The most successful career must show a waste of strength that might have removed mountains, and the most unsuccessful is not that of the man who is taken unprepared, but of him who has prepared and is never taken.

–E. M. Forster, Howards End (1910) [1]

Funny business, a woman’s career.

–Joseph L. Mankiewicz, All About Eve (1950) [2]

A post-Grammys “Music Issue” of The New York Times Magazine (March 10, 2019) offers an ambitious guide to the present, with “The 25 Songs That Matter Right Now.” Wesley Morris’ apologia for Lady Gaga’s “Why Did You Do That?”, from the 2018 soundtrack of the film A Star Is Born, arrives at #12. According to Morris, this decidedly pop song, complete with dance routine, “epitomizes the movie”—an opinion intended to undercut the Oscar favor accorded to “Shallow,” the song most readily identified with it. But in fact, a viewer’s response to “Why Did You Do That?” “sums up how far under [Bradley] Cooper’s spell you’ve fallen”: if you don’t like it, you might feel the disdain that Cooper’s character, Jackson Maine, shares with Cooper-the-director, for anything that potentially undermines The Authentic in songwriting and performance. If you do like it, you probably actually love it, for its utter indifference to the film’s insistent commitment to taking songwriting so very seriously. And if, like me, you’re kinda neutral on “Why Did You Do That?”, but also not capable of sharing Jackson Maine’s disdain, emerging as it does from his “impossible fusion of grunge, roots country, pills, booze, pain, encroaching deafness and the Whole Damn American Truth,” then you have the out, as Morris suggests, of viewing it as “the hit of an ingénue, something anonymous-seeming that a new pop star tries before a truer identity bubbles up.”[[3] You might, in short, see it as something a young female singer produces at the beginning of what is about to become—but is not yet—a career.

In the run-up to awards season contention and recognition, surprisingly little was said about why films like A Star Is Born endure rebirth at certain times (1930s, 1950s, 1970s, now), and Bradley Cooper’s 2018 A Star Is Born does its heartfelt best to distract us from these kinds of questions, with its aspiring commitment to presenting something like a film-length epiphanic experience. “Adaptation” isn’t really the right word for what’s happening with this film, even given its consistent reiteration of plot points (love triangle involving a man, a woman, and a career in some form of performance) and lines (“I just want to take another look at you”) from previous versions. What this film aspires to, and trusts—maybe, too confidently—that film-viewers will take seriously, is the presentation of the birth of a “star” as a transformative, redemptive encounter with authenticity for the many non-stars invited to witness it, and a life-altering, even tragically life-ending situation for those who stick around witnessing the revelation of the real thing for too long.

