Saturday, June 30, 2018


"Cut away from me?"
"Honestly, it's too much of you. They don't want you in every scene."
"They don't? Then why do they write me fan letters every day? Why do they beg me for my photograph? Why? Because they want to see me! ME...Norma Desmond! Put it back"
                                                            -  Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Every generation deserves its own revolution, its own slang, its own music, and apparently, its own A Star is Born. Yes, that enduring Tears Behind the Tinsel fable about the doomed love affair between a star emergent and a star descendent is returning to the screen for its fourth iteration in 2018. What began life as George Cukor's What Price Hollywood? (1932) starring Constance Bennett and Lowell Sherman, was in 1937 remade, renamed, and retooled into the form most recognize today-- A Star is Born (1937) starring Janet Gaynor and Frederic March. In 1954 original director George Cukor returned to helm what is perhaps the most familiar and iconic version of the now thrice-told tale, the musicalized A Star is Born starring Judy Garland and James Mason. Garland's version, like those that came before, was set in Hollywood and the motion picture industry. When Barbra Streisand teamed with folk singer Kris Kristofferson for the eagerly-anticipated 1976 remake, the film was again made into a musical, but the setting was now the world of rock 'n' roll. Well, not quite...let's just say the music industry.

October 2018 will bring us yet another musical adaptation of A Star is Born, this time starring Bradley Cooper (making his directing debut), and Lady Gaga (nee Stefani Germanotta) whom I’m glad to see has finally abandoned her meat dress. Though one might assume any update of A Star is Born would be most relatable if it were to feature an up-and-coming winner of a reality TV singing competition falling in love with an opioid-addicted social-media influencer suddenly faced with a deficit of “likes,” but from the looks of the new film's trailerCooper sporting long hair and a scraggly beard, Ms. Gaga granted a Funny Girl-esque scene where the hero tells the self-effacing heroine she’s beautifulit’s clear A Star is Born: 2018 will be tipping its hat to the classic Judy Garland film, but taking its cues from the Barbra Streisand version.
Barbra Streisand as Esther Hoffman
Kris Kristofferson as John Norman Howard
Gary Busey as Bobby Ritchie, a road manager
Paul Mazursky as Brian Wexler, a manager
As Helen Lawson so memorably reminded us in Valley of the Dolls, “Broadway doesn’t go for booze and dope.” But when it comes to the world of rock & roll, accept no substitutions. At least that's the philosophy of down and burnt-out rock sensation John Norman Howard (Kristofferson) who needs a bump of coke and a swig of Jack Daniels just to get through his passionless concert engagements. Concerts in which he’s obliged to give repeat performances of past successes (like a pre- “Garden Party” Rick Nelson) to faceless throngs of entitled fans he has grown to resent. Unprofessional, uncommitted, and disrespectful of his own talent, John Norman is a has-been in training, isolated and world-weary of the sex/drugs/rock & roll existence of a superstar.
More a folk singer than hard rocker, Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Kris Kristofferson didn't write any of his songs for A Star is Born.  Which is a pity, and perhaps why they're so undistinguished 

One alcohol-soaked night out on the town he happens to catch the act of curly-haired chanteuse Esther Hoffman (Streisand) and finds in the warm, lush, plush notes emerging from her fair throat, a glimmer of the commitment and raw talent he’d lost touch with within himself. Of course, he’s instantly besotted.
The Oreos
Yep. That tone-deaf name actually passed for cute and edgy back in the '70s. Though the two women flanking La Streisand appear throughout the film as Esther's backup singers and ostensible friends, neither is even given a name. Maybe that's because their primary purpose in the film is to make Streisand sound less like an "Easy Listening" artist, while simultaneously serving as signifiers of how hip and down-to-earth Esther is (Look! She even has Black friends!). In real life, backup singers Clydie King (left) and Venetta Fields are recording legends in their own right, with careers dating back to the early '60s. 

Putting aside for the moment the credibility-stretching conceit that growl-rocker John Norman would find the cutesy Captain & Tennille-esque ditty Esther is crooning remotely engaging in the first place, in order for this scene to work one must also accept that between persistent interruptions from a waitress, a pushy fan (Robert Englund), and the eventual outbreak of a fistfight, John Norman is still able to detect something special about our Esther (her perpetual backlight, perhaps) that makes him certain his racing heart is not just the result of all that cocaine. Perhaps it was something in her voice and shy manner when she tells him “You’re blowin’ my act!” that touched his showbiz weary soul.

They court cute, he wooing her by showing her his adorably immature and self-destructive streak, she by being all judgy about his life choices, thereby demonstrating that she’s a straight-shooter unimpressed by wealth and celebrity. How can love fail to bloom? 
And while Esther exhibits very little in the way of professional ambition (she's actually responsible for her trio losing a commercial job because a silly jingle for cat food clashes with her artistic purity), John Norman encourages her songwriting and uses his fame and connections to give his lady love a leg up in the business. Her breakthrough moment comes when she steps out on stage in a conservative pantsuit and wows a crowd of rock fans with her MOR pop groovin’... and before you know it, a star is born.
Wailin' Esther Hoffman
She's not your father's rock & roller...oh, wait...maybe she is

Romantically, John Norman and Esther are good for each other in that mutual fixer-upper way beloved of soap operas and doomed romances. So when the pair hastily marry and the movie momentarily grinds to a halt to accommodate a protracted fashion show/Barbra Streisand ass and legs appreciation hour; the only comfort to be had is in knowing they can’t keep up these shenanigans for much longer. 

With fewer montages, A Star is Born might have found some time to show us more of Esther's overnight success. With Barbra Streisand in the lead, the filmmakers seem to expect audiences to take Esther’s eventual success as a given. For in a 2 ½ hour movie titled A Star is Born, it’s almost perverse the way the film staunchly refuses to show us how she becomes a star. One minute she goes over well at a benefit concert, the next she's got a song on the charts and the world is clamoring for tour engagements. 

Further compounding the sense of things feeling rushed is we never see how Esther feels about her life being changed. Nowhere to be found are scenes of Esther reacting to sudden wealth, celebrity, or having all her dreams come true. On the contrary, Esther never seems to enjoy her success at all. The screenplay has her treating her newfound fame as some kind of necessary annoyance she has to endure in order to support her poncho habit and all those artfully staged gambols with John Norman out in the desert. 
Tony Orlando stands by as Rita Coolidge (Mrs. Kristofferson) eyes Barbra suspiciously.
Even before her inebriated husband appears in time to drop an F-bomb on live TV, Esther is the glummest Grammy nominee you've ever seen. Most of us know that the average pop star would sell their firstborn for an industry award, but not our Esther. On what should be the realization of a lifetime dream, Esther is so disinterested in the award, she almost leaves the ceremony early.

