Friday, August 6, 2021

STAR! 1968

"Crickey! I'm tired of playing bloody virgins." - Julie Andrews 1967

When music icon Debbie Harry was asked in a 2019 interview if she would be interested in seeing her life and the legacy of Blondie turned into a musical biopic, she responded: “I’m not so sure that I’m terribly fond of them. The way the industry works and the way the artist works within the industry, it’s all very similar. The only thing that’s different is the personality of the artist. It’s basically the same old story, only with different performers, different faces.”
Ms. Harry nailed it. Whether set in the worlds of music, movies, or theater, biographical films--no matter how creatively envisioned--suffer from an elemental sameness. A formulaic, 3-Act cycle of “rags-riches-rundown-redemption” that may make it easy for Hollywood to keep reselling the same product with different packaging, but encourages the production of films whose only distinction is budget size and the degree of talent, dynamism, and charisma of the particular performer tasked with the job of being the celebrity impersonator. 
Seeing Double
Los Angeles, October 1968: Julie Andrews & Hollywood newbie Barbra Streisand were the Doublemint Twins of Roadshow musicals. Star! the eagerly-anticipated musical about the life of English Music Hall star Gertrude Lawrence, opened just three weeks after the premiere of Funny Girl, the equally anticipated biopic about Broadway star Fanny Brice. The similar films employed the same flashback framing device, each leading lady seated in a theater, looking back over her life. (Note La Streisand's positively lethal nails.)

Funny Girl and Star! shared near-identical scenes depicting a theater neophyte “comically” bungling an ensemble number; winning over an audience with a dazzling solo; routinely bumping heads with a stern but avuncular employer; and, de rigueur of the genre, suffering for love in mink. Where these two films diverge is that its stars at the time were on very opposite career paths: Streisand seeking to establish a screen persona, Andrews hoping to shed one. This proved to be the difference that made all difference.
Dame Julie Andrews as Gertrude Lawrence

Daniel Massey as Noel Coward

I adore Julie Andrews, yet I’m something of a Johnny-come-lately where her films are concerned. The first Julie Andrews movie I ever saw was Thoroughly Modern Millie in 1967 when I was 10-years-old, and I never saw another until 10 (which I loathed) in 1979. I was in my 40s when I got around to seeing Mary PoppinsThe Sound of Music was unseen until 2015, and Star! only a few years before that.
I'm aware that my lifetime aversion to movies branded "clean" or "wholesome" is what kept me away from Andrews' two most iconic films, which is a pity, for they are both marvelous films I would have loved as a child. However, Star!--an overstuffed musical "sure-fire hit" that wound up one of Hollywood's more legendary "crash and burn disasters" (I'm looking at you, Mame and Cats)--is just the kind of elephantine entertainment that would seem to be right up my aesthetic alley.
Andrews, Bruce Forsythe, and Beryl Reid sing the popular 1921 Music Hall song "Piccadilly"

Discounting my usual complaint about overemphatic musical titles (those exclamation points!), I like to think I approached Star! with an open mind. But I gotta say, things got off to a very rocky start when this $14 million, spare no expense, travel the globe for locations musical epic hit me over the head with its “Fox contract player” casting vibe. Throughout the film, in scenes meant to be taking place in London & Paris, up pop familiar American TV faces like Eugene Roche (Mr. Ajax dish detergent) and Cathleen Cordell (stalwart of episodic TV) to break the illusion. 
Some 15 minutes into the movie there’s a scene set in a meticulously re-created British Music Hall, but verisimilitude flies straight out the window the second I recognize the cockney drunk harassing a young Gertrude Lawrence to be the same drunk who harasses Darrin Stephens in every episode of Bewitched set in a bar: none other than TV's Charmin-pusher, Mr. Whipple, aka character actor Dick Wilson.
Filmed on location in New York, London, and the French Riviera!
Well, you're just going to have to take the publicist's word for it, because between the rear-projection shots, obvious backdrops, and interiors so brightly lit they look like sound stages, it's pretty hard to believe Star! ever left L.A. 
 

