more remained.

Below: 1970s soundtrack re-release on LP; 1978 UK re-release on LP; 1988 premiere CD release; 2004 CD release featuring previously unreleased tracks.

Vault 120 looked no different from all the others before it, except that in the back were some tall cardboard boxes of the type that film cans are shipped in.  Near the air duct grating in the very rear were two boxes, about three feet high, sealed with no labels other than the Technicolor emblem.  I opened the first one and looked at the cans: The Bounty Hunter, a Randolph Scott Western from 1954.  The other box was sealed tightly with masking tape.  From the look of it, it had never been opened, but I finally managed to peel off the tape and break open the sealed top.  There was a silver can inside with the distinctive blue Technicolor label, and on the label were the words “A STAR IS BORN R12A.” a yellow shipping receipt had the date, October 4, 1954.

I opened the top can, and inside were the black waxed bags that film is shipped in; they had never been opened.  I began pulling out those cans furiously, looking for two separate reels, 3A and 3B, which would tell me that this was a complete, uncut print.  By the time I got down to the bottom of the box, I was shaking so much that I dropped my flashlight and had a hard time reading the numbers on the top; there was 4B, then 4A, and finally “Reel 3AB.”

It was the cut version.  I sat there for a couple of minutes, completely dejected; there was nothing to do but admit that everyone had been correct – the missing sequences were irretrievably lost.  However, about 20 minutes of usable deleted footage, a complete, 181-minute monaural soundtrack, 154 minutes of the stereo soundtrack (which was on the studio print), and the mint-condition Technicolor short version had been found.

Below: Details of the 2010 deluxe “digi-book” Blu-ray release.

It occurred to me that we could take the bits and pieces of film that we’d found in the stock-footage vaults, and, using the soundtrack and the editor’s script as a guide, put the shots back where they belonged.  The several minutes where we had no visuals could be filled in using stills of the missing scenes.  Stills have been used successfully before, notably in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Raging Bull, but never before in a restored film.  Robert Swarthe, special effects genius, and animator par excellence, told me it could be done, but it would be expensive – maybe $25,000.  Lisze Bechtold Blyth, a prizewinning animator, agreed to take on the project if we could get approval and money.

Once Fay Kanin got the approval of George Cukor and Gene Allen, production designer on A Star Is Born, she went back to Robert Daly and asked for Warners’ financial support in reconstructing the film and help in setting up a series of fund-raising screenings for the Academy’s ongoing archival work.  Daly was interested but cautious.  He proposed that we do a test reel, and authorized $5,000; we said we’d come back in two months.  The day after the meeting, Lisze, Gene, the Academy’s Douglas Edwards, a young editor named Craig Holt, and I began meeting in the Academy’s editing room.  We decided to start right at the beginning of the deletions, with Esther’s farewell to the band, and then go through Norman’s being driven off to location.  Esther’s waiting for his call, and all of the other missing bits right up to Esther’s doing the voice-over for the puppet commercial.  Evelyn Lane pulled the negative segments we needed.

We were nervous about the color quality, but the material, when it came back from the laboratory, looked absolutely beautiful.  Craig and I began the arduous task of looking at the various takes and trying to match them with what was happening on the soundtrack.  It was much like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.  We cut in the blank film where we had no picture; then Lisze, Gene, and I timed this blank footage and worked out the camera moves across the stills.

Below: Labels of the original Columbia LP soundtrack; Label of one of the LPs in the original boxed set soundtrack; Label of the 45rpm extended-play vinyl release.

All this took almost five weeks to work out, and on the day that Lisze brought in the results of her first shooting, we were all a bit nervous.  The lights went down, the picture faded in, and the camera traveled across a still of the Glenn Williams Band bus, coming to rest on Judy Garland as, on the track, voices of the men in the band said their farewells.  It looked wonderful, and the sound and the image matched up beautifully.

So Fay set up a screening for Daly; George Cukor was going to attend, too.  But the night before the screening, the telephone rang and I was told that George had died.  I was stunned.

It was a very depressed group that met at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater on the evening of January 25, 1983.  However, Fay reminded us that we had a great opportunity here.  In reconstituting the film and presenting it to audiences, we would not only be restoring a marvelous movie but celebrating George.  Suddenly there was a renewed spirit of commitment, shared by Daly when he arrived.  The picture looked and sounded spectacular, and three days later Fay excitedly called to say that he had agreed to back the project.

Below: Examples of some of the sheet music.

