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Judy Garland actually had the idea to make A Star Is Born before the studio did. After performing in the radio adaption of the 1937 film, Garland saw the potential and approached L. B. Mayer. Unfortunately, the story was deemed too tragic.
Little did they all know that this same story would be the one to relaunch Garland’s career years later…
1. Big names were floated for Norman.
Laurence Olivier declined, Richard Burton was unavailable, and Tyrone Power was unaffordable. Other candidates included James Stewart, Glenn Ford, Frank Sinatra, and Gregory Peck. Cary Grant fiddled with the idea and even read for Director George Cukor who was impressed by the depth he gave the character. Ultimately, Grant turned down the role when negotiations fell through. James Mason, who got the role, said, “I was very fond of Judy… as a moviegoer I had admired her so much from a distance for such a long time.”
2. Garland wanted Cukor.
Judy said, “I wanted George… the picture had to be the greatest.” Cukor was known as a “woman’s director” for his ability to bring out dynamic performances by some of Hollywood’s greatest female stars. He had actually almost directed Garland in two her hits – The Wizard of Oz and Meet Me In St. Louis. He jumped at the chance this time, believing that anyone who could sing with the talent she possessed “had the emotional ability to be a great dramatic actress.”
3. William Powel turned down a role.
Powell was asked to play Oliver Niles, the studio head, but declined. The team then considered eliminating Niles’ big speech to Garland’s character and giving it to her friend, played by Tommy Noonan. This idea was ultimately rejected, given the reality that such a rousing speech would come from the studio head. Charles Bickford was then cast.
4. The final cut was lost.
Some reviews said that the musical was too long, and as a result, studio executive Harry Warner ordered that the film be cut. Director Cukor was out of the country at the time and fiercely disagreed with the decision afterward, along with Sidney Luft and Garland. Cukor said, “Judy Garland [gave] a brilliant performance marred only by the way in which the picture was cut by the studio… I’m convinced that it cost Judy [the] Academy Award.” A restored version was created in the 1980s using recovered sound and music with production stills.