Then there are the two Parisian theater/cabaret impresarios played by American actors (Alan Oppenheim and Richard Angarola) chipping away at my already overtasked suspension of disbelief by speaking with cartoon French accents. Indeed, fans of Valley of the Dolls will recognize Angarola as Mr. Chardot, Sharon Tate’s, sleazy French "art film" director with the Pepé Le Pew intonation.
Hitting perhaps the hardest is the lineup of actors cast as glamorous Gertrude Lawrence's paramours. Looking over this bunch, my best guess is that in order for a family film to legitimize its leading lady juggling multiple lovers without benefit of marriage, they sought to cast leading men guaranteed to drive thoughts of sex out of anyone's mind on sight.
Richard Crenna, Anthony Eisley, Michael Craig, and Robert Reed
If it was STAR!'s intention to generate sympathy for Gertrude Lawrence by presenting her as a woman cursed with attracting only the blandest, dullest suitors from several continents, it succeeded beyond all reasonable expectation

When production on The Sound of Music wrapped in 1964, Julie Andrews agreed to reteam with director Robert Wise and producer Saul Chaplin on a film about the life of Gertrude Lawrence. In the years before production began on Star!, Andrews completed three films (Torn CurtainHawaii, and Thoroughly Modern Millie), and most significantly, her fourth, The Sound of Music had become a global cash-cow, cultural phenomenon, and 20th Century-Fox savior.
I have no idea how the Gertrude Lawrence biopic was originally envisioned in 1964, but by the time it morphed into the musical reunion of the creative team responsible for the then highest-grossing motion picture in history, I suspect it outgrew itself.
"I don't know, but somewhere along the line, 'Shrinking Violet' got Sanforized- Lucy Ricardo

Costing nearly twice as much as The Sound of Music with less than a third of its plot and none of its warmth or humor, Star! is a gargantuan production for no other reason than Julie Andrews was the #1 box-office star and The Sound of Music had made a mint.

Like many, I knew next to nothing about Gertrude Lawrence before seeing Star!, but years of reading show business memoirs and seeing movie biopics with "Story" tacked on the end (The Helen Morgan Story, The Eddy Duchin Story, etc.) resulted in a nagging sense of déjà vu from Star!'s depiction of Lawrence as a willful, ambitious girl from humble beginnings who achieves great fame as an actress, only to find happiness elusive because her professional desire to be “lots of different people" leaves her not knowing who she is or what she wants. 
Presented as a series of episodic, tangentially-connected highlights and lowlights interspersed between splashy musical numbers, the essentially unremarkable events of Lawrence’s life story (at least as presented here) left me wondering how in the world anyone thought $14 million and three hours were necessary to tell it.
Of STAR!'s seven Oscar nominations (0 wins), Daniel Massey was deservedly singled out for the film's sole nomination in the performing categories. He also won the Golden Globe, for which Andrews was also nominated.

Perhaps criticizing the film’s script for being superficial, its characters undeveloped, its supporting cast serviceable, and production old-fashioned is quibbling. Star! was never really selling Gertrude Lawrence in the first place. As implied by the movie posters declaring “Julie Andrews as The Star!”, Julie Andrews—her singing, her dancing, her wigs, and her costumes (by Donald Brooks)—was the whole show. And I have to say, as a showcase for a sumptuously glamorized Andrews in all her singing and dancing glory, Star! is an outstanding film record that I'm overjoyed exists. 

Andrews is in exceptionally fine voice and is clearly working her ass off. And rather than revisiting the tried-and-true, she's taking a genuine creative risk. I applaud actors (especially those labeled "stars") who try to spread their creative wings. Too many bad films have been made and far too many exciting talents dulled by surrendering to typecasting, going for the easy money, and pandering to fanbases obsessed with a star's “image.” 

While some newspaper ads heralded, "Julie Andrews is a different Julie Andrews in STAR!" others promised, "Julie Andrews as you love her!"--whatever that meant. As it turns out, she was neither and both. Consequently, STAR!, like Gertrude Lawrence's character in the Broadway musical Lady in the Dark, suffered from not being able to make up its mind. 

