a star is born

Dorothy Parker (The Blacklist Episode #3) by Karina Longworth

Columnist, poet and celebrated Algonquin Roundtable wit Dorothy Parker spent years in Hollywood, working as a screenwriter in partnership with her second husband, Alan Campbell, and contributing to important films such as the original A Star is Born and Alfred Hitchcock’s Saboteur. Much to the surprise of many of her closest friends, beginning in the late 1920s Parker became increasingly drawn to socialist causes. Parker’s political calling was merely socially problematic before World War II, when Parker spearheaded the formation of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League; after the war, when Parker’s name was named before HUAC, her political convictions killed her Hollywood career at its peak.

Algonquin Round Table

Show notes:

Here is a list of published sources that the entire season draws from:

The Red and the Blacklist: An Intimate Memoir of a Hollywood Expatriate by Norma Barzman

Dalton Trumbo: Blacklisted Hollywood Radical by Larry Ceplair and Christopher Trumbo

Trumbo: A biography of the Oscar-winning screenwriter who broke the Hollywood blacklist by Bruce Cook

When Hollywood Was Right: How Movie Stars, Studio Moguls, and Big Business Remade American Politics by Donald T. Critchlow

Odd Man Out: A Memoir of the Hollywood Ten by Edward Dmytryk

City of Nets by Otto Friedrich

Hollywood Radical, Or How I Learned to Love the Blacklist by Bernard Gordon

I Said Yes to Everything by Lee Grant

Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War by J. Hoberman

Naming Names by Victor S. Navasky

Sources specific to this episode:

Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This? by Marion Meade

The Portable Dorothy Parker

Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick by David Thomson

“Dorothy Parker: Hemingway Really Hated Her!” by Jennifer Wright on The Gloss

This episode includes clips from A Star is Born (1937) and Saboteur.

The scene excerpted from Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle.

Parker’s poem “Women: A Hate Song” was read by Carol Monda.

MGM Stories Part Eleven: David O. Selznick, Jennifer Jones and Robert Walker by Karina Longworth

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In 1941, David O. Selznick signed a young actress named Phylis, who was then married to actor Robert Walker (Strangers on a Train). Selznick renamed Phylis “Jennifer Jones,” and set to work turning her into a star, helping her to earn an Oscar for her first film under her new name. Selznick and Jones also began an affair, and Selznick’s romantic and professional obsession with Jones would result in the destruction of both of their marriages, as well as the creation of at least two movies transparently about Selznick’s passion for his star actress. But in a tragic echo of Selznick’s own film A Star is Born, as he threw his weight behind turning Jones into a star, Selznick himself lost his footing in Hollywood.

Special thanks to special guests Adam Goldberg (who reprised his role as David O. Selznick), Craig Mazin (who reprised his role as Louis B. Mayer), and Rian Johnson (who reprised his role as John Huston).

Sources: 

David Thomson, Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick

Paul Green, Jennifer Jones: The Life and Films

Robert Walker official fan site

Walker's New York Times obituary

MGM Stories Part Ten: David O. Selznick, The Mayers & Gone With the Wind by Karina Longworth

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In 1930, after putting in time at MGM and RKO, Paramount executive David O. Selznick married Irene Mayer, the daughter of L.B. Mayer. Irene’s father would soon thereafter bring Selznick to MGM to fill in for an ailing Irving Thalberg, but MGM, in all its grandeur, was too small for Selznick’s dreams. He started his own independent studio, through which he created the original A Star is Born, the only Hitchcock movie to win Best Picture, and the biggest hit in the history of Hollywood, Gone with the Wind. Starring Adam Goldberg as David O. Selznick, and Craig Mazin as Louis B. Mayer.

Sources:

This episode was inspired by a post on our forum requesting the story of the love triangle between Selznick, actor Robert Walker and his wife, the future Jennifer Jones. As part of my research, I went to the BFI Library to read David Thomson's out-of-printShowman: The Life of David O. Selznick, and I became so engrossed that when the library closed I ended up ordering a used copy and carrying it with me on a trip from London to Los Angeles and back -- a commitment, because at 820 pages, even the paperback is heavy and hard to wedge into a carry-on. It was totally worth it. Thomson is a lot like his subject, in that neither is known for their ruthless ability to self-edit, but both put their passion out there in a way that I find fascinating. Thomson really made me feel the grand arc of Selznick's life and career, and after finishing his book, I realized I couldn't just tell the Jennifer Jones story -- I had to at least summarize at length the 30-something years of Selznick's life before he met his second wife. This is preamble became long enough to be it's own episode, so we'll get to Jennifer Jones next week. I guess I'm not great at self-editing, either.

Other sources:

Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer by Scott Eyman

A Private View by Irene Mayer Selznick

City of Nets by Otto Friedrich

This episode was edited by Henry Molofsky. Our research intern is Allie Gemmill. 