As Esther climbs further up the ladder of success (something we just have to take the film's word for)  John Norman finds it increasingly difficult to gain even a foothold, sinking deeper and deeper into his old self-sabotaging ways. Since there’s no telling how much time has elapsed between courtship to crack-up, the tension in their relationship takes a backseat to the masochism. That is until fate or a suicidal act of selflessness intervenes (it’s left ambiguous which), successfully granting Streisand fans what they’ve wanted all along: unobstructed access to La Plus Grande Diva du Monde.

Streisand fans have their patience rewarded when the film concludes with an eight-minute concert medley shot entirely in closeup. A closeup wherein Streisand's famed vocalizing is in constant danger of being upstaged (and not in a good way) by her Valerie Cherish-style boogying. The dramatic emphasis placed on this sequence: Esther on her own, singing her late husband's songs, with heightening self-assurance, introduced to the crowd as Esther Hoffman-Howard...suggests that THIS is the moment that a star is born. Which would certainly explain why the preceding 2 hours and 15 minutes have shown us an Esther far more devoted to canoodling with her hubby than pursuing a recording career. 
Initially shot in a single tight closeup, new footage restored to A Star is Born in 2018
 alters the finale to include more wide shots to give some of us a breather

I’m not overly fond of remakes, but in 1976 so much had changed both in the world of celebrity (recording artists were as big as movie stars) and society’s attitudes towards women (a wife with a more successful career than her husband wasn’t considered “quite” the emasculating tragedy it was in 1954), that a rock & roll update of A Star is Born sounded like a pretty sound idea. And while it was hard to imagine anyone bold enough to try to follow in the ruby slippered footsteps of Judy Garland in the role, if there was any star in the '70s with that kind of nerve, it was either Barbra Streisand or Clint Eastwood; and 1969s Paint Your Wagon had already strained the limits of what most of us were willing to subject ourselves to vis a vis Clint Eastwood singing. 
A Star is Born was a Christmas release, vying for holiday boxoffice dominance against another high-profile remake, Dino De Laurentiss' King Kong. I wasn't what you'd call a huge Barbra Streisand fan at the time, but when A Star is Born opened that Christmas at The Northpoint, one of San Francisco's largest theaters, I allowed myself to get all swept up in the pre-release hype. So much so that the film's central paradox--that Barbra Streisand was known for a lot of things, but heavy rockin' wasn't one of them--didn’t really hit me until I was sitting, dumbstruck, watching the movie in the theater. Almost immediately it became apparent that even the faux, sanitized vision of the rock world presented in A Star is Born was an ill-fit for Streisand's image, look, and sound.
Originally titled Rainbow Road and conceived as a co-starring vehicle for then real-life couple Carly Simon and James Taylor, a rock and roll version of A Star is Born actually makes sense. (Too much so, it would appear, if one believes accounts of Simon and Taylor turning the film down because it hit too close to home.) Newbie producer Jon Peters thought the property would make the ideal image-changing vehicle for his lady love, but it is precisely Streisand's involvement that proves the most problematic element of the enterprise. Does she possess star quality and magnetism? Yes. Is she a dynamic personality who energizes the film? Yes. Does she have a remarkable voice? Yes again. Is she for one minute convincing as the kind of singer capable of getting rock audiences to sit up and take notice? Absolutely not.

In retrospect, it strikes me that Streisand, a recording artist trained in musical theater and supper clubs, may have been better served by a A Star is Born set in the more traditional showbiz worlds of Hollywood, Broadway, or even Las Vegas. But, seeing as A Star is Born revisits the same “Oh, My Man/Oh, My Career” themes featured in both Funny Girl and Funny LadyI can appreciate the appeal a change in setting might have presented. 
"I don't mean to be difficult... ."
Misogyny has always played a factor in how Streisand's professionalism has been represented in the press. Sensitivity to this is perhaps why, by 1976, it had almost become a staple of Streisand's films to feature a scene where she's shown telling people how to do their jobs.

Barbra Streisand hasn't really been "hip" since the early days of her career when she was seen as a kooky bohemian with an avant-garde, thrift-shop sense of style. Since then her appeal has largely been "middle": middle of the road and middle-aged. A Star is Born was an effort to recast Streisand as a contemporary of Linda Ronstadt and Stevie Nicks, but her larger-than-life persona, studied self-awareness, showbizzy comic delivery, and penchant for drag queen levels of glamour overkill feel all wrong for the world of concert stadium rock. Even taking into account the weirdness of the 1976 music scene, wherein youth-centric TV music shows like The Midnight Special and Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert would feature such head-scratcher bookings as The Hudson Brothers and Helen Reddy appearing alongside Chaka Kahn and Fleetwood Mac; buying Barbra Streisand as a rocker still remains a major stretch.
For A Few Dollars More
Critics ripped it apart, but A Star is Born was a huge hit for Streisand
and one of the top boxoffice releases of 1976

A Star is Born is Streisand’s first feature film after satisfying a four-picture, ten-year commitment to producer Ray Stark with the “contractually obligated” Funny Lady. As the first of her films over which she was able to exert near-total control (her clashes with director Frank Pierson are the stuff of legend), it’s no small wonder that A Star is Born at times feels a tad overdetermined in placing Streisand even more front-and-center than a star-propelled vehicle like this necessitates.

A Star is Born was Streisand's big chance to present herself exactly as she wanted to be seen, and in press conferences, she was fond of telling reporters that situations and dialogue were drawn from her relationship with Jon Peters (her hairdresser on 1974s For Pete’s Sake, now producer and lover). Streisand filled Esther’s apartment with furnishings from her own home, and even indulged herself with a “Ms. Streisand’s clothes from…Her Closet” credit. For the first time Streisand actually invited audiences to draw comparisons to herself and a character she was playing. All of this makes A Star is Born doubly fascinating, for it not only gives us a glimpse of what a self-professed perfectionist thinks is good, but a sobering look at how a star, when finally granted power, chooses to wield it.