Although the sincerity of her effort shows (which may be part of the problem), with reluctance I have to say I never found Andrews convincing for a moment as Gertrude Lawrence (1968 Maggie Smith would have been ideal). A reluctant observation because I really do like Julie Andrews SO much and think, in addition to being very talented, she is and always has been a humble and gracious class act and charming personality. 
But for an actress who mostly radiates crisp efficiency and common sense to make real a character charitably described as an ill-tempered, hard-drinking, child-neglecting narcissist, Andrews needed the kind of special handling and solid material Doris Day received with Love Me or Leave Me, or Mary Tyler Moore with Ordinary People. Certainly something better than William Fairchild’s fatuous screenplay or Robert Wise's famously hands-off direction. Outside of its Michael Kidd choreographed and staged musical numbers, overall I feel Julie Andrews is poorly served by Star!, not the other way around. 
14-year-old Jenny Agutter (Logan's Run, Walkabout) as Gertrude's daughter Pamela Roper

As movie musicals evolve (de-evolve?) into pyrotechnical CGI displays of machine-gun editing and flying camerawork, an old-school, studio-bound movie like Star! is not without its pleasures. I knew when I first saw it that Star! was going to be a film I’d add to my collection and rewatch...but likely never again in its entirety. And I was right...Star! has joined The Music ManPaint Your WagonNineA Chorus Line, and Rent as one of my movie musical “Fast-Forward Favorites.”


WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS MOVIE  -  The Musical Sequences  
My “Fast-Forward Favorites” are movies I visit most often with my finger poised over the FWD button on the remote so I can sidestep the unpleasantness and hone in exclusively on the joys. In nearly every film I place in this category, this means the musical numbers (George Cukor's The Women is one of the few non-musical films I most enjoy a la carte). The musical sequences in Star! hold a special sway over me because I fell in love with the movie's original soundtrack album long before I ever saw the film. I was a freshman in high school when I purchased the deluxe, photo-crammed, gate-fold Star! soundtrack LP for 99¢ in a remainder bin. It’s an absolutely brilliant song collection and I played it to death (still do) because it’s essentially a Julie Andrews concert album in disguise.

The use of music is where Star! differs from its 1968 look-alike Funny Girl. In Star!, like Cabaret, only four years earlier, all the songs and dances take place onstage or are sung in realistic performance. For the longest time, the discordant tone of the screenplay left me with the impression that the musical numbers in the film were unconnected to the action and that each time Dame Andrews breaks into song, the already overextended story grinds to a halt. But in rewatching the film in recent years and for this piece, I now see that most every song actually comments on the action or relates to Lawrence’s romantic and psychological conflicts. It's just the movie's structure is so unwieldy, that thread isn't all that easy to find. 

Favorite Musical Sequences 
Dear Little Boy (Dear Little Girl)
Ironic as hell that my top fave musical moment in this Herculean production is Julie Andrews just standing still and singing with that bell-clear voice of hers. Star! was my introduction to many of the standards and showtunes in the score, and this Gershwin song from 1926's Oh, Kay! (those damned exclamation points, again) is lovely.

Burlington Bertie from Bow
I’m no fan of clowns, baggy-pants comics, or those maudlin, cured-ham vaudeville-burlesque hobo “swells” like Red Skelton’s Freddie the Freeloader...but this number is a keeper. The song itself is a witty delight and Andrews handles the many props and comic stage business with waggish aplomb. She often refers to it as the most challenging number she's ever had to learn.

The Physician
I love this clever Cole Porter tune so much, and the comical staging it's given really soars in spite of the cringe-inducing brownface adopted by the performers (the less said about that “Limehouse Blues” number, the better). I’ve heard this song interpreted by many people over the years, but Andrews' rendition is the top.

The Saga of Jenny
A defining characteristic I associate with Michael Kidd’s choreography (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Hello, Dolly!, Guys and Dolls) is that while most dance strives for the appearance of effortlessness, Kidd’s work displays a conspicuous strenuousness. That’s not a criticism so much as an observation citing what makes this number so impressive for me. Kidd puts Julie Andrews through the dance equivalent of a decathlon, but she wins the gold.

Damage Control
When Star! flopped, Fox pulled the film from theaters early, lopped off nearly an hour, and released it to theaters in 1969 under the optimistic, totally nonsensical title Those Were The Happy Times. While I've always liked the original (misleadingly modern) movie poster, I am mad about and positively mesmerized by the sheer, absolute flop-sweat desperation of the re-issue poster. "Be Glad they still make pictures like this!" ...that's like when you complain about the lima beans and your mom responds, "Be glad there's food on your plate at all!" And what's up with that "demented flower girl" artwork? ...by The Sound of Music poster artist Howard Terpning, no less.