Then came another lucky break.  At the Academy’s urging, Jim Parker of Eastman Kodak agreed to donate the raw stock that we needed to complete the project.  The longevity of the color negative had been verified by the beautiful prints we were getting from the stock footage.  We wanted to print our restored sequences on the new Eastman Kodak print film 5384, with its vastly improved dye stability.  This gift freed a large chunk of our budget, which could then be used to restore the stereo soundtrack.

Craig, Lisze, and Gene worked days, nights, and weekends, joined by D.J. Zeigler of the Academy’s Film Department and Fred Talmage and his technical staff at the studio, to finish in time for the public showings.  A Premiere was set for July 7 at the Radio City Music Hall, with screenings to follow in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Dallas.

Below: International sheet music.

These presentations will serve to advance the cause of film preservation and to remind audiences of the achievements of George Cukor, Judy Garland, James Mason, Moss Hart, Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin, musical director Ray Heindorf, cinematographer Sam Levitt, and the dozens of other Hollywood craftspeople whose work made A Star Is Born the overwhelming theatrical experience that it will once again prove to be.  Finally, the presentations will serve to give audiences the chance to experience hundreds of “those little jabs of pleasure.”

Ronald Haver
American Film Magazine
Volume VIII Number 9
July-August 1983


Ron Haver’s excellent book, “A Star Is Born: The Making of the 1954 Movie and its 1983 Restoration” is still available on Amazon and other sites.

In the decades since 1983, the film has been released and re-released in all home media formats (see the images above).  In 2010, the film chosen to open the premiere of the new Turner Classic Movies Film Festival was the newly restored and remastered edition of A Star Is Born, which was also released on Blu-ray for the first time.

In 2016, The Judy Room premiered the newly restored and previously unreleased extended version of the “Lose That Long Face” number thanks to the generosity of collector Rick Smith, who is the owner of the only known extant recording of that longer version.  See the video below.

Check out The Judy Room’s Spotlight on A Star Is Born here.

Most of the photos featured here were provided by Kim Lundgreen.  Thanks, Kim!

Film credits:


Judy Garland … Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester
James Mason … Norman Maine
Jack Carson … Matt Libby
Charles Bickford … Oliver Niles
Tom Noonan … Danny McGuire
Lucy Marlow … Lola Lavery
Amanda Blake … Miss Ettinger
Irving Bacon … Graves
Hazel Shermet … Libby’s Secretary
Wilton Graff … Emcee
Grady Sutton … Artie Carver
James Brown … Glenn Williams
Lotus Robb … Miss Markham

Production Staff

Produced by: Sidney Luft
Associate Producer: Vern Alves
Directed by: George Cukor
Screenplay by: Moss Hart (based on the screenplay by Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell and Robert Carson, from a story by William A. Wellman and Robert Carson)
Art Director: Malcolm Bert
Set Decorator: George James Hopkins
Production Design: Gene Allen
Cinematographer: Sam Leavitt
Photographed in: CinemaScope and Eastmancolor (1954-55 prints by Technicolor)
Special Visual and Color Consultant: George Hoyningen-Huene
Editor: Folmar Blangsted
Costumes: Jean Louis, Mary Ann Nyberg
Costumes for “Born in a Trunk”: Irene Sharaff
Assistant Directors: Earl Bellamy, Edward Graham, Russell Llewellyn
Dance Director: Richard Barstow
“Born in a Trunk” by Leonard Gershe and Roger Edens
“Gotta Have Me Go with You”,
“The Man That Got Away”,
“Here’s What I’m Here For”,
“Someone at Last”,
“It’s a New World”,
“Lose That Long Face”
by Harold Arlen (music) and Ira Gershwin (lyrics)
Musical Director: Ray Heindorf
Orchestral Arrangements: Skip Martin
Vocal Arrangements: Jack Cathcart
Additional Choreography: Eugene Loring

