Robert Galvin

An Esther by any other name would still sing as sweet

We love ourselves a great tragedy.

Oh sure, history is written by the winners and happily-ever-after is the stuff of fantasy — but give us misery, and we’re moths to the projector light ... particularly when it’s told, retold and sold through the lens of those who have loved and lost.

Particularly the lost part.

It happens to all of fiction’s greatest doomed star-crossed. Romeo and Juliet both wind up dead. The love story of Jack and Rose endures, even after one of them dies. Joanie and Chachi, meanwhile, find themselves in a fate worse than death — a lousy spinoff.

Then there’s Norman and Esther.

If the names are unfamiliar, you’re likely to place the faces. In their latest incarnation of a story so tragic that Hollywood can’t resist coming back to it time and time (and time) again, Norman and Esther have been renamed Jackson and Ally in (yes) the third remake of “A Star Is Born” — a music-and-misery bowl of catnip currently being lapped up by moviegoers and critics.

There is significant Academy Awards buzz circling the movie — despite it being an old chestnut that producer Bradley Cooper and director Bradley Cooper have roasted with an adapted screenplay co-written by Bradley Cooper and featuring all new songs (including some written by Bradley Cooper) to be sung by stars Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga — who apparently got the Esther/Ally role because cloning is too expensive and a mirror couldn’t be found that had the vocal (or emotional) range to portray Bradley Cooper’s love interest.

(When the Oscar nominations are announced Jan. 22, by the way, it’s conceivable that Cooper could hear his name called in five categories — which would be one more for a single film than the current record, currently shared by Warren Beatty (“Reds”) and Yahoo Serious (“Young Einstein”) neither of whom were eligible in the Best Original Song category.)

Speaking of names being called, we can only presume that “Norman” and “Esther” apparently became “Jackson” and “Ally” under the belief that while audiences will accept a musician named Lady Gaga calling one “Esther” strains our credulity a bit too far.

The details might have changed with each go-round, but the soap-opera narrative has remained the same: Troubled Norman discovers talented younger Esther. Her career rises while his sinks. His demons return, despite her best efforts to keep him straight. Norman commits suicide.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

In 1937, Frederick March’s version drowns himself in the Pacific Ocean. Seventeen years later, James Mason follows suit. Kris Kristofferson’s death in the 1978 version is a little more cloudy — he dies in a car wreck while driving drunk — but Cooper eliminates that sense of ambiguity by hanging himself.

This latest death for Jackson nee Norman is foreshadowed early on when a billboard displaying four nooses is displayed in the background behind him. (Of course, you could make the argument that the death is foreshadowed because he’s playing the March-Mason-Kristofferson role in “A Star Is Born” — but the box office success seems to indicate, in part, that some folks are unclear of the concept.)

In the aftermath of that tragedy, it’s left to Janet Gaynor (nee Laura Augusta Gainor), Judy Garland (Frances Ethel Gumm), Barbra Streisand (Barbara Joan Streisand) and now Lady Gaga (Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta) to decide whether her heart will go on and on

wait, that’s what Rose does after Jack dies in “Titanic.” Eh, tomayto, tomahto.

(Wait Jack dies???? Yes, but it’s not by suicide — although you could argue that by knowing if he stayed in the water he would freeze to death it is technically a suicide, albeit a heroic one. Of course, then you’d get into arguments with those who think Rose commits murder by not making room for him on the floating board.)

But “Titanic” was a one-off love story about a disaster, where as to keep remaking “A Star Is Born” — the genesis of which was 1932’s “What Price Hollywood?” — is about something else.

I suppose you can explain the sturdiness of “A Star Is Born” by simply admitting that our lives are filled with so many worry-free days of eternal joy that we need to spend a couple of hours in the dark with strangers so that we can have a communal cry.

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

You could use the definition of insanity defense and say that audiences keep going to see the same storyline, expecting a different result. People keep going to see “Hamlet” — or, as it’s known in our household, “Everybody Dies.”

Then again, it could be about the music. The Gaynor version was a non-musical, but ticket-buyers flocked to hear Garland sing “The Man Who Got Away” and Streisand sing “Evergreen” despite the likelihood that they’d be widowed by the end of the movie.

Just look at the new biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody.” No one is shelling out for popcorn and Raisinets to see Freddie Mercury (nee Farrokh Bulsara) wither away and die of AIDS they’re going to see an approximation of one last Queen concert.

But being an old softy, I have a different explanation. It’s all about love.

On one hand, film studios love money. On the other hand, Lady Gaga fans love Lady Gaga. Put your hands together and, well, that ka-ching you hear is just the sound of movie magic to last a lifetime.

Just call me a sucker for romance.

If you want to see a remake of “Titanic” in which the boat doesn’t sink, contact Mail Tribune columnist Robert Galvin at

Share This Story