At some point in your life, you've probably dreamed of seeing yourself on the big screen with adoring fans calling your name at your movie premiere. Sure, it's a pipedream, but what about those who actually runaway to Hollywood and make it big?
On a cold North Dakota night in 1937, Esther Blodgett (Janet Gaynor) and her young brother Aleck (A.W. Sweatt) come home from the movies where he teases her about wanting to be in the pictures. Their crusty spinster Aunt Maddie (Clara Blandick) crushes Esther's dream as she runs out of the room in tears.
As she cries in her room, her grandmother Lettie (May Robson) comes in and hands her a wad of money. She tells her that it's not impossible to dream and in the middle of the night, she takes her to the train station and Esther heads off to the land of broken dreams.
Upon arriving, Esther finds a $6 a week room at a hotel and starts looking for work as an actress.
A month later, she's accepted into Central Casting and goes to their office where she meets clerk Miss Phillips (Peggy Wood). Miss Phillips takes her behind the scenes and shows her operators at a switchboard. She tells her that each light on the board are other actors/actresses calling to see if there's work for them, which there isn't.
With money dwindling, her friend Danny McGuire (Andy Devine) gets her a job as a waitress at producer Oliver Niles' (Adolphe Menjou) house. Even though it pays $5 for the night, he tells her that there will be important people there.
She meets A-list actor Norman Maine (Fredric March) and the two of them slip out the backdoor after some dishes are broken while she's cleaning in the kitchen.
After dropping her off, he races home and calls Oliver to tell him that she would be perfect as a newcomer at his studio. Oliver reluctantly agrees to do a screentest for her and he calls her with the news.
Esther is signed and Oliver changes her name to Vicki Lester and soon becomes the talk of town when she's cast against Norman in a new picture.
The two get married and Norman tells her that he's going to give up drinking and concentrate once again on his career, which is impossible since she becomes the main breadwinner in the family.
Norman goes to a sanatorium to dry out following his interruption at the Academy Awards banquet and when he gets out, none of his friends want to deal with him. He falls off the wagon and goes on a three-day bender.
Following an accident, he's arrested and brought into night court and charged with the accident and for being drunk, but Vicki pleads with the judge and is released into her custody.
At their house in Malibu, Norman is "asleep" as Vicki checks up on him and overhears her and Oliver talking about him. Vicki thinks that the two of them should leave Hollywood and move somewhere quiet where they won't have the pressure of the film industry.
Oliver doesn't like the plan and when he leaves, Norman comes out of the bedroom and tells Vicki that he's going to get healthy, starting at that moment by going out for a tragic swim.
With Norman dead, she decides to leave Hollywood and her grandmother arrives and reminds her why she came out in the first place. She tells her that she can't run away and the two attend a premiere, where she announces that she's Mrs. Norman Maine.
Nearly twenty years later when the movie was remade, this time Esther (Judy Garland) has already established herself in Hollywood as a singer when she meets Norman (James Mason) backstage at a fundraiser.
He manages to get her a screen test the next day after he chases her throughout town after hours and this time, she tells Danny (Tom Noonan) that she's leaving the band and not going with them to San Francisco.
A drunken Norman is placed on a plane to work on location for six weeks and Esther thinks that he's abandoned her as she works different day jobs and has moved out of her apartment into a new one.
Norman tracks her down again following her singing from a commercial and then eventually has her screen test.
When there's a snafu with another actress's contract in an upcoming musical, Norman has a meeting with Oliver (Charles Bickford) and he hears her for the first time from a distance. She's immediately cast in the role.
While the story remains the same, there are long musical numbers as the story drags out and never seems to end.
It tries to follow the first in many ways and any comedy from the first doesn't translate as well in this since the characters are too serious.
But, in a breakdown of all four movies, Gaynor, Garland and Lady Gaga were the only actresses to have been nominated as Best Actress for their roles (and none of them won) however, Barbra Streisand and Lady Gaga did win Best Song for their efforts with their respectful remakes.