YMRT #21: The Birth of Barbra Streisand's A Star is Born by Karina Longworth

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There have been four Hollywood films made under the name and/or with the basic story of A Star is Born. The definitive version may be the one starring Judy Garland, directed by George Cukor in 1954; the most reviled version is the one starring Barbra Streisand, made in 1976 and produced by Barbra’s hair dresser-turned-boyfriend Jon Peters. In the middle of the New Hollywood 1970s, when American film was supposedly engaged in a mass project of questioning establishment myths, Streisand and Peters embraced Hollywood’s oldest, most institutionalized myth and appropriated it as a way to build a enormous (and enormously un-self-aware) monument to their own lives and their real-life romance. The result was both a huge success, and a disaster. It paved the way for Streisand’s future directing career and Peters’ future as a Hollywood mogul, while also branding both with bad reputations — partially thanks to an expose on the production of the movie published by its jilted director. 

Show notes!

This was the toughest episode I’ve done to this point, because there are so many stories to tell about Peters, Streisand and the making of this film, and it’s hard to know which of those stories people have heard before, and what background I needed to provide. I probably could have done this episode without summarizing Streisand’s relationship with Elliott Gould, say, or Peters’ post-Columbia struggles, but that stuff is sort of why I was interested in what happened in the middle. In the end, I wrote and rewrote the script many times in the editing.

Nothing in this episode is “secret,” but I think a lot of it has been forgotten, particularly Frank Pierson’s expose on the making of A Star is Born, which was published first in New West magazine, and then in New York magazine. (One thing I couldn’t fit into the episode: at that link, there’s a quote from Barbra about Pierson’s article, which she gave to Geraldo Rivera. Rivera was one of Jon Peters’ best friends.) It’s hard to imagine a world in which such a thing would be possible, for a director to pull back the curtain and reveal what working with a much-more-famous star/producer was really like. It probably couldn’t have happened ten years before, and it definitely wouldn’t have happened ten years after. Sometimes people talk about the New Hollywood era as though the lunatics were running the asylum, and that was never really entirely true — there were always executives, and studios were becoming corporate entities — but it is true that several wormholes of possibility opened. One of those wormholes allowed for unfiltered writing about the making of movies and the people who made them — which of course also has something to do with the ways in which journalism changed in the 1960s and 70s. 

An excellent example is the reporting of Grover Lewis, some of which is collected in the out-of-print, essential, Academy All the Way. In this episode, I referenced Lewis’ 1971 profile of Streisand, “The Jeaning of Barbra Streisand,” which you can also read here

Special thanks to Noah Segan, who played Jon Peters. 

Additional bibliography:

Hit and Run by Nancy Griffin and Kim Masters

Is That a Gun in Your Pocket? by Rachel Abramowitz

Barbra by Christopher Andersen

It Should Be Called ‘Dickhead’” by Nikki Finke, Deadline Hollywood

Studio Head” by William Stadiem, Vanity Fair

Interview with Joan Didion, Academy of Achievement, 2006

Mediography:

Streisand’s director’s commentary on the 2004 DVD release of A Star is Born was useful for research purposes, and is also excerpted in the episode.

Discography:

“The Man That Got Away” from A Star is Born, Instrumental, performed by Warner Brothers Orchestra

“Private Hurricane (Instrumental) by Josh Woodward

“Evergreen” by Barbra Streisand

“Moonlight Saving Me” performed by Blossom Dearie

“Chiado” by Jahzzar

“Holy Thursday” by David Axelrod

“I Was the Fool Beside You For Too Long” by Yo La Tengo

“Money” by Jahzzar

“Funny Lady: How Lucky Can You Get” by The Studio Sound Ensemble

“Make a Wish (For Christmas)” by Lee Rosevere

“Benbient” by canton

“Fiery Yelloe” by Stereolab

“Divider” by Chris Zabriskie

“Whole Lotta Love,” performed by Ike and Tina Turner

“Out of the Skies, Under the Earth” by Chris Zabriskie

“Dnaces and Dames” by Kevin MacLeod

“Object Du Desire” performed by James Figurine

“Au coin de la rue” performed by Marco Raaphorst

“Undercover Vampire Policeman” by Chris Zabriskie

“Cylinder One” by Chris Zabriskie

“Intelligent Galaxy” by The Insider

“Inside You” by Eddie Henderson

“Make it Drums” by Daedelus

“Finale: Watch Closely Now” from A Star is Born, performed by Barbra Streisand

YMRT #5: The Lives, Deaths and Afterlives of Judy Garland by Karina Longworth

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Today we’re commemorating the life and career of Judy Garland, who died 45 years ago this month. Signed to a studio contract at the age of 13, encouraged to become a pill addict as a teenage MGM contract player, crowned a superstar by The Wizard of Oz at age 17 and married for the first time at 18, Garland lived more than her share of life before reaching legal maturity. But today, we’re going to pay particular attention to the last two decades of her life, the post-MGM years, during which Garland battled through one comeback after another, ultimately establishing intimate relationships with her fans on TV and in live performances that would cement Garland’s legacy as one of the most powerful performers of all time. These triumphs were, at the time, usually overlooked by an essentially paternalistic mainstream media which, much to Garland’s dismay, delighted in the negative and the tragic. We’ll explore Garland’s struggles to assert herself within an industry that nearly killed her, and against a media which seemed to be out to get her. We’ll also take a look at Garland’s rise as a gay icon, and the connection between Garland’s death and the Stonewall Riots, which took place the night of Garland’s funeral. 