BONUS MATERIAL
In 1999, Twiggy (The Boy Friend) and Harry Groener portrayed Gertrude Lawrence & Noel Coward in the Off-Broadway production If Love Were All. Never saw the show but the cast CD is terrific. Sets and costumes were designed by Julie Andrews' first husband, Oscar and Tony Award-winning designer Tony Walton (All That Jazz).


"When you flop in one part, always start in another as soon as possible." 
- Gertrude Lawrence STAR! screenplay


Copyright © Ken Anderson  2009 - 2021

12 comments:

  1. Dear Ken: Thank you! This review is positively a gift, getting to read your thoughts on one of my favorite movies.

    First, I should say that I, too, adore Julie Andrews. My mom was a huge fan of hers (going back to Mom's college years, when she saw Julie in "My Fair Lady" on Broadway), and after multiple viewings as a child of "The Sound of Music" and "Thoroughly Modern Millie" I also fell under the spell of Julie's warmth, charm and supreme musical talent.

    For some time, "Star!" was a "holy grail" movie for me. I first learned about it from Mom; she and Dad had seen the movie in New York in its original road-show release, and Mom kept the souvenir program in her memorabilia box in the basement. Then, sometime around 1980, Mom found a copy of the soundtrack album at a used record store in San Francisco. I snuck the album off to my room one evening and listened to it (with headphones, in the dark) and fell in love.

    A few years later, the movie showed up at 10:30 on a Sunday evening on one of our local TV channels. But it was the "Happy Times" cut-down version, and I was crushed--many of the musical numbers I had grown to love from the soundtrack LP were missing.

    Then in the early 1990s, "Star!" was restored to its full length, and when I finally saw it in its entirety (on the AMC channel on my birthday, no less), I was in heaven. It didn't matter to me that the screenplay seemed just like a screenplay, rather than the telling of an actual person's life. The movie was a three-hour celebration of the talent, glamour and charm of Julie Andrews, and for me that was enough.

    Like you, I love the musical numbers: "Parisian Pierrot," "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Someday I'll Find You," and especially when Julie climaxes "The Saga of Jennie" by hitting that astonishing high B flat!

    Michael Kidd's choreography is terrific. For example, in "'N Everything," the performers' movements are so crisply and precisely done that it's a joy to watch. I also love Lennie Hayton's musical arrangements and conducting. Hayton also supplies a very discreet background score that makes brief but effective use of several of the movie's songs.

    Finally, I had to laugh regarding your comment about the series of bland leading men who play Julie's love interests. In a way, those actors are the perfect choice, since in stage plays and movies of Gertrude Lawrence's day, glamorous female stars almost always worked with handsome but non-charismatic leading men--the better not to draw attention away from the star. Think of movie actors like David Manners, Barry Sullivan, Alan Marshall, Kent Smith, and that king of the non-competing "leading man" types, George Brent. (Of the "Star!" actors, though, I will admit a fondness for Michael Craig. I love premature silver-haired types, and Craig also is leading man to Susan Hayward in one of her best but least-known movies, "Stolen Hours.")

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    1. Hi David!
      I enjoyed and must commend you on the cheering, gracious tone of your comments. Your ability to celebrate your love for Julie Andrews (which we share) and this film (where we differ) without feeling that my take on the film is any detraction from or challenge to yours is a much rarer occurrence in internet film fandom circles than it should be.
      The history of your association with STAR! has a touch of the “cult of longing” from which I think movie dreams are made. So much about films today is made available all at once, so many of what happens when you have to wait and long for a film (expectation, imagination, infatuation) is lost in my opinion. It’s too bad, because that’s where dreams are born and that’s how a movie get under your skin for a lifetime.

      The long path you describe to finally seeing a movie you already “saw” in your head so many years before paints a clear picture of why this film captured your heart.

      I wasn’t aware that the note Andrews hits at the end of “Jenny” is a B-flat!. Isn’t t something? I remember getting goosebumps from it when I heard it as a kid. I suspect had I seen this movie in a theater in 70 mm, it would likely occupy a space in my heart similar to that which I hold for SWEET CHARITY.

      I’m not going to say that I was undiscerning as a youngster, but some movies don’t stand up well to much scrutiny, so seeing them at an age when one is willfully impressionable and receptive to the magic of cinema can be a very good thing (me, explaining my uncountable adoration for the chaotic CASINO ROYALE).