Midway through Raymond Chandler’s most representative novel about Hollywood and star-making, The Little Sister (1949), Philip Marlowe offers a slightly different observation regarding the birth of stars: “Wonderful what Hollywood will do to a nobody. It will make a radiant glamour queen out of a drab little wench who ought to be ironing a truck-driver’s shirts, a he-man hero with shining eyes and brilliant smile reeking of sexual charm out of some overgrown kid who was meant to go to work with a lunchbox….” [4] Chandler’s own essays on Hollywood from the screenplay-writer’s perspective, along with defining critical essays like “The Simple Art of Murder,” have rightly been read, as Erik Dussere argues in America is Elsewhere, as entrenched manifestoes of “American authenticity”; and, Hollywood, as depicted in Chandler’s “Writers in Hollywood,” does its best to fundamentally diminish and disregard whatever “real” writing talent can actually manage to exist and survive there, in its quest to maintain full-scale production as a film industry.[5] But Chandler’s defenses of authenticity also need to be situated within the more conservative context of Marlowe’s opinions upon star-making and Hollywood—particularly since Chandler’s own articulated feelings about Hollywood “glamourpusses” often find their way into Marlowe’s musings. For Marlowe, Hollywood has the power to intervene and make stars out of those who rightfully “ought” to be doing other things—ironing a truck-driver’s shirts, going to work with a lunchbox—and thereby enables a form of inauthentic, undeserved social mobility that obscures recognition of the roles that drab little wenches and overgrown working-class kids are “meant” to inhabit. Hollywood transforms real nobodies into unreal somebodies—with no room, in Marlowe’s configuration, for consideration of irrelevancies like talent or effort on the film star’s part. Marlowe notably manages to maintain equal measures of scorn for the resulting brilliant careers “made” through Hollywood’s effects, and for the innumerable, anonymous lives spent dutifully ironing shirts and/or taking a lunchbox to work; the problem, for him, is not that classes with assigned roles and tasks endure, but rather that just about anyone can, far too easily, offer their futures willingly to the defining anomie of mobility. Ethan and Joel Coen’s 1996 Chandler parody The Big Lebowski accurately evokes—and tacitly endorses—Marlowe’s critical assessment of what Hollywood can do for the eager “nobody.” As they suggest, Hollywood’s disregard for what individuals “ought” to be doing, and too-ready provision of accessible social mobility, is an old and tired joke by this point, best encapsulated in Fawn Knudsen’s transformation from Minnesota-farm-country-cheerleader to Bunny Lebowski, the trophy wife (“in the parlance of our times”)—but only by way of her crucial stint in film (pornography), as “Bunny La Joya.” As “the Dude” helpfully observes to the private investigator working for the Knudsens, the “wandering daughter job” will never result in the daughter’s rightful return to where she “ought” to be, once she’s experienced what Hollywood can do to, and for, her: “How you going to keep them down on the farm once they’ve seen Karl Hungus?” [6] That is: no one goes home again, not even after a thorough introduction to the dubious avatars of mobility that Karl Hungus and porn represent. The only available strategy for the erstwhile nobody transformed by Hollywood will be blithely indifferent, careering movement, ever farther away from where one started.

In one sense, then, A Star Is Born in all its twentieth-century and contemporary iterations (even the most recent film seems, in its songwriting style, less contemporary and more like a throwback to the nineties) combats Marlowe’s knowing, weary sarcasm concerning Hollywood’s birthing of stars with a problematically earnest, but also decidedly non-conservative, belief that so-called nobodies should become somebodies—if these wandering daughters desperately want to, that is, and have the nerve to leave everything they know and plunge themselves into that life. The two earlier films actually position Hollywood as the transformative agent that propels both Esther Blodgetts (Janet Gaynor and Judy Garland) forward, with assists from lovers who double as career-facilitators. [7] The later films (with Barbra Streisand as Esther Hoffman, and now Lady Gaga as Ally) notably move further and further away from Hollywood’s wonderfully impersonal way with nobodies, instead choosing to emphasize a singing career built upon performance and songwriting as the route to stardom for the ingénue—along with the increased importance of a personal stamp of approval from the older male lover, who has the time to contemplate applying or withholding such a stamp, as he happens to be at a dubious mid-point in his own career. [8] But in a way, these later films also allow Marlowe’s conservative appropriation of authenticity to resurface. Without Hollywood’s mysterious ways operating as the magical career-facilitator, we are left to rely upon the authenticity manifestoes of facilitating figures like Cooper’s Jackson Maine to track and critique Ally’s progress and internalization of his ethos, as well as to provide a rationale for Maine’s own mid-career decline—since The World simply cannot handle his Whole Damn American Truth. Or, so we are encouraged to think.
Early in the film, Lorenzo (Andrew Dice Clay), the father to Lady Gaga’s Ally, observes to his fellow limousine driver friends—while compelling his unwilling daughter to serve as case-in-point—that even “with a voice, like, from heaven, it’s not always the best singers that make it”; as he goes on to elaborate, for every Frank Sinatra with blue eyes, shark-skin suit and fancy patent leather shoes there are countless more talented singers who remain “nobodies,” in spite of all their efforts and talent. He echoes a point that Jackson Maine makes during his and Ally’s previous first evening together, when the expected sexual encounter between them is suspended in favor of discussion of music and song-writing, the insistent equal partner in their relationship: “Look, talent comes everywhere. Everyone is talented…fucking everyone in this bar is talented one way or another, but having something to say and having a way to say it, so people will listen to it, that’s a whole other bag.”