Woman on Top
On the plus side, all of this makes Streisand's Esther Hoffman considerably less passive and victimized than her A Star is Born predecessors. She fights back, yells, tells professionals how to do their jobs (a Streisand movie staple by now), and engages in gender-flip activities like proposing marriage, removing the word "obey" from their marriage vows, putting makeup on John Norman in the bathtub, wearing tailored suits when she performs, and riding John Norman like a pony when they have sex.
Lost Inside Of You
A private reason I was so keen on seeing A Star is Born is due to having developed a crush on Kris Kristofferson from having seen him earlier that year (a LOT of him) in The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea co-starring Sarah MilesShort of some Barbra side-boobage and several views of Kristofferson's happy trail, nothing remotely as explicit as above transpires in A Star is Born

I know what I’ve written thus far doesn’t seem like it, but A Star is Born really IS a movie I love. Part has to do with my fond memories of this particular time in my life and nostalgia for the '70s (and this movie is as '70s as a mood ring); partly because of the soundtrack (still the film's strongest suit); and only the most self-serious Streisand fan would deny the camp appeal of the film's in-your-face vanity project aesthetic. It's all Barbra, all the time. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Part of my love and appreciation for Barbra Streisand lies in the fact that even when she’s miscast (Hello, Dolly!), ill-used (Meet The Fockers), or unhappy (Funny Lady), she’s never less than mesmerizing to watch. 
A photographer captures Esther's best side as Barbra Streisand channels Cleo Laine

As stated, I think the soundtrack to A Star is Born is its greatest asset. Academy voters must have thought so too, granting the song “Evergreen” the only Oscar win of four nominations (all technical: cinematography, sound, score). It’s a Streisand showcase all the way, but Kristofferson—granted but two songs to perform in rotation—does a nice job on “Crippled Crow” and when Streisand allows him a cameo on the songs fashioned as duets. More melodic pop than rock, I like the ballads best, my favorite being Paul Williams’ “With One More Look at You.” A testament to the soundtrack album’s strength is that listening to it provides a purer A Star is Born experience than actually seeing the movie. In the final analysis, the songs reveal character and convey a narrative arc far more evocatively than the film does.
As John Norman's road manager, Gary Busey gives a performance so good,
you practically ache thinking about what A Star is Born had the potential to be

I think it’s fair that every generation gets its own A Star is Born. With each new incarnation comes the hope that the film will deviate from its predecessors enough to say something new and relevant to its time. Everybody loves a good love story, so there’s always that; but fame worship and the cult of celebrity dominate our culture so disproportionately and dangerously these days, a real opportunity presents itself with a remake.
So, A Star is Born, I guess it's time to take one more look at you.

"Will there be anything else, Ms. Streisand?"
Barbra Streisand's assistant during the making of A Star Is Born was actress Joan Marshall. Then married to director Hal Ashby (Shampoo), she's billed as Joan Marshall Ashby in the credits, but fans of William Castle know her as Jean Arless, the knife-wielding star of Homicidal.
Guest Stars
Fans of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? are sure to recognize Maidie Norman
1988 Best Actress Oscar nominee for Anna, Sally Kirkland
Robert Altman favorite Marta Heflin
Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund
That's Roslyn Kind, Streisand's younger half-sister. She appears in the film for
less time than it takes for you to read this. And she's never in focus, to boot.

Streisand & Kristofferson were reunited in 1984 for her first music video: "Left in the Dark." The six-minute video for the Jim Steinman song (which appears on her "Emotion " album) was directed by Jonathan Kaplan (The Accused, Love Field, Heart Like A Wheel). Watch it HERE

From the Literary Corner
Novelizations were a popular movie marketing tool in the '70s. If the book is anything like the purple prose featured on the promotional bookmarks (click on image to enlarge), perhaps I shouldn't have passed this one by

Are You Watching Me Now?

Copyright © Ken Anderson  2009 - 2018


  1. Ken,
    For some crazy reason, I never saw this much-ballyhoo-ed movie as a teen, but I owned the "novelization!"

    When I watched it for the first time a year ago for my review, I was amused to see Freddie Krueger/Robert Englund himself, as a rowdy audience member at The Oreos concert. I kept hoping he would reveal Freddie nails, upstaging Babs'!

    Also, did you catch Maidie Norman, The Hudson sisters' long-suffering housekeeper Elivra, as the justice of the peace who marries the stars of this "Star?"

    I thought at the time it was interesting that Cher was living her own version of "A Star is Born" while dealing with drug and alcohol addict Gregg Allman, when this movie was made.

    And while New York magazine did a famous take-down of this movie, by it's director--before its release!--I always wanted to read Joan Didion's two cents, since she was an early screenwriter on this!

    Always fun to read your take on movies that you saw as a youth! A great perspective.


    1. Hello Rick
      You really jogged my memory with the whole Gregg Allman/Cher thing! I'd completely forgotten that a real-life “pop star loves rock star” soap opera was playing out concurrently with the production and release of A STAR IS BORN. I remember how often Rona Barrett would reference the similarities in her magazine, along with the news that Cher, along with the likes of Liza Minnelli, Diana Ross, and Cybill Shepherd (of all people) were among those considered for the movie role before Streisand and Peters took it over unseated Shepherd and Bogdanovich as Hollywood’s most obnoxious couple.

      That's so funny how you actually owned the novelization before you ever saw the film! I hope it filled in a lot more character and plot than the movie allowed for. But maybe not, since reading it didn't exactly inspire you to rush out and go see the movie. You saw it for the first time a year ago? Still, I hope you've kept that paperback. Nice collectible!
      When I watched A STAR IS BORN for this piece, it was my first time seeing it in decades. I did recognize a very young Robert Englund for the first time, but had remembered Maidie Norman as the Justice of the Peace. Who I hadn’t remembered was my Robert Altman favorite, Marta Heflin (A Wedding, A Perfect Couple, Jimmie Dean) as the doped-out reporter/groupie. Writing this, I now think they deserve their own screencaps. Especially since I’m not sure how many younger fans of the movie know/remember Kristofferson’s manager was played by popular ‘70s director Paul Mazursky (of “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, and A MARRIED WOMAN).

      Because I was so into seeing this movie in 1976, I remember that blistering piece written by Frank Pierson (my favorite part being his description of Streisand Barging into the editing room demanding “Where the fuck are my close ups?”