This episode is a little bit different than previous episodes. For one thing, it includes material from interviews with two different experts: Anne Helen Petersen, who writes about Garland in her new book, Scandals of Classic Hollywood, and Peter Mac, a Judy Garland tribute artist whose act features detail-oriented recreations of Garland’s live performances, and who is incredibly well-versed in Garland’s life, work and legacy. 

Also, at two different points, I have Friend of You Must Remember ThisNoah Segan reading excerpts from William Goldman’s The Season. The first of these excerpts is an example of the way that Garland often functions as a kind of folk hero, the star of cocktail party anecdotes that become something like tale tales. The other excerpt is more problematic — it’s basically a document of vicious homophobia, although it wouldn’t have been called or recognized as that at the time — and I debated whether or not to include it. Ultimately I decided that I wanted to have it in there because it helped me to remember how significant Stonewall really was, by showing how much it needed to happen, and how much has changed (although of course there’s still a long way to go). This kind of completely casual reporting on “fluttering fags” shows us how different the world that Judy Garland lived in is from the world that began to come into being after her death. There’s some debate as to whether or not there’s a literal, causal relationship between Garland’s death and Stonewall, but there’s no question that the dividing line between the Before Stonewall and After Stonewall eras coincides exactly with the dividing line between Judy Garland’s existence in the world as a living, breathing human being and her post-death existence as a symbol, angel, martyr, whatever. As I’ve tried to show here, I think it’s the emotional connection, the connection in the public imagination, that really matters. 

I’ve listed my sources as usual below, but I should also note that my fascination with Judy Garland is longstanding, and though I didn’t pick them up this week, there are a few texts that I’ve basically internalized over the years. One is Ronald Haver’s book on the production, destruction and restoration/reconstruction of A Star is BornA Star is Born is my favorite film, and Haver’s book is definitely amongst the most impactful books about filmmaking, celebrity, the culture of Hollywood and Hollywood’s ability to create culture, that I’ve ever read. Then there’s an article by Adrienne L. McLean which ran in Film Quarterly in the Spring of 2002, called “Feeling and the Filmed Body: Judy Garland and the Kinesics of Suffering.” This article was the final straw that made me decide to apply to graduate schools, and it’s still a gold standard for me in terms of relating what’s happening in a person’s life off-screen to what they make visible on-screen.

Special thanks to Anne Helen Petersen and Peter Mac for making the time to talk to me. Anne’s book is available for pre-order and will be released in September. If you have an opportunity to see Peter’s show, I highly recommend it. I first saw him perform at The Other Side, a piano bar in the LA neighborhood of Silverlake, which opened in the late 1960s and, sadly, closed in 2012. In that small room, where we would usually sit and drink around the piano, Peter’s note-perfect renditions of songs like “The Man That Got Away” were known to make me cry. He’s headlining a fundraiser for the L. Frank Baum Foundation in Syracuse, New York in August.

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Music in this episode:

“After You’ve Gone” performed by Judy Garland

“Moonlight Saving Me” played by Blossom Dearie

“The Boy Next Door,” played by Blossom Dearie

“I Feel a Song Coming On,” performed by Judy Garland

“Over the Rainbow” performed by Judy Garland

“Come Rain of Come Shine,” performed by Judy Garland

“Preludes for Piano #2,” performed by George Gershwin

“The Man That Got Away,” performed by Judy Garland, from A Star is Born

“The Man That Got Away” instrumental

“Medley: This is The Time of the Evening/While We’re Young,” performed by Judy Garland

“Stormy Weather,” performed by Judy Garland live at Carnegie Hall

“Olv 26” performed by Stereolab

“My Orphaned Son,” performed by DNTEL

“Who Cares,” performed by Judy Garland live at Carnegie Hall

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Text sources:

Scandals of Classic Hollywood, by Anne Helen Petersen

The Season, by William Goldman

Get Happy, by Gerald Clarke

A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli, by Mark Griffin

"Judy Garland and Gay Men," by Richard Dyer. From Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society; also available here.

Jeff Weinstein on Judy Garland and Stonewall (Special thanks to Jeff for making the Obit article available to me when it wasn’t online)

"Did Judy Garland start a riot?" by Andrew Alexander, Creative Loafing

"Does Judy Garland still matter?" by Jesse Green, New York Magazine