      I’m glad you mentioned the choreography, especially in ‘N, Everything”…a great number and example of costuming and choreography being inseparable. Also, good point about the history of dynamic leading ladies with bland leading men (David Selby & Streisand in Up The Sandbox). Watching STAR!, Michael Craig actually DID have me thinking of George Brent!

      The joy that STAR! brings you comes through in your words. I’m so glad you took the time to share those words here. Between the two of us we've supplied a pretty fair pro-con give and take! Thanks so much, David! Always a pleasure.

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  2. I've always found it odd that the decade that brought us Grace Slick, Valerie Solanis and the Manson girls also brought us the inexplicably popular Julie Andrews, in a nun's habit, no less. And instead of the saccharine Sound of Music, the official 1960's box-office-champ sixties should have been the revolutionary Persecution and Assassination of Jean Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum at Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade, my own personal choice for the greatest movie musical of all time.

    But a typically thoughtful, comprehensive and informative appreciation here, Ken. Great job. The gargantuan late-sixties musicals that finally destroyed the great Hollywood studio system is a fascinating subject in and off itself, and I think several books have been written about it. My own favorite little mongrel of a musical from this period: 1970's notorious Song of Norway, with none other than Florence Henderson herself. Singing.

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    1. Hello Rick -
      What you say about the paradox of the '60s is true. And without the current social lunacy that has shed light on just how long there have been two Americas, I don't think young people could ever understand how strange the '60s were when it came to the arts.
      One side saw a desire to grow, another side fought to keep things just the way they had been for decades.

      The Sound of Music is a wonderful film that has stood the test of time, but its overwhelming popularity back then has a lot to do with supplying a pressure release vale for a country dealing with unprecedented upheaval and violence.
      The arts reflected it marvelously...the major Hollywood studios a good 8 years behind the times, music and independent film capturing the heat of the moment.
      I don't know who really went to those gigantic roadshow movies, but to my eyes as a kid, they looked like the audiences for The Lawrence Welk Show or The Doodletown Pipers. It was many years before I could appreciate these films separated from their association with a certain kind of '60s conservatism I still abhor.
      In my efforts to be Glenda Jackson completist, I acquired a copy of Marat/Sade some time ago, but never made it past about 17 minutes. Maybe I was in the wrong frame of mind to start it or something. However, t's fabulous that it ranks as your all-time favorite musical!

      And I certainly remember The Song of Norway, but its newspaper ads so desperately tried to evoke comparison to The Sound of Music (and a non-Brady Florence Henderson has never been appealing to me) that's one I've never seen as well. Your iconoclastic tastes are a perfect illustration of what Hollywood was encountering in the '60s in trying to put it's thumb on the pulse of no longer homogeneous marketplace.
      Sincere thanks for reading this and being so complimentary, Rick. If any musical fans are inspired to seek out MARAT or NORWAY from your contributed comment here, you can look upon it as having done your part for the Hidden musicals of the 60s/70s!

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  3. Sound of Music and Mary Poppins came along at a time I was "too cool" and I found them and Miss Andrews hopelessly square. (My opinion of SOM has mellowed over the years.) So I'm not sure why I agreed to buy tickets in advance, get all dressed up, and head downtown to one of our city's remaining movie palaces to see STAR!. I loved it. I knew nothing about Gertrude Lawrence other than that she was improbably cast as Amanda Wingfield in the film adaptation of The Glass Menagerie; that she was a big musical star and the toast of two continents was a revelation. The sumptuous sets, Donald Brooks' splendid fashions, the soundtrack that's practically an encyclopedia of early twentieth century pop music, I was enthralled. (My favorite "quiet" number is My Ship.) This film made me reassess my opinion of Julie Andrews. That and an anecdote Carol Burnett recounted about how she and Julie were caught making out in a hotel in Washington DC by none other than "Lady Bird" Johnson.

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    1. Remarkable that the The first commenter to actually see this on the screen during its original roadshow release was not initially a fan of Julie Andrews.
      Independent of what one might think of the film itself, it's difficult not to appreciate Andrews as an entertainer. My partner has a problem with her emotional inaccessibility as an actress.
      Much like the Katharine Hepburn quote about Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers "She gave him sex appeal, he gave her class" --I think the presence of children (Poppins, Music) gave Andrews a warmth and accessibility. Similarly, a sexy male co-star (Christpher Plummer) or lively one (Dick Van Dyke) thawed her crispness.

