1977 was not a good year for musicals - or comedies, for that matter. But Barbra Streisand’s remake of the Judy Garland classic (which in turn was a remake of the 1937 Janet Gaynor version, which itself was inspired by 1932’s What Price Hollywood) so impressed the Hollywood Foreign Press, they awarded it five Golden Globes including Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy (Kris Kristofferson), Best Actress, Best Song and of course Best Film. Of course Streisand picked up three of those awards.
The film had a rocky production history. Streisand was living with former hairdresser and eventual studio head Jon Peters when the project was first announced; he was to produce, and she was to direct. A-list writers John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion would write the script. Eventually, Frank Pierson was signed to direct.
The gentle Pierson was not up to the job of controlling the volatile Streisand. They argued incessantly during production and she took over directing some scenes. Pierson was fresh from having won the Academy Award for his screenplay for Dog Day Afternoon. Because of their temperaments, it was a collaboration doomed from the start. Kristofferson, on the other hand, was mellow enough to handle the fireworks.
When it was released in time for award consideration, the film was ripped apart by the critics, but the public ate it up. It made $80 million and was the third biggest moneymaker that year. Garland’s film grossed a mere $6 million. The film’s biggest selling point was the song Streisand composed for the film (with lyrics by Paul Williams), “Evergreen,” which quickly became the number one song of the year and even today remains a staple at weddings. The song won both the Golden Globe and the Academy Award for Best Original Song.
Kristofferson was not the first choice for the role previously played by Fredric March and James Mason. Both Neil Diamond and Elvis Presley were approached but Diamond was too busy and the Colonel didn’t like the idea of Elvis playing a has been. In hindsight neither has Kristofferson’s sex appeal nor acting chops.
Other nominees that year were Bugsy Malone, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, The Ritz, and Silent Movie. Besides Streisand and Kristofferson, the nominees for best actor were Mel Brooks for Silent Movie, Peter Sellers for The Pink Panther Strikes Again, Jack Westin for The Ritz, and Gene Wilder for Silver Streak.
And for Best Actress in a Comedy— Barbra was the only musical nominee —the nominees were Jodie Foster for Freaky Friday, Barbara Harris for Family Plot, Barbara Harris again for Freaky Friday, Goldie Hawn for The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox, and a sixth nominee, Rita Moreno for The Ritz.