      I have to revisit your blog and re-read your piece on this film, and I recommend other do, likewise, to get a perspective of the film from someone seeing it with fresh eyes. My 1976 A STAR IS BORN mania (and disappointment) were revived when I saw this again.
      Thank you for reading this and commenting, Rick. And reminding us all of the Cher and Gregg Allman years!

  2. I remember seeing A Star is Born on opening day and being bitterly disappointed by it. It was really more than disappointment. I felt it was a golden opportunity squandered. In the years since I have taken a more moderate tone towards it and I watch it and can enjoy it now on TV. One can only wonder what kind of movie it would have been if Colonel Parker had not interfered and allowed Elvis Presley to accept the male lead as he wanted to. Again, a golden opportunity squandered.

    By the way, have you heard about the extended director’s edition of this movie now playing on Netflix? If a movie ever called out for a director’s cut it is this one, but what it really requires is tightening what is already there, not adding more to it.

    1. Hello Jimbo
      Although I didn’t see it on opening day like some of my friends did, I saw it a couple of weeks after release and had a response similar to yours: I was disappointed and it felt like an opportunity wasted. But again, just like you, my feelings towards it have mellowed, but I really did wait more than 20 years to see it again.
      So certain that my re-visit experience would be unpleasant, for the first time since this blog began I begged my partner (who’d never seen the film before) to watch a film with me. At best I hoped he would give me a fresh perspective, at worst I thought It’d be more fun to laugh at the film together. While not actually liking the film, he confessed that it was not boring and somehow had enough going for it to be entertaining.
      I kinda feel the same.

      It’s staggering reading about the various male co-stars considered (Jagger, Brando, Neil Diamond), but Elvis would have been the most fascinating and posed the most intriguing prospect on so many levels.

      When you listen to Streisand on the DVD commentary, it’s clear the film remains very important to her personally (you also get the impression that she was the director). I look at it and wish it represented a similar milestone in her career as an actor.

      I watched the Netflix version (I fast forwarded to the newly restored scenes). I like them both. The “Evergreen” scene adds more to Esther’s character and the redone finale is far less embarrassing (if that’s the right word) because its expanded camera angles eliminates that head bobbing dance thing she does that made people giggle.
      That being said, you’re on the nose in noting A STAR IS BORN is a film that needed a tighter director’s cut, not more footage added. However, if I was a die hard Barbra fan, I suppose I would be over the moon.
      If only she’d work that same magic on digging up those deleted musical numbers from ON A CLEAR DAY…
      Thanks very much for reading this post and contributing your comments and observations, Jimbo.

  3. Sometimes we lose our way in life.

    And sometimes we wear the wrong hat when we watch a movie! Such is the case when I undertook a viewing of the 1976 “A Star Is Born” a few weeks ago. I was seriously hating it until it dawned on me that I wasn’t watching cinema – I was partaking in a Barbra Streisand vehicle event. And as such, it delivers by the bucketload if you’re not spinning your wheels in a frenzy of Barbra-hate.

    A source story so trite that it could never function as anything but a star vehicle, this version has notable temporal context. By the mid-70s, rock music as we knew it was on the decline and Barbra Streisand was arguably at the forefront of successfully herding the new genre of “soft / contemporary rock” into the charts. The movie “A Star Is Born” is strangely metaphoric from a music history perspective, and viewed in tandem with the music Barbra Streisand had utilized to successfully rebirth her own recording career it neatly satisfies one more ingredient of the vehicle-as-reality imperative. Of course Barbresther’s sandwiching Oreos come via Ray Charles and the Ike & Tina Revue: one man’s sceptical side-eye is another man’s authenticity when it comes to vehicles like this mutha!

    But life goes on and nobody gives a shit about 70’s dreck music anymore, so let’s see if the Cooper GaGa teaming can at least keep the SIB franchise going. God knows they’re both ordinary enough to pull it off for contemporary audiences, and rack up the “Likes”.

    Kudos to you Ken for detailing and defining the sheer effort which went into creating this Vehicle of Vehicles: there should be more of ‘em!

    1. Hi Rick
      So you too only saw A STAR IS BORN for the first this year? Congratulations for finally giving it a chance. And you’re right, it does help a great deal if you’re in the right frame of mind watching it. If it’s a star I like, I don’t necessarily mind a vanity production, per se; so long as I know that’s what I’m in for. What’s often frustrating about Streisand is that she IS capable of playing well with others (The Way We Were, What’s Up Doc?, The Owl and the Pussycat), and so you go to one of her films expecting one thing, and then when it turns out to be what you call “a Barbra Streisand vehicle Event”- it takes a while to readjust your expectations.
      I found it to be a much more enjoyable film when I just surrendered to those outrageous “fashions” Esther parades around in, and all those strenuous attempts by Jon Peters to get us to see Streisand as the sexy pot he clearly sexy woman

      I always wondered if young people coming to this film in the post FM radio age (when music genres began to really divide) would grasp that the pre-disco ‘70s music scene – which embraced Rod Stewart, Barry Manilow, The Commodores, Alice Cooper, and Marie Osmond – was a bit of grab bag of sounds, with those heavy-hitters of soft-rock emerging triumphant on the charts.
      You describe very well what this film captures (or tries to) in relation to the 1976 music scene.

      As for the 2018, I think Gaga has a remarkable voice, but, having missed seeing her on that American Horror Story series, have no idea what she’s like as an actress. But I find Bradley Cooper almost staggeringly bland, but perhaps that’s just what’s just what is needed to remove some of the bloat this simple story has acquired over the years.

      Thanks, Rick, for sharing your take on this film and its musical context. Can’t tell you how many times readers express to me how much they get out of the thoughtful and well-informed contributions of all of you who comment here.

  4. Thank you for this! Another instance of me being quite surprised you hadn't already written about this movie, it seems like essential Ken viewing. Much appreciate how you have the skill to objectively pick apart a movie even when you have such fondness for it.

    My love for this movie is half about the time capsule quality of it (I'm such a sucker for that late 60's / early 70's California aesthetic) and half about the crazy drama, almost mythos, of it. So many people I respect were involved (Babs, Joan Didion, Frank Pierson) that the curio status of that alone is unmissable!