Anthony Lane’s concluding comments on A Star Is Born (2018) conveniently reflect the feeling behind what has been the most insistent critical and popular response to this film: “what does linger, from this latest effort, is Lady Gaga. Alone among pop royalty, she could walk down the street without being recognized, such is her reliance on costumes and confected personas. Here, early on, in T-shirt and jeans, she could be anyone; hence, of course, the thrill of her blooming into a somebody. A star is born.” [9] We see Lady Gaga without makeup, without meat dress, without impossible shoes, definitely not being transported around in a giant egg—and, holy shit, that’s her real hair color—and even though she always sounds like Gaga, whether singing “La Vie En Rose” when Jackson first sees her, or belting out the chorus to “Shallow” in a convenience store parking lot, the “thrill” Lane describes comes from hearing the recognizably amazing voice emerge from the real thing, the non-costumed and non-confectionary, “ordinary” body.

Observations like Lane’s echo the film’s overarching meditation upon authenticity, reinforcing the comforting, and frankly (in my opinion, at least) still moving, notion that the real thing is always out there, somewhere, waiting tables, casually singing “Over the Rainbow” in an alley as she makes her way from her day job to the nightly singing gig. But such observations also bring up the somewhat less comfortable recollection of a publicized anecdote regarding Lady Gaga’s audition for the role—that Bradley Cooper purposefully removed the make-up she arrived in, stressing his preference for a non-confectionary, “real” Ally (and a more method Lady Gaga, for the duration of filming), and that this directorial push for the revelation of the authentic through the un-made-up female body recurs in the film itself, with Jackson’s removal of Ally’s “Vie En Rose” fake eyebrows (“I want to see your face”), and his omnipresent, glowering distaste regarding her physical transformation into a pop star (hair color change, dance routines and costumes appropriate to such routines, getting “out from behind the piano”). Against this fairly unquestioning valorization of authenticity, then, I want to make a case for emphasizing A Star Is Born’s tradition of attention, echoed in Ally’s father’s comments, to the colder consideration of access, for a woman who suddenly finds herself in the position, long after giving up hope, to have a career doing what she most wants to do: having something to say and having a way to say it.

Although this probably sounds both obvious and unnecessarily cynical, the love relationship that forms between Jackson and Ally shares with the central love relationship in previous iterations of A Star Is Born (though not, notably, with What Price Hollywood? [1932], the debated beginning of this periodically recurring narrative) the circumstance of an added bonus for the younger woman: she now has avenues to advancement that she never had before falling in love. Just in case we don’t grasp how this works, Ally’s father pointedly—and creepily—calls attention to the potentially positive implications of her “wandering daughter” status, just after she accidentally meets, and sparks the interest of, a man already established and well-known in the business: “A guy like that invites you to a show?…This could be the opportunity of a lifetime.” “Invites you to a show” euphemistically covers a lot of territory at this point in the film: a famous male musician is “interested” in seeing you, definitely sexually and (as we know, but as Ally’s father does not yet know) in a way that conflates attraction to her with attraction to her singing and song-writing ability. And his driver is conveniently already at her door, waiting to transport her to Career Opportunities that The Clash famously told us would never, actually, knock. The analogous moment in 1954’s A Star Is Born is handled much more urbanely, since James Mason’s Norman Maine conveniently can multi-task as potential-but-not-yet-lover, professional career facilitator, and advice-giving father figure, to Judy Garland’s Esther Blodgett:

“A career is a curious thing. Talent isn’t always enough; you need a sense of timing, an eye for seeing the turning point, or recognizing the big chance when it comes along and grabbing it. A career can rest on a trifle, like us sitting here tonight.”