Complete cast list (in order of appearance):
Jerry DeCoe, Wayne Taylor, Melvin Pogue, Janet Stewart, Sylvia Arslan, Colette McMahon [Autograph Seekers]; George Fisher [Announcer]; Jim Hyland [Assistant Announcer]; Lucy Marlow [Lola Lavery]; Charles Bickford [Oliver Niles]; Jack Carson [Matt Libby]; Joan Shawlee [Woman Announcer]; Sam Colt [Store Manager]; Jay Johnson [Musician]; James Brown [Glenn Williams]; James Mason [Norman Maine]; Tommy Noonan [Danny McGuire]; Judy Garland [Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester]; Tom Kingston, George Kitchell, Robert Dumas, Duff Whitney [Reporters]; Irving Bacon [Graves]; Louis Mason [Doorman]; Frank Puglia [Bruno]; Michael Hathaway [Agent]; Havis Davenport [Starlet]; Elmera Smith [Pasadena Girl]; Jack Pepper [Chef]; Dub Taylor [Driver]; Louis Jean Heydt [Director]; Don Richards [Cameraman]; Bob Jellison [Eddie]; Don Shelton [TV Director]; Robert Stevenson [Boom Man]; Chick Chandler [Man in Car]; Kathryn Card [Landlady]; Geraldine Wall [Woman]; Nancy Kulp, Mary Young [Boarding House Women]; Alan DeWitt [1st Makeup Man]; Rudy Anders [2nd Makeup Man]; Joe Dougherty [3rd Makeup Man]; Ross Carmichael [Photographer]; Lotus Robb [Miss Markham]; Blythe Daly [Miss Fusselow]; Leonard Penn [Director]; Eddie Dew [Cameraman]; Charles Conrad [Assistant Director]; George Becwar [Assistant Director]; Charles Halton [1st Cashier]; Joseph Mell [2nd Cashier]; Olin Howlin [Charley]; Dick Simmons [Director]; Joe Greene [1st Agent]; Joe Hamilton [2nd Agent]; Phil Arnold [3rd Agent]; Jack Baker [Father]; Ila McAvoy [Mother]; Nadene Ashdown [Esther, Age 6]; Heidi Meadows [Esther, Age 3]; Jack Kenney [1st Night Club Man]; Dick Ryan [2nd Night Club Man]; Ted Thorpe, David Armstrong, Bob Hoy, Larry Rio [Sound Men]; Al Thompson [1st Vagrant]; Oscar Blank [2nd Vagrant]; Emerson Treacy [Justice of the Peace]; Ruth Bradee, Shirley Whitney, Jean Engstrom, Almeda Fowler, Mae Marsh, Arlene Karr, Paul Levitt, Rodney Bell, Richard Bauman, Marshall Bradford [Malibu Party Guests]; Eric Wilton [Butler]; Hazel Shermet [Libby’s Secretary]; John Monaghan [Male Secretary]; louis Tomei [1st Signboard Man]; Carey Loftin [2nd Signboard Man]; Strother Martin [Express Man]; Grady Sutton [Artie Carver]; Rex Evans [Emcee]; Amanda Blake [Susan Ettinger]; Richard Webb [Wallace]; Steve Wyman [Nigel Peters]; Tom Cound [Price Waterhouse Man]; Mort Mills [Makeup Man]; Kay Ridhl [Hairdresser]; Tristram Coffin [Director]; Henry Kulky [Cuddles]; Riza Royce [Secretary]; Charles Watts [Manager]; Sam Colt [Sam]; Paul Bryar [Bartender]; Tom Blakiston [Young Man]; Pat O’Malley, Gertrude Astor [Race Track Patrons]; Valerie Vernon [Marian]; Pat Sexton [Bert]; Jack Ellis [Pinkerton Detective]; Frank Ferguson [Judge]; Timothy Farrell [Bailiff]; Percy Helton [Gregory]; Michael Hall [Rails]; Arthur Space [Clerk]; Nacho Galindo [Rodriguez]; Benny Burt, Ralph Volkie, Robert Strong [Reporters at Courtroom]; Josephine Whittell, Sheila Bromley, Elizabeth Flournoy, Ruth Warren, Cele Kirk, Eileene Stevens, Helen Eby Rock, Hilda Plowright, Ezelle Poule [Women at Funeral]; Harte Wayne, Louis Mason, Frank Kreig, Paul Brinegar [Men at Funeral]; Dale Van Sickel, Don Richards, Robert Dumas, Jean Woodley [Reporters at Shrine Auditorium]; Pat Miller, Al Hill, Frank Marlowe, Charles Morton, Gordon Finn [Photographers at Shrine Auditorium]; Wilton Graff [Emcee]
[from A Star Is Born: The Making of the 1954 Movie and Its 1983 Restoration, Ronald Haver, Alfred A. Knopf, 1988]



  1. Thanks, Scott for reminding us all how exciting that summer of ’83 was. I went on August 5th here in L.A. But I must confess when I first saw your email, I thought you were announcing that the ENTIRE film had been located. If a full version does exist, as you have said, shame on the individual(s) who won’t come forth.

    1. If the entire print had been found, I would have been screaming it from the mountain tops! And in all caps and exclamation points here on the blog. I hope to be able to do that someday. 🙂

  2. Great explanation Scott. Very interesting to read. I just find it hard to believe that none of the 150 (?) copies of the original film survives, at least where it can be accessed. I recall the story about the collector sitting on one of them who wouldn’t let anyone see it. Thing is, many people would have recognized back in 1954 that an uncut version would be a very valuable thing. Garland was a huge and popular star who had not made a movie for a while. Maybe some day on Ebay …
    Best, John.