    I'm always wary of first time actor-directors casting themselves in lead roles... You're taking on a job you've never done before, but think you can pull double duty? .... Which is the main reason I'm dubious about the upcoming adaptation. Gaga also hasn't proved herself as an actress (her Golden Globe win for AHS: Hotel was a laughable affair), but she does have screen presence in multitudes. I'm half-expecting a train wreck, but come October (or whenever we get it over here), my rear will be seated in front of the big screen.

    1. Hi Sandra
      The transparency of my "taste" in movies makes me simultaneously laugh and cringe. You're so right, of course. And people still wonder why/how it is that I've never written about "Hello, Dolly!" after all these years (another film with Ken written all over it).
      I'm not sure when I would have gotten around to A STAR IS BORN were it not for wanting to revisit it before the remake came out. Your thoughts on the potential red flags regarding ASIB:2018 are right on the money. I have a weird, naive desire to think they cannot possibly feed us the same hoary cliches about show business that were established since the first incarnation of the movie. I mean if they remake the film and you come away with just the same pablum about how many broken hearts go into making a hit record...I mean, what's the point.
      Still, I'm curious as hell to see if they will do a better job than Streisand and Jon Peters. I mean, they have to, right? (I wasn't aware that Gaga had actually won a Golden Globe for AHS: Hotel.)

      Based on the reasons you supply, I can see why you have a love for A STAR IS BORN--it not being a wholly cohesive film actually allows for it to be appreciated ala carte: some things you like here, other things not so much there. And these days when so many films are made with an eye to franchise longevity and pleasing the broadest common denominator, a movie with such an oddball assortment of collaborators with seemingly conflicting objectives does make for a curio status worth tipping the hat to.
      "I'm half-expecting a train wreck, but come October, my rear will be seated in front of the big screen."--I couldn't say it better myself!
      Thanks again for visiting my blog and for always offering up a surprising and thoughtful familiarity with the...shall we say, varied?...assortment of movies I write about.

  5. I have never seen this movie, though I think I caught maybe 15 or 20 minutes of the early part of it once, like 20 years ago! I will have to finally watch it sometime soon. It's probably the only time I've ever read a tribute to it in which there were no photos of La Streisand and Kris in the bathtub! I recall that as a searing image to my nine year-old eyes when it came out. ("They're naked in the bathtub together!" LOL) It seemed so deliciously naughty and dirty to my preteen mind. The mind reels at Elvis as the costar of it. A wild opportunity lost. I wonder if it would have redeemed him and his acting career or if the immense stress of the production would have hastened his demise... That damned Colonel was always interfering and not in a good way! Lastly, I agree... I have to laugh at the notion of Babs as a highly popular "rock star" in her pantsuits and Harpo Marx 'do. Remember when she tried to go all '80s pop on us with "Emotion?" That video actually played on MTV for a few moments!!! I love, love, love it, but not for the reasons likely intended.

    1. Hi Poseidon
      It's actually been so eye opening learning of the number of people who've either have never seen the film, or who have only come to it lately. Maybe it has to do with my having lived in San Francisco at the time this came out that gives me the idea that the release of this film was practically like a national holiday (Polk Street and Castro Street were practically paved and wallpapered in that Scavullo poster).
      Funny you mentioned the bathtub scene...the very reason I DIDN'T include a screencap of it was because I thought it was an image everyone was tired of!
      I like that you remember how it made an impression on you as a child.I had a similar response when, as a child, I watched Jane Fonda in "Tall Story"- anyhow (my memory is foggy here) I seem to remember a scene where she and Tony Perkins are looking at an apartment or something and they both squeeze into a shower to see if they will both fit. It blew my mind and seemed impossibly obscene just to have them TALK about a man and a woman to showering together.

      "...if the immense stress of the production would have hastened his demise" Of course the idea of Streisand and Elvis together is just so irresistible, even if it didn't work I would have just once like to see her onscreen with a male costar with a strong, charismatic screen presence.Also, maybe she wouldn't have hogged all the best songs.

      Oh, and I do remember that video with Babs all decked out in '80s high fashion (was that the one with Roger Daltrey or Baryshnikov in it?). Anyhow, that would have won the prize for most embarrassing MTV diva look were it not for for Aretha Franklin's "Jumpin' Jack Flash" nightmare. Thanks, so much Poseidon!

  6. It’s literally one of my fav films. Brilliant article. Omg just all of it ❤️ April

    1. Hi April
      I know you from Instagram, yes? Anyhow, thank you SO much for being generous of spirit enough to be a big fan of the movie, yet not take offense at my affectionate digs at it. I'm forever devoted to the perfect love one can have for imperfect films, and so I thank you for reading this and taking the time to comment so kindly. Barbra apparently attracts only the best!

  7. I guess this will always be the movie that launched a million perms. At least Jane Fonda backed up her shag with a good movie.

    1. It really did. The amount of press devoted to Streisand's hair, the number of people who went specifically to see Streisand in her new 'do'...
      I always liked Fonda's shag, never quite warmed to Bab's curly perm.

    2. And the number of women who were walking around with Bab's perm. It was a major boom to the hair industry, I'm surprised Jon Peters didn't have a royalty deal.

    3. He may have realized he'd have to split those royalties with the estate of Harpo Marx.

  8. Hey Ken! Am I misreading, or did you have THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (JANET WEISS.... a heroine) in mind when you did those credits (....a road manager). The thought of it cracked me up, and then... WOW, what a perfect double feature this would make!

    1. Wow! It wasn't included as an inside joke or a reference I intended anyone to pick up on. But Gary Busey reminded me of Eddie, and it just crossed my mind to credit him and Mazursky in the style of "Rocky Horror"! Seriously, nothing I thought anyone would take notice of. I'm impressed!
      And as for a double bill: Yes, I can imagine the dueling curly perms of Tim Curry and Streisand providing a complimentary through-line visual for two stories where controlling divas vie for world domination.

    2. Of course I pay strict attention, Ken. As Katie said to Hubbell, "you're too good a writer not to."

      Mike T.

