Mary (Bennett) waitresses at the Brown Derby restaurant in Los Angeles but dreams of the silver screen. One night she serves the aging, alcoholic director Max Carey (Sherman) who promises her a screen test. Mary nails her audition and goes on to become a huge star. She meets millionaire playboy Lonny Borden (Hamilton) and marries him in an ostentatious Hollywood wedding orchestrated by studio head Julius Saxe (Ratoff). Meanwhile, Max’s excessive drinking has compromised his career and caused a scandal. As a result of this, Mary starts to question her own path.
Cukor’s first big screen success teamed him with producer David O. Selznick in the first of many collaborations. Adapted from a story by Hollywood columnist Adela Rogers St. Johns, this diverting melodrama is by turns witty, trenchant and tragic. Produced before the Hays Code of 1934, the film doesn’t shy away from then-daring themes of alcoholism and divorce. Bennett is radiant as Mary, and silent star Sherman turns in a poignant portrayal of a fading Tinseltown player. Hooray for “Hollywood”! (Note: this would inspire three versions of the better-known title, “A Star Is Born”).