For years, the remake of A Star Is Born was reportedly set to feature Beyoncé in the lead role with Clint Eastwood directing, a generational mismatch so profound it’s difficult to believe it came close to happening. Every lead actor du jour was rumored to be attached at one point or another, from Leonardo DiCaprio to Russell Crowe to Christian Bale. Beyoncé officially exited in 2012, a year before she released her self-titled album to critical acclaim. Before then, she’d been pursuing a typical path to movie stardom, appearing in broadly commercial projects like Dreamgirls, Cadillac Records, and Obsessed. No doubt Eastwood’s take on A Star Is Born would have adhered to that middle-of-the-road approach, rather than the more boldly personal music Beyoncé started making soon after.
Cooper, who had been floated as a possible on-screen partner for Beyoncé, stayed on board the project and eventually began lobbying to take over as director; eventually he hit on Lady Gaga to play his muse, emboldened by her Golden Globe win for acting in 2015’s American Horror Story: Hotel. Lady Gaga might seem an odd choice to play an up-and-coming star, considering that her first album came out eight years ago and her record sales have considerably cooled since then. But finding someone long-established to play the lead has long been the casting approach for A Star Is Born.
In 1937, Janet Gaynor, an Academy Award winner who was one of the earliest megastars of the silent era, saw her declining career revitalized by the original A Star Is Born, directed by William Wellman, co-written by Dorothy Parker, and starring Frederic March. It set a strict story formula every new edition followed: An actress arrives in Hollywood, meets and falls for a major star called Norman Maine, eventually elopes with him and finds massive success, winning an Oscar as his own career falls apart. Eventually, Norman dies, and in the film’s moving, bittersweet climax, she pays tribute to him at the premiere of her latest movie, introducing herself to her fans with the line, “Hello, everybody. This is Mrs. Norman Maine.”
The 1954 version, directed by George Cukor, starred Judy Garland and James Mason, and ended in the exact same way: with the female lead tearfully tying herself to her lost husband as she reaches her apex of success. Garland’s character was also positioned as a former star making a big comeback, and the film reinvigorated her prospects in Hollywood (though she famously lost that year’s Oscar to Grace Kelly). While the 1937 film was critically acclaimed and nominated for Best Picture, the Garland version was mostly praised as a one-woman show, a dull plot vehicle that she elevated with her transcendent work.
The last Star Is Born, in 1976, turned its heroes into musicians, with Barbara Streisand playing the ingénue and Kris Kristofferson as the self-destructive rock star she marries. Though this version, directed by Frank Pierson, had a bestselling soundtrack and was one of the highest box-office grossers of the year, it was also derided by critics, and Streisand has only sporadically appeared in leading roles since. Over the decades its rise-and-fall plot began to feel hopelessly outdated, and the lead actress’ inexorable attachment to her wastrel of a husband shifted from merely mawkish to borderline sexist.