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Streisand’s Star Turn

Lady Gaga is burning up the big screen in ‘A Star Is Born’ and garnering rave reviews, but the 1976 production with Barbra Streisand was marred by conflict and scandal

Elazar Abrahams
October 12, 2018
An image from the trailer for the 1976 'A Star Is Born'YouTube
An image from the trailer for the 1976 'A Star Is Born'YouTube

With the Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga-fronted A Star Is Born remake receiving rave reviews and major Oscar buzz, you might be inclined to check out the previous version from 1976 that starred Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. Be warned: It’s nowhere near as good as the iteration currently in theaters.

The ’70s A Star Is Born follows an up-and-coming musician (Streisand’s Esther Hoffman) who finds her big break through an established rock star (Kristofferson’s John Norman Howard) about to hit a downward spiral. This film was the third to bear the Star Is Born name, following up the original 1937 Janet Gaynor drama and a 1954 Judy Garland musical.

Commercially, the 1976 movie was by no means a failure. A Star Is Born raked in an impressive $80 million at the U.S. box office on a modest $6 million budget, and ‘Evergreen,’ the film’s prominent love song, won Streisand an Oscar. Nonetheless, A Star Is Born holds a dismal 32% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and was panned by critics for, as one review put it, being “an unmitigated disaster that has the megalomaniac fingerprints of Barbra Streisand … all over it.”

What began as director Frank Pierson’s well-intentioned remake of 1954’s Judy Garland-vehicle quickly devolved into a behind-the-scenes nightmare when Streisand and her then-partner Jon Peters signed on to the project as star and co-producers. Streisand was seeking a rebranding of her image, figuring this movie would show she could do more than schmaltzy musicals. Peters yearned to go from hairdresser to hotshot Hollywood producer. The two of them seized control of production, demanding changes wherever they saw fit.

The off-camera antics play out on screen, most notably with Streisand and Kristofferson’s nonexistent chemistry. This ruins the illusion that the pair is madly in love. Sure enough, the leading man was not too happy about Babs supervising editing and having the final say in what scenes were cut; much explanation of his character’s motivations was scrapped in favor of excessive Streisand close-ups. After clashing with Pierson over the necessity of minor scenes, she directed them herself and made sure they were left in the movie.

Perhaps proving that in the end, A Star Is Born was nothing more than a vanity project, Streisand rejected the costume department, instead opting to use her own outfits. The credits famously read “Miss Streisand’s clothes from … her closet.” Ellipses and all.

As the December release date approached, it was time for the cast and crew to promote the movie. Streisand and Kristofferson managed to subdue their contempt for each other during interviews, but Pierson couldn’t hide his anger. Just before A Star Is Born premiered, the director published an op-ed in New York Magazine slamming Streisand for ruining the film. While it clearly did not deter audiences from buying tickets, the article, which paints Barbra as controlling and manipulative, is a testament to how troubled the production was.

Kristofferson summed it up best: “Filming with Streisand is an experience which may have cured me of the movies.”

Elazar Abrahams is a former intern at Tablet, and will attend Yeshiva University after a gap year at Netiv Aryeh in Jerusalem.

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