Mason’s Norman Maine unintentionally echoes Forster’s narrator here, though with an emphasis upon “talent” as what cannot inevitably ensure a career, in contrast to “strength” and the work of maintaining preparedness that similarly cannot ensure a career’s success in Howards End. As a way to conceptualize a life’s work that simultaneously can be used to describe both the path that the work itself takes through one’s lifetime, and the adult lifetime shaped as a consequence of that work, in both readings the realization of a “career” paradoxically has very little to do with effort, the work ethic, or even that combination of natural ability and work ethic that both Garland’s Esther Blodgett and Lady Gaga’s Ally manifest as “talent.” As Cooper’s Jackson Maine points out, talent is everywhere; careers only happen, these films suggest, when the talented, hard-working individual can accurately interpret the plot of her working life as it is happening to her, determining mid-narrative the significance or non-significance of trifles, and suddenly converting years of work that have yielded limited results into the one result meant to compensate for all that previously expended effort. And, although Forster’s narrator suggests that career men are the model for meditation upon the concept (and Howards End certainly presents us with some key examples), women in fact prove, at this point in the novel (just after the death of Ruth Wilcox) the figures most prone to the interpretive work of career-conceptualization over, and as, the course of a lifetime—they are the most committed to the “tragedy of preparedness” that compels us to expend considerable effort in assessing whether clues to the plot turnings are false, or whether signposts will only lead nowhere.

Norman Maine’s observations regarding the curious nature of careers recall one particularly apt tagline (a personal favorite) from the 1954 film: “Destiny came at her with a leer!” Apart from its conflation of fairly insistent male attention with the promise to transform a trifling moment into a return on years of fruitless, peripheral work, the tagline also hints at the sinister quality of the “destiny” recognized in the moment when the trifle can be interpreted as a valuable turning point. Part of what makes careers curious, in other words, would be the concept’s utter indifference to the call to recognize the individual’s efforts and merits within the chosen field of work; what’s “leering” at both Esther Blodgetts, Esther Hoffman, and Ally is not just the facilitating men they meet, but rather the seductive allure of what only can be achieved through—and beyond—these men. All four versions of A Star Is Born articulate—creepily or otherwise—the need for the young woman to take on the interpretive work essential to recognizing the crucial signpost leading to career opportunity: that is, the older male facilitator sitting next to her, who manifests the ability to “take” the “prepared” and demonstrates a ready commitment to doing so. But characteristically, none of these women takes on this work. Instead, they all fall in love with their respective facilitators—and this tipping-point allows them to sidestep the tragedy of preparedness and its demands, while inevitably involving them in another. The most recent film’s soundtrack offers some clues as to how this works—in particular, “Diggin’ My Grave” addresses the nature of the tragedy that these love stories set in motion. In the plot of the song, the usual relationship suspects tear a couple apart—lying, withholding, infidelity, running around all night, spending the other’s hard-earned money—culminating in a chorus stressing how each person has “been out all night,” diggin’ the other’s grave. Yet the Jackson and Ally relationship doesn’t exhibit any of these traditional problems—nor is jealousy of Ally’s rising fame, another potential relationship-killer, ever really an issue. Instead, possibly the most troubling narrative arc that all of these versions of A Star Is Born exhibit would be the notion that digging the other person’s grave will prove the inevitable, doomed outcome of a relationship in which a shared career serves as the third point in the triangle. That is, Cooper’s Jackson Maine shares the “inner demons” cliché of his film-narrative predecessors—alcoholism and drugs, to which in his case the overcompensatingly-ironic affliction of tinnitus has been added—but as with his predecessors, the most recent film sticks to a script in which the facilitating male lover’s existing self-destructive tendencies are exacerbated, and brought to a crisis, by his love affair with the newly-born star, and subsequent lingering proximity to the career he has helped to make happen. Disloyalty, in other words, is not what digs the grave of the other person in the relationship; it is, rather, a curious loyalty to the other person’s career, and a defining desire to remain intimate with both the loved person and that person’s embodiment of career, that makes graves in A Star Is Born.