    1. One would think that someone would have saved more of the footage. But, at least we have the musical numbers. Things at Warner Bros. were different than they were at MGM, and apparently there wasn’t anyone who saved everything on the side as they did at MGM with the pre-recording sessions. Allegedly, they did get all of the complete prints back from the theaters that had them. Check out the article I wrote a whole decade ago about how Michael Arick supposedly has a complete print: http://thejudyroom.com/asib/asib-article.html.

      I sure hope a complete print is found. 🙂

  3. I was at the L.A. screening, too. I’ve bought All of the various formats, over the decades!
    When I worked in the Biz, I was always looking for ‘special’ items to…’rescue!’
    Found in a drawer at Warner Bros, considered just Junk really, to be used as miscellaneous set dressing, I found four 8″x10″ negatives of Natalie Wood, from 1955! And a proof sheet of promo shots of Natalie and Nick Adams!
    All these years later, I still share some of my memories of that time on ebay!
    But, my Favorite treasure from A Star is Born, that I bought at the Judy Garland auction in 1978, is Judy’s own Ticket to the Premiere!

    1. I wonder why Judy even needed a ticket for the premiere? 🙂 I would love to see it!

      And of course, all the other treasures you have. How wonderful!

        1. That’s great! Thank you for sharing. I have that same “cloth sculpture” (as we call it) seen at 2:11. Mine is in a fun box frame. I saw the ticket – that’s wonderful!

  4. I was at the Radio City Premier on July 7, 1983. I was in the very back row of the highest Mezzanine, but I was there! The ticket was only $20. If the pictures show , they are of the Marquee, my ticket stub, Liza, James Mason, a very crowded lobby.

  5. Coming from an era when seeing the “Chopped” version (in Black and White on a small TV screen every few years) was my only taste of this film. Ironic that it was the filmthat made me a LIFETIME Judy fan! I saw it, Put back together (I was at Radio City usic Hall when they premied the NEW, UNCUT version) with 5,000 other Judy fans, Sid Luft, :Lorna and Joe and James Mason (not sure if Liza was there; gettiing old..). THEN the sound was improved. Then it was recolorized and put back to it’s Cinemescope sixe for Letterbox TV. I thought I’d seen it all… 🙂 This is a nice new suirprise. Hahaha! TY for the reminder to see it.

  6. Pardon my typo’s….the hunidity today (july 8th)is horrendous. Keys sticking.

  7. I attended the Oakland California Premiere of the restored “A Star is Born”! Met James Mason there. It was a unforgettable night!

  8. Excellent displays, explanations and wonderful telling of the event and al;l that it meant. I was there that night at Radio City and I have to say it was a GLORIOUS night with about 5,000 of us Judy fans all crowded into the huge and beautiful Radio City Music Hall. A night NEVER to be forgotten. Thanks Scott.

  9. Oops, I think I answered twice on this thread. 7/08/20 and no. I just got excited when my mail arrived. 🙂 You can TOSS my second statement Scott. 🙂

  10. Dear Scott,

    This is a very in-depth, scholarly article, like all your writing. It is very impressive. I saw this film last year, and it was the version which included the restored musical numbers and photographs with overdubbed dialogue. My family and I were absolutely baffled by these sequences, not having heard about the restoration process. Once I learned about the restoration, it made a lot more sense!

    By the way, PEPS is hosting three blogathons in the remainder of 2020, The 4th Annual Great Blogathon in October (https://pureentertainmentpreservationsociety.wordpress.com/2020/09/22/announcing-the-4th-annual-great-breening-blogathon/), The Third Annual Claude Rains Blogathon in November (https://pureentertainmentpreservationsociety.wordpress.com/2020/10/01/an-old-friend-is-never-an-added-guest-please-join-us-for-the-third-annual-claude-rains-blogathon/), and The 2nd Happy Holidays Blogathon
    (https://pureentertainmentpreservationsociety.wordpress.com/2020/10/01/announcing-the-2nd-happy-holidays-blogathon/). For the Great Breening Blogathon, I’m sure that you could write a wonderful breening article of a Shurlock Era (1955-1968) Judy Garland film. I don’t think Claude Rains and Judy Garland ever made a movie together, but I know you could write a wonderful review of a Judy Garland holiday film. If you could join one or more of these blogathons, that would be wonderful. We could really use your talent!

    Yours Hopefully,

    Tiffany Brannan

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