A Star Is Born

Has anyone seen the movie? I know it’s been a while since it came out. I knew it was a remake. What I didn’t realize is the original movie came out in 1937! Janet Gaynor played the title role in the original. It’s been remade three times now- 1954 with Judy Garland, 1976 with Barbra Streisand, and 2018 with Lady Gaga.

There are some subtle differences, although the second film is pretty much a play by play remake of the first one; the characters even have the same names. In the first two movies the female lead comes to Hollywood to become an actress; while attempting to find fame she ends up meeting and falling in love with a Hollywood actor who helps her with her big break. The third movie switches things up and since this was the rockin’ 70s both characters are now singers. The 2018 movie followed this format as well. In the first two movies the female lead ends up winning an Academy Award for Best Actress. In the second two movies the female lead wins a Grammy.

SPOILER ALERT: Look away now if you haven’t seen the movies but still plan on doing so at some point.

The other difference between movies 1& 2, vs. 3 and 4, is the method of suicide the male lead chooses. The first two movies he drowns himself, the third movie he deliberately crashes his car, and the fourth movie he hangs himself.

And finally, we have the names. In the original and the first movie the female lead, Esther Blodgett, is re-named Vicki Lester, which was what was done back then in Hollywood. All the leading ladies were given new names. I’m assuming in the 1976 version the female lead, Esther Hoffman, went by her actual name- Esther Hoffman- as she was rising in fame, although honestly, the plot synopsis does not even bother with a last name for her. In the 2018 version they don’t even bother to give Ally any last name prior to her marriage. At the end of the 1937 and 1954 movies the female lead introduces herself as, “Mrs. Norman Maine,” while the end of the 1976 movie sees the female lead being introduced as Esther Hoffman-Howard and the 2018 female lead introduces herself as Ally Maine.

I’m sure you’re wondering what my point is to all of this so I’ll get to it. Soon. First though let me disclose that I have never actually seen any of the versions of this movie. I planned on going to see the 2018 version but never got around to it. But I can Google and Wikipedia gives you a nice little synopsis of what happened. Saves you about two hours of your time.

Here’s the point: Every single one of these versions begins with a famous, powerful man whose career is on the decline due to his alcoholism. He discovers a young ingenue and through the break he gives her she becomes famous in her own right. In fact, her fame eclipses his because he was already on the way down due to his own behavior. He acts like a jackass during her big moment, whether it’s the Academy Awards version or the Grammy version. He goes to rehab. She’s willing to throw away her career to take care of him. And then he kills himself. Ostensibly to save his wife and prevent her from throwing away her career for him.

It suddenly occurred to me, especially after writing about Lorrie Morgan and Keith Whitley, that this is a load of bullshit that Hollywood and our culture wraps up and tries to sell to us as “romantic.”

What in the hell is romantic about this notion that any woman who is more successful than her husband will ultimately drive him to suicide? Because that’s the bottom line. That is the message. Your success will kill him! He’s on his way down and you’re on your way up and if you continue with that he will DIE! I realize the plot line is that he is killing himself to save her career, but honestly, is that any better?

I suppose we could forgive the 1937 and 1954 versions. Did they really know any better? Probably not. 1976 version is a little iffy. We were trying. We were attempting to break through those stereotypes, crash through the glass ceilings. But we weren’t all the way there yet. But 2018? Come on!

In every single version the wife knew her husband had a problem and she was going to give up her career, or at the very least, put it on hold, so that she could take care of her husband. Because that’s what women are supposed to do. We put our time and energy into others- our husbands, our kids- and we give ourselves any left over scraps that may be available.

If you have a career and your husband/boyfriend/partner needs you, you are expected to put your own best interests aside in order to assist him. It’s not just the rich and famous. It’s every female.

How many stories have you read about a woman giving up her career to take care of a chronically sick child? Giving up her career in order to support her husband’s career? Or even actually working to put her husband through school and then when it’s her turn he refuses, OR, he encourages her to be a stay at home mom while he works until he dumps her 20 years later?