      It's nice to hear that the theatrical screen experience of STAR! was as enthralling for as I would have imagined it to be. Andrews' performance of "My Ship" is lovely, and that sliding note she hits towards the end (portamento I think it's called) was my first encounter with that vocal "trick" or technique I've come to love in the performances of Judy Garland and Dinah Shore (maybe the Queen of sliding notes).
      That hilarious "making out" anecdote you mention is on Julie Andrews recounts that wonderful memoir "Home Work". You frame it so tantalizingly in your comment, I don't think it would be fair for me to say any more about it.
      But that story and the memoir in general (which gave me more empathy for what I once felt were once Andrews' shortcomings as an actress) did more for changing my image of Andrews than the 14 million Fox spent on this film.
      Thanks very much for reading this and for sharing your "I was there!" 1968 experience of STAR!.

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  4. Argyle here. This movie was a total "holy grail" for me for decades. I remember when it came out - I was 10 - and wanting to see it very badly. There was just something audacious (to me) about the title, the exclamation point, the beautiful minimal graphics of the ads (the use of stencil lettering for a musical was very bold), in combination with Julie Andrews (not audacious) was very intriguing. But I don't think my Mom was going to be very receptive to taking her 10 year old son to the Mall Cinema to see it. (Thankfully, my Grandfather did sponsor my sisters and I seeing the road show of FUNNY GIRL at the Astro - he was getting us out of my Mom's hair.) I remember the Look Magazine spread; I remember how Look was kind of transgressive and racy compared to Life, it had a black bikinis and dusky beaches feel to it whereas Life was gingham and sunshine.

    Then STAR went into viewing oblivion. I think I remember the re-branding and how dreary and square it seemed. I always confuse "Those Were the Happy Times" with "Darling Lili" (1970) which also flopped and, I think was re-branded and re-released, but you would eventually see "Darling Lili" on network TV whereas STAR was really damned.

    I liked Julie Andrews mainly because of "The Sound of Music". She was twee, but the nun situation sort of made that work, and she did manage to seem really troubled by her desires. To me it seems like Robert Wise just worked with what he was given - sometimes good, sometimes dull. TSOM is visually beautiful with the scenery, Salzburg, the costumes (particularly the traditional Austrian ones). When I finally saw STAR just a few years ago, the first disappointment to hit me was the flat, unenticing look of it, although I do always love the white-lights-behind-beige-scrim look of the "Saga of Jenny" number. I will need to see it again and really focus on the songs, the singing, and the dancing. I think I was so turned off after all those decades I just couldn't keep a positive attitude.

    I think your point about the casting is absolutely accurate. When I first saw Richard Crenna (maybe just his name) I was suddenly thinking - Oh, this is a Richard Crenna movie - not a positive for me (and I like "The Real McCoys".) I don't remember her suitors' personalities, but maybe casting Michael York, Terence Stamp, David Hemmings, Oskar Werner, Franco Nero, Jean-Paul Belmondo would have really kicked it (and Julie) into a sexier gear. Sort of like Streisand and Shariff. Can you picture Streisand and Richard Crenna? I really think Robert Wise would just work with what he was given, just go along and make it work, no real inspiration. I have no basis for this, just a feeling.

    I love (and am intrigued by) that you did not see TSOM until 2015. That's some kind of achievement! I re-watched MARY POPPINS several years ago and was sadly squirming and distracted; we loved it as kids. Thank you, Ken!

    Bill

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    1. Hello Bill
      Until hearing from readers here, I wasn’t aware STAR! was not available for several years, creating a must-see/holy grail interest in the film as its reputation as a notorious flop was broader than the base of folks who actually saw it.
      Your personal memories tend to spark recollections of my own. As per your observation on the graphic design of the poster, I remember liking the poster too, and staring at the artwork inside the soundtrack album as I listened to it. I was struck by the stenciled lettering, too, but I didn’t get the whole “Theater trunk” stencil thing...back then it only struck me as militaristic, reminding me of the lettering on the GI JOE toys I had.

      And what an interesting thing to observe about the differences between LOOK and LIFE magazines! I agree. When I would look at LIFE magazine in those days, I would turn the page gingerly so as not to be unnerved and startled by the sight of Vietnam carnage. LOOK would have sexy photos of movie stars, and terrified me with its coverage of Rosemary’s Baby.