    3. One of the nicest, blush-inducing compliments I've ever received. Thank you, Mike!

  9. Argyle here. First off I want to apologize for being AWOL for a while, but I’m always reading, just can’t always get my thoughts together. You put so much effort and heart into these posts I want to respond in kind (Roslyn Kind?!) and can’t always manage that. Anyway, I DID see ASIB on its initial release. I was in Raleigh, NC in college and my roommate, Chet, and I were there for it - maybe not opening day, but close. Chet was a sort of pop piano savant. He could sit at a piano and just COMMUNE. We would go to the practice rooms on campus and I would sit and listen while he would just extemporaneously (I don’t recall him having sheet music) play things like Elton John’s “Your Song” or “Piano Man” by Billy Joel (whose first few albums got heavy rotation on Chet’s stereo - yikes from me, but I got it.) He could pick out a convincing version of just about anything, which was thrilling, and it was a true emotional outlet for him. We had lots of frustrations and questions at that time - Did we really like what we had chosen to study (design, headed toward architecture)? Why had our parents raised us like they did? Were we cool? Who did we want to date? Which sex? Did we drink too much? Were we going to get expelled? Why did money slip through our fingers? What were we going to wear? Chet could also just improvise songs, usually heavy, romantic, (can I say schmaltzy without seeming judgmental?) instrumentals. Great rolling gushes of chords. And he was completely, unabashedly into it. It was amazing. Unfortunately, our friendship did not survive all of our frustrations and questions. He sort of went down a doomed, romantic path. I became jaded and cynical! Hello! But he could play the piano. Back to Barbra - I think “The Way We Were” (movie and SONG) were his jam. I was stuck as a 10 year old whose first taste of adult cinema was “Funny Girl.” That was my Barbra and she had long ago abandoned the Egyptian eye liner and left me fascinated but cold to other incarnations. (As Sandra Bernhard would later say, “Why did you go down that Stoney End? Come back to the five and dime, Barbra Streisand, Barbra Streisand!”) Although I kind of liked “Stoney End.”

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    1. Hi Argyle
      I have a great admiration for people able to play the piano. I just love it. My partner majored in classical piano in college, and he can bring me to tears with his playing. (Since he's been teaching me to play, I'm sure I'm capable of bringing him to tears, but of a far less rapturous sort).
      But our only contact with a pop music piano savant when when we went to a piano bar once and had the pianist all to ourselves. We were both able to call out any name of a song that came into out head and she seemed to know it...without sheet music. Plus, if she didn't know it, she was able to accompany our atonal humming. Just an amazing gift!
      But...back to Streisand. Her music and image was decidedly of the schmaltz sort, The Way We Were being the first ballad Streisand album I owned after purchasing my first Streisand album, the pop-influenced Stoney End- which still remains one of my favorites.
      Under the hairy wing of Jon Peters, Barbara went along with his desire to make her appeal matronly and tried to sell her as the red hot mama he clearly thought she was. But the Barbra you remembered from FUNNY GIRL is a hard image to beat. She may have taken forays into pop and disco, but fans were willing to wait it out until she returned to what she did best (all there Marilyn and Alan Bergman songs are what we remember, not "Queen Bee" or "Enough is Enough."

  10. Argyle again. Anyway, we were there for ASIB and I’m pretty sure Chet liked it more than I did. Oddly, I think I wanted more Technicolor/MGM and not handheld camera and lens flares. I was obsessed with the Judy Garland ASIB but of course hadn’t seen it. It had been out of circulation practically since it had been released and was one of the white whales of cinema in the 70's. Sounds quaint now. I had a small reproduction of the (jazz hands!) poster. But with this new version the whole rock angle confused me. Barbra wasn’t rock. And neither, really, was Kris Kristofferson for that matter. The whole concept seemed kind of tired from the get-go. But I’m pretty sure Chet got the album and riffed on “Evergreen” hard. As I think of it, I guess “The Way We Were” (song) and then “Evergreen” really cast in stone that idea that a big film had to have a #1 hit song power ballad on the radio. Which ultimately created Celine Dion.

    Being in design school, the Scavullo poster image was either an object of worship or scorn. I think I was on the latter side (come on Barbra, can you try any harder??) This would have been a couple of years later, but my friends Wesley and Van saw it differently. Wesley must have had “Barbra Streisand’s Greatest Hits Volume 2" (I had to look it up) which had a black and white silhouette portrait with the nimbus of curls. Van had recently made a silk screen poster of Judy Garland - the hopeful, upward gazing, frontal shot of her in Wizard of Oz gingham - that was screened in rainbow colors. I know. And it was great. And this was maybe 1978 so when rainbows were still fresh. So Van made a special edition of the silhouetted Barbra in rainbow colors for Wesley and any others of us who wanted one. I hope I still have mine somewhere.

    I sincerely hope that there are kids out there right now who are anticipating ASIB 2018 as much as we were (to varying degrees) in 1976. There have to be. Needing to be swept up in the romance, the schmaltz, the egos. I’ll be there, too. Have already watched (fascinated) the trailer on youtube multiple times. Thank you, Ken, for sparking memories.

    1. Hi again
      I agree with you about what "Evergreen" had wrought. ENDLESS LOVE, the truly awful YOU LIGHT UP MY LIFE, SAY YOU SAY ME, I JUST CALLED TO SAY I LOVE YOU, CAN YOU FEEL THE LOVE TONIGHT...ugh!
      No wonder the Best Song category has been a big snooze-fest at every ceremony. The ballad mania and all those sound-alike songs.
      All that you recall about that period really does reflect how much pop culture was such a force of fractured alliances. Pre-MTV, we relied on album cover art, a star's relative inaccessibility; pre-Madonna or ONJ,it wasn't so common for pop stars to change their images. (I remember around this time Marie Osmond branching out on her own, abandoning her little bit country roots, and releasing a solo pop album - THIS IS THE WAY THAT I FEEL -where she poses in a three piece suit not unlike the kind Streisand wears incongruously in her concert scenes (maybe pants suits were hipper than I remember).
      A STAR IS BORN was SUCH a big hit, but it kind of baffles me now to imagine why. Eliminating the Streisand fans, what about this film attracted all those others? And what was the demographic? Was this a movie oldsters abandoned their TV sets to see? Did couples go for the romance? Was it all middle of the road, safe entertainment during a time when Hollywood was still turning out unsettling visions of itself like NASHVILLE, TAXI DRIVER, and THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH?
      The New ASIB intrigues me most because I cannot seriously imagine they are going to resurrect the story just so they can recite the same show biz cliche: The love of one person is more important than the empty applause and adulation of millions. ZZZzzzz
      I pray they have something more relevant and real to say to our fame-addicted/celebrity-worship culture.
      Very much enjoyed hearing about the context and circumstances of your seeing "A Star is Born" for the first time. I suspect you haven't seen it again in all these years?
      Thanks for reading (presumptuously I always assume you're out there, even when you don't comment, which, you must know is never a requirement or expectation) and sharing with us the memories this essay sparked!