We moved across the country for Jerry Lee’s happiness. Only his. Fuck me. Fuck his kids. He was unhappy so we all uprooted our lives for him. Because he was the breadwinner. Does anyone think that if I had a job that started going places that we would have moved for MY job? Hmmm…. considering he didn’t understand why I continued to work after Rock Star was born because “he made enough money,” I think I can safely say we would NOT have moved for any job I had.

You hear hundreds, if not thousands, of these stories. Women are expected to put everyone else before themselves. And don’t you dare eclipse your husband because that might make him feel bad. And if you scale back, to make him feel better, he might kill himself.

How many people speculate that someone’s marriage fell apart because the woman was too focused on her career? And now ask yourself how many times the speculation happens because the man was too focused on his career? Men are supposed to focus on their career. Women are supposed to focus on their men. And if we don’t…. well, let’s just say bad things can happen.

When Jerry Lee got sick he actually expected me to stay at home with him and take care of him. Obviously this was the beginning of our marriage when I worked full time. He ended up calling me at work to tell me he had fainted- THREE TIMES- and I, like a fool, ended up leaving work to go tend to the big baby. God forbid he simply stay in bed like a normal person.

When the doctor finally found my ectopic pregnancy after weeks of searching for it and told me I couldn’t leave the office until I had made a decision between getting the methotrexate shot or surgery, guess who couldn’t leave work? Jerry Lee! He was in the middle of a meeting with a very, very important client and he could not leave. I’m not sure when I would have been wheeled back into surgery had I chosen that option, but I’m also not sure if even that would have motivated him to excuse himself from his meeting and come be with me. If he wouldn’t leave to be with me during surgery he definitely wasn’t going to leave to be with me when I got a shot in the ass. Oh, I would be fine doing that by myself. As always.

It’s an interesting juxtaposition and a whole load of bullshit this way that everyone tells you that a man isn’t responsible for supporting you financially but at the same time they expect you to put him ahead of yourself. They lose their ever loving minds when a woman says, “Yeah, I’m going to concentrate on me. Things are going really well for me right now. Sounds like you need to work out your own shit. Call me when you’ve got that straightened out.”

In every version the woman is completely aware that this man has issues. In the first two the problem is alcohol. In the second two movies the problem is drugs and alcohol. And yet, in every single version she marries him.

Yet another fantasy where the love of a good woman surely will be enough to save him. Only it doesn’t. Because no one is responsible for another adult. You can’t force them to save themselves. You can’t will them to make good decisions. You can only draw firm boundaries and know what you will accept.

Towards the end of the movie, in all four versions, when the male lead is no longer getting offers for work it is the woman who is willing to offer him a helping hand. She wants to star in a movie together or go on tour together, despite the fact that he is, at this point, a walking disaster that will bring her career down. But she loves him and she’s willing to do anything to help him, even if it’s to her detriment.

Don’t even get me started on the ending of the movie where all four versions end with the woman being introduced as an extension of her dead husband.

“I’m Mrs. Norman Maine.”

Not Vicki Lester. Not Esther Blodgett. Not a fucking Academy Award winning actress. No, she’s Mrs. Norman Maine. Widow of an alcoholic who threw his own career away. Oh, I’m sorry. I meant to say she is the grieving widow of the famous, esteemed actor Norman Maine. Let me list his many accomplishments now and completely forget any of hers.

And Esther Hoffman went on to become Esther Hoffman-Howard, in honor of her dead husband, and Ally, poor Ally with absolutely no last name that could be found in my brief Google search, introduces herself as Ally Maine in the last scene. Not Ally Smith, Grammy award winner for Best New Artist. Ally Maine. Their relationships consume them even when the husband is dead.

I know it’s supposed to be a touching tribute. I’m sure at one point I might have thought so myself. But it’s not. It’s once again making everything in a woman’s life about her partner. These women were famous. They had lucrative careers. They did something with their lives. And yet, they will be known for the men that left them behind. All of their accomplishments have been reduced to marrying a famous man. They are merely an extension of the man they loved and lost.

We can do better than this.

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