      As someone who likes Julie Andrews and also saw STAR! somewhat recently, you reference a couple of points I didn’t have space for. I too think the film has a flat look. A critic from 1968 said it looked as though the film had been developed in Listerine. The sepia tone flatness works against numbers (Like Jenny) I wish were more vibrant and colorful in the MGM or Fox musical vein.

      I also think what you say about Robert Wise is true. He’s a remarkably successful director and has made many superb films, but he seemed to be so level-headed and practical, his work seemed devoid of the kind of eccentricity or magic that comes from an artistic sensibility that sees the world slightly different. I think you’re onto something when you use the words “no inspiration.”

      As per the casting, I love some of the co-star names you brought up! I think it would have been a step in the right direction to have given the small roles of Gertrude Lawrence's suitors to actors with strong enough identities for cameos (like the actresses hired opposite Richard Burton in Bluebeard). Andrews has more “pretty grade school teacher” energy than sexpot. She needed more help than Robert Reed (I still can’t get over his casting! Jesus! What were they thinking?).
      I don’t know how many Julie Andrews films you’ve seen, but did you ever seen her cast opposite Omar Shariff in THE TAMARIND SEED? It’s like what happened with her and Paul Newman in TORN CURTAIN…something about Andrews can de-sex a certain kind of male co-star. No heat. For some reason Christopher Plummer’s energy was so opposite of Andrews’ perkiness, he was ideal. Something similar happened with the rubbery charm of Dick Van Dyke.
      While Richard Crenna was terrific opposite Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark (but next to the obscenely dull Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Crenna is practically Marlon Brando) and he was superb in BODY HEAT, but I laughed at the prospect of him as a Streisand co-star. Yikes!

      About your experience seeing STAR! after so long a wait, the first look at a “Holy Grail” film can put a lot of stress on the film to live up to decades worth of expectations. Sometimes a second viewing is close to really “seeing” it. I hope you do.

      As for me, I’m so glad I saw MARY POPPINS & TSOM so late, but it still strikes me as weird that I had so little interest in them for so long.
      Thanks a heap for contributing your experience -past and present- with STAR! to this blog. I'm finding people's history with this movie to be more entertaining than the film itself. Take care, Bill!

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  5. Hi Ken loulou here. I didn't see this movie but as always I enjoyed reading what you wrote about it. I wonder if you plan on seeing the Aretha bio-pic? I saw a little bit of Genius but it didn't grab me for whatever reason, maybe because Aretha's life just feels like it's already out there anyway - too soon? Debbie Harry was spot on about her assessment of the genre, but I can't help but think she didn't turn down the money for the movie rights to her book. And I read Madonna worked with Diablo Cody on the script for her movie. The ones that I liked were the Freddie, Tina, Johnny, Ray and Elton ones (guess I went along with the crowd). And of course Funny Girl is the holy grail.

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    1. Hi Loulou
      I have a love-hate relationship with movie bios...or more accurately hate-love. Most are simply awful in their rote predictableness, but some I enjoy for their stylistic invention (Rocketman) or performances (Coal Miner's Daughter)...but most are embarrassing (a 2-hour celebrity impersonation) or best enjoyed as a stand-alone melodrama, disconnection for the so-called reality or history they are supposed to be depicting. So many documentary bios are being made, I'm finding those more fulfilling if I'm at all interested in a celebrity's life.

      I don't know that I have any interest in seeing RESPECT at all, unless a friend I trust tells me something about it being better than it looks. As you say, hasn't this road been gone down so many times before? I have no idea what in her life warrants going on that trek yet again.

      The Debbie Harry take (so spot on and gets to the heart of the biopic problem) is perhaps more theoretical for Harry than practical. After reading her book (it's FAB! and to my surprise, Blondie was yet another band left broke after their most successful years...another biopic cliche) and seeing her and Chris Stein hawking goods on the Home Shopping Network (never thought a thing like that would be possible....the punk queen joining the ranks of Joan Rivers and Marie Osmond) so I can well see her taking the money and running if offered cash for the rights to the book.
      Maybe my favorite type of biopic is the kind that pretends it isn't (like THE ROSE).
      Thanks for commenting here, especially since you haven't seen the film. Always appreciate your contributions.

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  6. I too knew nothing about Gertrude Lawrence before this film and after I felt I knew even less.

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    1. As funny an observation as that is, it's all too true!

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