Of course, all iterations of A Star Is Born end with one grave and one solo career—as the 1937 major spoiler-alert tagline, “Fate Raised Her To Fame—And Killed The Man She Loved!” helpfully reminds us. The task of the current film involves recognizing that viewers know where this is all headed, while still making the most of the borrowed time that the lovers have before rushing to that predetermined conclusion; and I would argue that this most recent iteration offers a culminating attention to the career-concept, at beginning, mid-point, and ending, that reflects the earlier film versions and also organizes our sense of A Star Is Born’s particular narrative re-renderings of the twentieth century. If a career can offer, among other things, a way to compel an adult working life into a needed narrative with a recognizable beginning, middle, and an end—while, simultaneously, leering at the ingénue with gestures towards the scarier alternative she already knows, a series of disconnected, wasteful, incoherent instances of expended effort leading nowhere, as Forster’s narrator described—all four versions of A Star Is Born focus attention rather pointedly on the beginning (for the young woman) and the end (for the older man), with a sense of inevitability that both plays to these films’ presentations of tragedy, and can skillfully avoid addressing the more amorphous, and much longer “middle” portion of a career. Joseph Mankiewicz’s All About Eve is also all about that middle, particularly for actress Margo Channing (Bette Davis), who—in spite of constant vigilance—nevertheless allows herself to be exploited by Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), in the latter’s quest to brilliantly turn literally every trifle that comes her way into a career opportunity.

In contrast to A Star Is Born, All About Eve allows us to witness what happens when a young, “real thing” authentic female talent cannot helpfully lose herself, or her ability to interpret what she must do to get ahead, in conveniently falling in love with the potential facilitators who come her way—and must, instead, coldly commit to determining how those facilitators can be useful to her, as opportunities. But the film’s accountability to a career’s mid-point belongs to Margo Channing:

“Funny business—a woman’s career. The things you drop on the way up the ladder so you can move faster; you forget you’ll need them again when you get back to being a woman. There’s one career all females have in common, whether we like it or not: being a woman. Sooner or later we’ve got to work at it, no matter how many other careers we’ve had or wanted. And in the last analysis, nothing’s any good unless you can look up, just before dinner, or turn around in bed—and there he is. Without that, you’re not a woman.”

I’m willing to forgive Margo Channing for putting her legitimate, mid-career sense of a joke played upon her in just these terms, even though I think her observations unintentionally pave the way for certain future career women to articulate facile solutions, like “leaning in,” to this unfunny work-life-balance dilemma. As if, in other words, the time management difficulties involved in “having it all” were the only problem, and there were no issues regarding that larger, unquestioning determination both to define a working woman’s success in terms of individual, personal “having,” and to equate “it all” with career-spouse-family. We nevertheless still need Margo Channing’s awareness of the strange irony that has played out upon her: when you work on one career, you distract yourself from the fact that another has been foisted on you, the career of “being a woman” that, in her case, unfortunately links her to the nemesis who used her as a career opportunity, but also requires that same mountain-removing expenditure of strength, that weary work of preparedness directed, in this case, towards a relationship with another person. The critical response to 2018’s A Star Is Born has tended to focus more positive reactions towards the early moments in the film, when a love relationship and musical collaboration between Ally and Jackson enable that most moving of fantasies: the possibility of multi-tasking the work involved in maintaining all these funny careers. But in her mid-point moment of reckoning, Margo Channing discerns that the organizing narrative principle of a career—successful or unsuccessful—is not exactly desirable, as these iterations of A Star Is Born suggest, or even necessary, as Forster’s narrator indicates. That organizing narrative principle is, rather, insistently leering at you because it knows that you acknowledge its unavoidability—and recognizing that tired fact is part of the wearying work of preparedness. Once you identify your life’s aggregated activity as a series of different, overlapping forms of work, you have to deal with the not-so-funny, surprising business of finding yourself on both chosen and unchosen, and unfairly interdependent, career paths.