  11. Hi Ken, another great write-up! Although I think Miss Barbra does very well in this movie (her acting is terrific), I find myself favoring the 1954 version. And I agree with you - I would have loved to have seen her do this taking place in a Broadway / Hollywood setting. I know she was trying to do something different with her style, hence the "rock music" setting.

    And she wanted Elvis to do this film! What a collector's item that would have been, these two icons together!

    Interesting that this film, like FUNNY GIRL, ends with the heartbroken diva vowing to go on with life, delivering a gut-wrenching tour-de-force finale.

    And as you've said, I'm *still" waiting for your HELLO, DOLLY! write-up LOL (that film brings me such joy). I know I go against the grain of many people's opinion, but I in fact thought she was perfect. FUNNY LADY, however, I find difficult to get through. It just has a bitter "tone" to it, and after the "nice" Fanny of FUNNY GIRL, it seemed like a jolt.

    Looking forward to your next post!!!

    1. Hi Michael
      Yes, I personally think Barbra would have slayed in a version of this film set in the worlds her voice and persona most comfortably fit. When I read those old articles and interviews with Jon Peters, he seemed to have swept her off her feet by convincing her that he could make her image more youthful and sexy.
      I thought she was pretty sexy (in that gay-friendly way) in THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT and the Regency Period sequences of ON A CLEAR DAY...even HELLO, DOLLY! She just seems a bit out of her element here.
      But she IS the lifeblood of A STAR IS BORN and I can see why you like her performance. I too would have loved to have seen her paired with Elvis.
      "Like FUNNY GIRL,(this film) ends with the heartbroken diva vowing to go on with life, delivering a gut-wrenching tour-de-force finale."
      I know! It's like that was a big part of Barbra's mythos. I'm honestly surprised she wasn't given a big final "singing through tears" finale in FUNNY LADY. She certainly achieves the dramatic equivalent in THE WAY WE WERE, and a similar musical coda for YENTL (albeit happier).
      As for HELLO, DOLLY's absence on these pages, I have that sequestered away as one of a list of films I'm hoping to add to a book collection of my essays here. At one time I made that decision so I wouldn't post too much negative about it, but now that I have the Blu-ray (and so many years have passed the film exists in a limbo of time reserved for classic films, not stick out like a sore thumb in the Vietnam/New Hollywood cynical atmosphere of 1969) I find I'm softening a bit to HELLO< DOLLY! It looks absolutely gorgeous.
      FUNNY LADY does feel like the bigger fluke now. She just seems so unhappy in it.
      Thank you for checking out this post, Michael! Always a pleasure to hear from you on the topic of musicals. Much appreciated!

  12. Thank you Ken!!! And yes, the bluray of HD does indeed look beautiful! Now to get ON A CLEAR DAY out in blu .... thank you again for another great article!

    1. My (foolish) dream is the Blu-ray of ON A CLEAR DAY will be the film restored to its original roadshow length. That's still my favorite Streisand musical (in spite of Montand)

  13. Babs' version of "A Star is Born" is one of those movies that makes a great soundtrack album. You get the absolute best of it on the LP (LP. Snort. How old am I???) I sat through it on the original release and thought it silly and contrived and not a proud moment in anyone's career. It has its roots in a film called "What Price Hollywood?," so I was having NONE of the rock/pop milieu. I was an insufferable music school student and all about high-flown artistic integrity. As far as I can tell, this was about dumbing down the whole thing until they could sell it to every sucker in America. At 19, I was too wise, not to mention Dedicated to Art, to be taken in by greedy Hollywood producers! I disdained this film VIGOROUSLY. The LP did get some time and attention, but Babs has that voice and in this project, it was better than anything it sang.

    I'm not sure why all the attention to Elvis Presley. What film did he do where he demonstrated substantial acting ability? I can't think of anything he ever did that came close to the arc of the Norman Maine character. (I'm still that kid in music school.) (At least "John Norman" is not hyphenated.) By the time this film was made, could Elvis still speak in complete sentences? He was an effing wreck by the mid-70's, a complete freak show. He was long past the point of any young woman falling in love with him.

    Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. That's the one to see. Heaven. Pure period gold.

    Babs' version is on Netflix now and I thought about peeking at it. An old friend who is a major Barbra queen did check it out and came away dismayed and confused. It seems the film was a bit less than he had remembered it to be. I will not be looking.

    Ken, I applaud you for taking deep dives into dicey films. Reading what you wrote on this dicey film saves me from ever looking at it again. Bless you!

    1. Hi George
      Indeed, the album is so good that it somewhat set me up for disappointment when I saw the film. In the immediate years after the release of TOMMY (which spoiled me by being a complete LP and movie experience), it took me a while to get used to the fact that much of the music on musical soundtrack albums does not appear in a film in its entirety. A STAR IS BORN made it worse because the clean, studio versions of the songs on the LP were replaced by the live versions in the film. This, my favorite songs ("Everything" and "One More Look At You") just didn't cut it. Without the music to cling to, I was left with the plot, and you know where that left us.

      The big attraction in Elvis for me is: 1) this kind of movie doesn't really require good acting, it requires personalities. Streisand almost never pairs herself with anyone as charismatic as she, so just the idea of what might arise out of these two paired onscreen is intriguing as hell.
      2) When certain actors not known for their acting ability are cast in roles which play on their images and decline (Gig Young in THEY SHOOT HORSES, Ann-Margret in CARNAL KNOWLEDGE comes to mind) there's always the potential for something heretofore untapped and magical being mined. Wrested from the clutches of The Colonel, there's no telling what Elvis might have done. Maybe with another ego as big as hers in the film, Streisand and her image wouldn't have run as roughshod over this production as well.
      Ah, well... you can never tell. Elvis in 1976 could just have likely been like Mae West in SEXTETTE (horrifying).
      I've seen all of the incarnations of A STAR IS BORN, most recently WHAT PRICE HOLLYWOOD, but Garland's still remains my favorite (though I may not have thought so had I seen the film before all the restored scenes). Anyhow, that track record more or less guarantees I'll see the Gaga version...just perhaps not at the theater.
      Thank you, George, for recounting and sharing your teen-years memories of this film's release. Nice to hear from you as always!

