When the drunken Norman Maine character raucously interrupts the Oscar presentation, it was déja vu for Janet Gaynor. She had brought her sister to the Academy Awards ceremony in 1928, when she won the first Best Actress Oscar ever awarded, for 7th Heaven (1927). Her sister became very drunk and completely out of control, thoroughly embarrassing Gaynor.
Widely considered to be the first Technicolor film that was a bona fide critical and box office success. Until A Star is Born and Nothing Sacred (1937), color films had been garish, over saturated and, as many critics complained, headache-inducing. Producer David O. Selznick insisted on muted, realistic color, and it was the success of these two films that paved the way for his Technicolor masterpiece, Gone with the Wind (1939).
When this film was re-released in 1945 by Film Classics, it was not deemed important enough to be reprinted in Technicolor and so prints were struck in the less expensive and far inferior Cinecolor process and this was the only way it was to be seen for the next 30 years, until the Technicolor restoration in the 1970s.
The failure of the original copyright holder to renew the film's copyright resulted in it falling into public domain, meaning that virtually anyone could duplicate and sell a VHS/DVD copy of the film. Therefore, many of the versions of this film available on the market are either severely (and usually badly) edited and/or of extremely poor quality, having been duped from second- or third-generation (or more) copies of the film.
Early in the film, when Esther stops at Grauman's Chinese Theater to see the stars' footprints, the second one she visits is Harold Lloyd, which is to the right of Janet Gaynor's own prints from 1929, a portion which is visible on screen, including the "r" in her signature.
John Barrymore was considered for the role of Norman Maine, but due to alcoholism he had memory lapses and therefore had trouble remembering his lines. When Barrymore was told that he had to use a blackboard on set with his lines written on it, he refused the part.
During Esther's screen test, she is dressed in an antebellum costume and surrounded by other actors in Civil War uniforms. Producer David O. Selznick had recently bought the rights to adapt Margaret Mitchell's novel Gone With the Wind and was undergoing a highly publicized national search for an actress to play Scarlett O'Hara. In a February 1973 article in The Atlantic, Gavin Lambert wrote that Selznick actually offered the role to Janet Gaynor, but she refused it because she had decided to retire from acting. Indeed, Gaynor made only two more movies after the release of A Star Is Born (The Young in Heart (1938) and Three Loves Has Nancy (1938)) and then did not appear onscreen again until 1953, 15 years later.
It seems odd that when Esther picks up her Oscar, there are no other nominees and no winner is announced. Early in Oscar history, the winners were all announced BEFORE the actual ceremony. In A Star Is Born (1954), Esther is up against other nominated actresses.
John Barrymore was originally cast as Norman Maine, but was replaced after a few days of filming due to his inability to remember his lines. The character was partly inspired by Barrymore and his alcoholism.
This film received its earliest documented telecast in Charlotte NC where it was chosen to launch WBTV (Channel 3), the first television station in the Carolinas, and the 13th in the USA, on its first evening of operation, Friday 15 July 1949; it first aired in Los Angeles Sunday 14 August 1949 on KTLA (Channel 5), in Chicago Sunday 28 August 1949 on WGN (Channel 9), in Atlanta Wednesday 1 September 1949 on WSB (Channel 8), in Detroit Sunday 4 September 1949 on WWJ (Channel 4), in Cincinnati Sunday 1 January 1950 on WLW-T (Channel 4), and in New York City Friday 17 March 1950 on WPIX (Channel 11). All these telecasts were in B&W, since commercial color broadcasting had not yet been developed.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The funeral scene was inspired by the funeral of Irving Thalberg, where fans swarmed around his widow Norma Shearer outside the church. A similar scene occurred at Jean Harlow's funeral two months after the film's release.
The celebrated final line of the film was an afterthought. The original scene had Esther arriving at the Chinese Theater and collapsing in the forecourt sobbing, "Oh, Norman! Norman!" The scene was re-shot two ways: with the familiar "Mrs. Norman Maine" tagline and the oddly irrelevant "Hello, everybody, this is Vicki Lester."