A Star Is Born in 2018 actually does present a moment of mid-career reckoning analogous to Margo Channing’s, but intriguingly opens up a new space in which this conversation can, instead, be had between men. On a trip to Memphis wherein several promised gigs have fallen through, Jackson Maine passes out in front of the house of an old friend and fellow guitarist, George “Noodles” Stone (Dave Chappelle), who finds him and offers some meditative advice upon the navigation of mid-career time, given the reality of Ally’s presence in his life:

Maybe she’s a way out. Ain’t nothing to be afraid of, bro. You know, it’s like…you float out, float out at sea, and then one day, you find a port. Say, “I’m gonna stay here for a few days.” A few days becomes a few years. And then you forgot where you were goin’ in the first place. And then you realize, you don’t really give a shit about where you was going, ‘cause you like where you’re at. That’s how it is for me. I like where I’m at.

Noodles proves a little too aptly nick-named: “noodling” is a slang term in guitar play for unstructured, freeform practice, the musical equivalent of forgetting where you’re going and inhabiting where you’re at. But he offers Jackson a way to avoid the troubling, uncertain feeling of floating at mid-career—of movement that may or not be headed towards another opportunity, a newly-viable signpost—by suggesting Ally as the “port,” essentially, that might enable his abandonment of a career’s paradigmatically matching stretches of indeterminate momentum and surprise, defining turns.

Noodles’ advice prompts the marriage proposal and marriage between Jackson and Ally that happens shortly afterwards, but the possibility of viewing another person as a refuge from the uncertainty of a working life’s momentum remains untenable, for Jackson, for the rest of the film—as well as for the male facilitators of A Star Is Born who precede him. In a sense, he’s more attuned to Margo Channing’s candid assessment—there’s no “way out” in her sense of this funny business either, and like her he’s not naïve enough to believe that looking up, and finding someone in his life, ensures that he will ever forget the insistence of the relationship’s third, not-so-silent partner. It is possible, then, to view the various iterations of A Star Is Born over the last near-century as opening up an unlikely space for consideration of how a man’s career can also be a funny business—that what’s grown to be perceived as “funny” over this course of time, for the committed worker in a given field, is not necessarily the gender of the career, but the leering imposition of the concept of career itself.

I invoked Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe and E.M. Forster’s narrator at the outset to call attention to the contrast in their feelings towards the working lifetimes of the hypothetical humans they imagine for us. Marlowe’s “drab little wench who ought to be ironing a truck-driver’s shirts” and the “overgrown kid who was meant to go to work with a lunchbox” were both “meant,” in his understanding, to know and comprehend their lives, and the forms of work that would structure the time of those lives, in specific ways. Then Hollywood stepped in and transformed them into completely different entities: “stars.” Neither the drab wench nor the overgrown kid possesses any agency over this transformation, one that also renders questions of deservingness irrelevant; what Hollywood “does to a nobody” involves removing the nobody from any felt effectiveness over the path that the nobody’s life takes, relying on the cynical belief that the erstwhile nobody will not care about this removal, and then arbitrarily rewarding some lucky nobodies with mobility, to “glamour-queen” or “he-man hero” status. The contrast between the transformation of nobodies into stars, and the careers of men like Marlowe, in Chandler’s novels overall, actually hinges upon the terms that Marlowe lays out here: like nearly everyone in Los Angeles—drab wench, overgrown kid, and Chandler himself—Marlowe has wandered in from somewhere else, and like those he criticizes he too possesses no control over what his particular line of work can do to the kind of “nobody” he is. Unlike them, however—and this is where Chandler regularly locates ethical awareness in these novels—Marlowe cares about having his efforts perpetually batted around, the frustrating sense that they represent the routinization of Forster’s “waste of strength,” without ever holding out the concluding prospect of either success or non-success. The concept of a career, in Forster’s rendering, maintains an analogous indifference towards what human beings may intend for their lives as a consequence of working effort and preparedness. The strength expended far in excess of what should be required for success, and the necessity both to think in terms of preparedness and to wait, perhaps forever, perhaps ‘til never, for the curious moment when one’s life and efforts are “taken,” could rightly be jotted down as one more way in which Forster’s own liberalism remains, like Chandler’s conservatism, at odds with Trilling’s liberal imagination. But Chandler and Forster have both been more readily linked to the ever-more-modifiable literary critical category of “modernism” over the years. Among the many things we now talk about when we talk about modernism, we should perhaps now include attention to how, as Virginia Woolf described, the narrating of an adult working life’s story requires alternative points of organization, since “[m]any of the old chapter headings — life at college, marriage, career — are shown to be very arbitrary and artificial distinctions. The real current of the hero’s existence took, very likely, a different course.” [10]