  14. Ken: Hi! You can add me to the list of readers who actually have not seen this film (yet, anyway). I was 11 years old when it came out, and I don't think Mom and Dad would have driven me to the Mall for this one! :)

    I have an odd memory tangentially connected with the film, however. You might remember that Streisand's next single after "Evergreen" was the song "My Heart Belongs to Me." The latter song was released in 1977, the year I first became a serious Top 40 radio listener. When I first heard "Heart," I assumed it also was from "A Star is Born." Maybe it was the feeling of slight over-production in the arrangement (including the back-up singers with their "Hey, didn't I love you...didn't I love you bay-bee"). But somehow, "Heart" didn't seem like a "real" rock song. It sounded like something a character in a movie who was playing a rock singer would sing.

    I've read that, from early in her career onward, Barbra insisted she was an actor first, then a singer. And to me, it feels like she approaches her singing as an actor would, with each song becoming a three-act play. That approach works beautifully for Broadway show tunes and other works with complex lyrics. But for me, it doesn't work when Streisand tries rock and other forms of pop. She comes across like someone who is acting the part of a rock singer, rather than the real thing. Rock (at least, 1970s classic rock) calls for emotional immediacy above all, and emotional as she is, one still gets a sense of remove when hearing Streisand sing.

    I realize not everyone will agree with me on this opinion! And to be fair, I do find something endearing about Barbra trying to "get down and be funky." I don't know if you've seen her 1973 TV special "Barbra Streisand and Other Musical Instruments." There is an extended section where she sings duets with guest Ray Charles. He exudes his usual effortless cool, while Streisand (who sings quite powerfully here) just seems to be trying SO HARD! But I still admire her guts for giving it her all.

    P.S. I do love the selection of stills you chose for your "Star is Born" review. It's amusing how in your headshot of Gary Busey, Streisand still manages to upstage him, even if only on a poster. And I love, love, love that shot of Rita Coolidge giving Barbra the side-eye!

    1. David! As we near the anniversary of your comment, I have to extend my apologies. How did I not see this in all that time?!
      Well, happily Barbra Streisand is a timeless subject, so if you'll forgive having to wait a whole year for a "Thank You", I have to say I tend to agree with you when it comes to Babs the funkster.
      She's a brilliant technical singer, and I love your assessment that she approaches her songs like an acting performance. I think that's precisely why listening to her sing can be such a moving experience, and why, when given the right material, no one can touch her.
      But the effort and lack of ease does show when she tackles certain kinds of pop music. I think her work on the STONEY END album is brilliant, but things like The Main Event and some of the songs from this soundtrack make her sound like someone's extremely talented aunt trying to get down with the youngsters.
      I totally remember that TV special you reference, and yes, she is a bit out of her element with soul.
      Years ago when Liz Torres (remember her?) did standup comedy on TV, she did a great bit about how variety shows of the day sought to humanize classical artists like Beverly Sills by having them perform pop songs. She then goes into an impersonation of Beverly Sills singing Janis Joplin's "Down on Me." Well, sometimes when I hear a track or two of Barbara from this movie, that skit pops into my head.
      You're way overdue to catch this movie, my friend. Ddd you see the Gaga version? And what a great eye you have for catching LaStrisand peeking over the shoulder of Gary Busey up there. I myself wasn't even aware of that!
      Thanks for reading this and commenting, David. And should you ever bother to post a comment again, you have my solemn promise it won't take 12 months for m to respond. Take care!
      PS- I had to actually go to Google to listen to 'My Heart Belongs To Me" --I'd totally forgotten about it. Given all I've said thus far, it's sort of weird that one of my absolute favorite Babs songs is the bombastic Left in the Dark. But maybe that because of that "acting" thing you mentioned!

  15. I watched the first two A STAR IS BORNs yesterday back to back. Its amazing how much more bitter and sardonic the first movie is (the influence of Dorothy Parker for sure.) The Garland version takes Hollywood at face value, and the only satire is that Lola Lavery character and the funny speech Joan Shawlee gives at the opening benefit (She's a darling girl!) There aren't really any villains. The press gets a pass (even Jack Carson's Matt Libby is a far more nuanced character than Lionel Stander's sneering press agent.). My only real complaint with the original is Janet Gaynor's total lack of star quality. The camera seriously doesn't love her and her mugging in the cocktail party and commissary scenes is really painful. The movie has to tell us a star is born because we sure don't discover it ourselves.

    Other than recasting Gaynor and cutting May Robson out altogether, I would have made one major change to the script: March and Gaynor's movie should have been a total smash for both of them ("Norman Maine is back! His best work in years!!") Then, when his follow-up movies are all duds, he has to beg Oliver Niles to put him in another movie with his wife. When he shows up the first day plastered to the gills, that's when he gets fired.

    The Garland movie has other problems for me. I think the first half hour, climaxing with "The Man That Got Away," is some of the greatest cinema of the 50's. The weakest scenes are the ones that follow the original line by line: The Academy Awards banquet (they stopped doing the banquet thing in the 40's), the racetrack scene, the drunk tank, the sanitarium, all don't have the same punch as the original. And its very strange watching Garland play the long suffering wife of a man who destroys his career because of an addiction problem. James Mason was a great actor playing that part. Garland was the real thing.

    I suppose the idea of having Garland play Norman Maine would have been inconceivable. Then cast Van Johnson as Esther. Or go really bold and cast Guy Madison or Rory Calhoun. A vapid pretty boy becomes a star based on his looks while Norma Maine gets washed up in the Pacific Ocean. I think this could have worked, don't you?

    1. Interesting observations and comparisons of the various A STAR IS BORN incarnations. Especially pointing out the minimal satire of Hollywood in the Garland film.

      I don't think I've heard of anyone suggesting gender reversals for the roles or a gay take on the familiar tale. I like it! I think all of them would work and breathe new life into a well-worn tale.
      At least in the development stage one would have to confront the gender-based assumptions of the past adaptations (like exploring to what degree Norman Maine's decline is related to the male supremacy myth and the perceived emasculation associated with being supported by his wife and thought of as "Mr. Lester"). A change of the film's sexual politics could potentially open new vistas or expose the limitations of a narrative steeped in the "tragedy" of a man unable to be the head of the household.