'A Star Is Born' in Classic Cool Context

This Saturday at 9 p.m. , KCET brings you "A Star is Born," a Technicolor classic from the early years of Hollywood's golden era. Janet Gaynor features as a starry-eyed ingénue in the making who finds out that her big break, and the man who gave it to her, came with a price. This is the latest entry in KCET's "Classic, Cool Theater" series, which aims to give you not only a great film but also a vintage cartoon, two newsreels and an of-the-era musical number. All those extras add up to what makes "Classic Cool Theater" so special: context. In the spirit of this unique package, we're offering you a peek at the America -- and the Los Angeles -- that received "A Star is Born" on April 27, 1937.

Nowadays, we take the amazing colors on display in Hollywood blockbusters for granted. Dorothy's ruby-red slippers in "The Wizard of Oz," the orange flames enveloping Atlanta in "Gone With the Wind," or even the characteristic blue skin of "The Smurfs." In an era when computers create a thousand shades of green to build a digital forest, it's hard to imagine a time when people thought color movies were nothing more than a passing fad.

But that was the mindset of some when "A Star is Born" was released in 1937. But it became the first film shot in color to be nominated for Best Picture, and the Academy was so wowed by the colors onscreen that members awarded cinematographer W. Howard Greene with a special award for color photography.

The age of Technicolor had officially begun.

And it's still going:

Take a Closer Look Back

"A Star is Born" made the most money of any film in 1937. Its story of a doe-eyed outside living out her Hollywood dreams struck a chord with audiences, but other movies had found success during the same decade with similar storylines. In fact, RKO Pictures wanted to sue "A Star is Born" producer David. O. Selznick for plagiarism after the studio's legal team thought the plot was a little too similar to its film, "What Price, Hollywood?" The suit, however, was never filed.

Here's a scene from George Cukor's 1932 film, "What Price, Hollywood?", starring Lowell Sherman as famous film director Maximilian Carey:

Coincidentally, Cukor went on to direct the 1954 remake of "A Star is Born" starring Judy Garland and James Mason.

The character of Norman Maine, portrayed by Fredric March, struggles with alcoholism throughout the film. The year 1935, two years before the release of "A Star is Born," marks an important milestone in the history of the disease in the United States. In May of that year, the first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous was held in Akron, Ohio after a chance meeting between the movement's founders Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith.

In 1938, public discourse of the disease became more common as both the The New York Times and Science magazine published articles about the scientific research being pursued at the time into the negative effects of alcohol.

The film also stars Adolphe Menjou, May Robson and Andy Devine. It was shot at many famous locations around L.A. including Club Trocadero, the Hollywood Bowl, Santa Anita racetrack, the Ambassador Hotel and Grauman's Chinese Theater.


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