Sunday, June 26, 2022

Watch Judy Garland Sing “The Man that Got Away” in A Star is Born (Video; 1954)

By N.S.

This picture was the third version of what I’ve dubbed Hollywood’s Company Town Story.

The first version, What Price Hollywood? (1932) starred Constance Bennett of the Beautiful Bennett Sisters, as Mary Evans, the waitress who, with a little help from an influential, drunken customer, becomes the biggest star in pictures, “America’s pal.”

That version had no proper co-star. Rather, there were two male leads: Lowell Sherman as Max Carey, the drunken director who gives Mary her break, and who secretly falls in love with her; and Neil Hamilton as Lonny Borden, the rich, young, polo player who sweeps her off of her feet.

I think there must be a story to the life and death of Lowell Sherman.

He went from being a popular star to a very successful actor-director (She Done Him Wrong, The Greeks Had a Word for Them, Morning Glory), and then suddenly died at the age of 46 or 49 (no one knows for sure if he was born in 1885 or 1888) of “double pneumonia” after a “brief illness.”

Usually when someone who isn’t very old or very young dies of pneumonia, it’s because he was wiped out by something else, and the pneumonia delivered the knock-out punch. And Sherman was directing his newest, big ticket picture until the day before he died.

In any event, the plagiarists who ripped off What Price Hollywood? turned the suicidal drunk into the matinee idol who was the girl’s love interest, and that’s how it has remained.

With the 1954 version, Hollywood added music. Director George Cukor had never before made a musical, but you’d never know it to see the picture. There are exquisite musical set pieces (e.g., “I was Born in a Trunk”) with stories within the story, within the story.

As far as I know, there was only one original song in the 1954 version, but it’s a doozy. They got Ira Gershwin to come out of retirement to co-write with Harold Arlen what would become one of the great torch songs. You hear “The Man” in the foreground two or three times, but its tune plays in the background in multiple scenes. As with Victor Schertzinger’s “The Marcheta” in John Ford's They were Expendable (1949), it’s the leitmotiv for the entire picture.

Ira (1896-1983) had been retired since the 1937 death of his songwriting partner and brother, George (1898-1937). My favorite disk jockey, Jonathan Schwartz, has long maintained that “the man that got away” was George.

Late in the 1954 version, James Mason’s drunken has-been, former matinee idol Norman Maine tells his wife, the top star whom he’d discovered, Vickie Lester, “You’ve come too late.”

She responds, “I don’t believe that. Not too late, not for you.”

While she speaks, the song plays in the background.

The irony of the Judy Garland version is that it came too late for her. It was supposed to revive her career, but although she was only 31 when she made it, she was unable to have an Act II. Too much booze and pills.

Most of the time, chief of photography Sam Leavitt focuses on her right side. Garland’s left side looked about 10 years older.

She and James Mason became friends, and he delivered the eulogy at her funeral, in 1969. She was only 47, about the age of the fictional Norman Maine, at his death.

The Man that Got Away
Music by Harold Arlen
Lyrics by Ira Gershwin

The night is bitter,
The stars have lost their glitter,
The winds grow colder,
And suddenly you’re older,
And all because of the man that got away.

No more, his eager call,
The writing’s on the wall,
The dreams you dreamed have all
Gone astray.

The man that won you,
Has run off and undone you,
That great beginning,
Has seen the final inning,
Don’t know what happened,
It’s all a crazy game!

No more, that all-time thrill,
For you’ve been through the mill,
And never a new love,
Will be the same.

Good riddance, goodbye,
Every trick of his … you’re on to,
But, fools will be fools,
And where’s he gone to?

The road gets rougher,
It’s lonelier and tougher,
With hope you burn up,
Tomorrow, he will turn up,
There’s just no letup, The live-long, night and day!

Ever since this world began,
There is nothing sadder than…
A one-man woman,
Looking for the man that got away...
The man that got away.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very rarely,do relationships break off with a pair of scissors cutting the cord--there's usually a second or even third attempt at the initial go round.Sometimes they work out,sometimes they don't.Even someone like Judy Garland--with drug and alcohol problems--wasn't dumped with a snap of the fingers.It's never that simple.