The concluding scene to 2018’s A Star Is Born most closely echoes the 1976 precursor, in that Ally performs an elegiac song for now-deceased Jackson Maine—in this case, “I’ll Never Love Again.” Towards the end of the performance, we are reminded of what we already knew—that Jackson Maine actually wrote this song, even though it so earnestly depicts the state of a grieving, surviving lover that it seems like Ally’s own. In the concluding moments of the song, the film cuts away from Ally’s public performance to an earlier moment, when still-living Jackson first sang this newly-completed song for her at the piano. If you saw this film in a theater, everything goes so quiet at this point that you could probably hear your sobbing fellow-theatre-goers. This was also the moment when I, one of the anonymous sobbers, thought 1.) “Uncle,” and 2.) “Seriously? Fuck. This. Movie.” It’s all a bit much. But then, when we correctly attribute the lyrics to a living person at mid-career and in mid-relationship, rather than to a woman mourning a dead lover, they take on a slightly less tear-inducing tone: “Don’t want to feel another touch/don’t want to start another fire/don’t want to know another kiss/no other name falling off my lips/Don’t want to give my heart away to another stranger…” sounds like someone grateful for the chance to know one relationship as his last relationship, the last iteration of something you’ve had to work at, the opportunity to put at least one of life’s many competing careers to rest, while the others continue to call for your full, attentive preparedness. Margo Channing probably would have approved.


1. E. M. Forster, Howards End (1910; NY: Penguin, 2000), 91.

2. All About Eve, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (Burbank, CA: Twentieth-Century Fox, 1950).

3. Wesley Morris, “The 25 Songs That Matter Right Now: #12, ‘Why Did You Do That?’” The New York Times Magazine, March 10, 2019, 38.

4. Raymond Chandler, The Little Sister (1949; NY: Penguin, 1966), 155.

5. See Erik Dussere, America Is Elsewhere: The Noir Tradition in the Age of Consumer Culture (NY: Oxford University Press, 2013).

6. The Big Lebowski, directed by Joel Coen, written by Joel and Ethan Coen (Universal City, CA: Universal Studios, 2013), DVD.

7. A Star Is Born, directed by William A. Wellman, performed by Janet Gaynor and Fredric March (Culver City, CA: Selznick International Pictures/United Artists, 1937), and A Star Is Born, directed by George Cukor, performed by Judy Garland and James Mason (Burbank, CA: Warner Brothers, 1954).

8. A Star is Born, directed by Frank Pierson, performed by Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson (Burbank, CA: Warner Brothers, 1976) and A Star Is Born, directed by Bradley Cooper, performed by Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, and Sam Elliott (Burbank, CA: Warner Brothers, 2018).

9. Anthony Lane, “Hail and Farewell,” The New Yorker, October 8, 2018.

10. Virginia Woolf, “The Art of Biography,” in The Death of the Moth and Other Essays (1939; Orlando: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1942), 194-195.