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From ‘Pretty Woman’ to ‘A Star Is Born,’ Hollywood’s love affair with Cinderella stories lives on

From ‘Pretty Woman’ to ‘A Star Is Born,’ Hollywood’s love affair with Cinderella stories lives on
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in "A Star is Born." (Warner Bros. Pictures)

It plays to our sense of romance, our faith in fairy godmothers and an insatiable lust to win the lottery.

Let us pause to appreciate the Cinderella story. After all, isn’t every Hollywood story a Cinderella story?

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Dorothy was the ultimate Cinderella character — note the rural roots and ruby-red kicks.

Julia Roberts has made a career of Cinderella stories, including her big break in “Pretty Woman,” as a perverse Cinderella — like the Kardashians, a naughty pop-culture offshoot.

Vivien Leigh, Marilyn Monroe. Barbra Streisand. Nathan Lane. All Cinderellas, in various wonderful shapes and forms.

There’s the noir Cins: Jack Nicholson, Humphrey Bogart.

There’s the macho Cins: Clint Eastwood, Jennifer Lawrence.

There’s the mortal Cins: Billy Crystal, Rebel Wilson.

Nicolas Cage is the perfect example of the social-climbing Cinderella, starting with “Valley Girl” and including “The Rock.”

In “Leaving Las Vegas,” Cage showed what happens when you lose your inner Cin — your self-esteem, your stubbornness. So in a sense, that was a sad-sack Cinderella story as well, without all those annoying Disney birds.

Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky” was probably the most memorable male Cinderella, the loser from the sooty side of town who finally gets his shot: The clock is ticking, he loses his mind a little, he nearly screws it all up — the usual trope.

After all, the story also deals with repressed ego and troubled self-worth.

Nicolas Cage, with Deborah Foreman, had his first Cinderella moment in "Valley Girl."
Nicolas Cage, with Deborah Foreman, had his first Cinderella moment in "Valley Girl." (Los Angeles Times)

“Notting Hill” featured another male Cinderella, or in that case, “multiple Cins”; Hugh Grant is rescued from drudgery by Julia Roberts, who in turn is rescued by Grant.

I suppose that’s also a flipped Cinderella, with a double twist.

Budding screenwriters would do well to ask: “Who’s my Cinderella in this script, and what’s the glass slipper? When’s the midnight moment?” Add doses of grit, moxie, fate, frustration and at least you have a structure that works.

And works and works. ...

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“The Dirty Dozen” is among the Cinderella stories that don’t seem like one. All the criminal misfits eventually blossom into someone better, except for maybe Maggot, who never really bought into that whole we-are-family thing.

I mean, did you really expect that slime ball to come up all rainbows and unicorns? Of course you didn’t. At heart, Maggot was a Nazi.

"Pretty Woman" was a more obvious Cinderella story, as are many Julie Roberts movies.
"Pretty Woman" was a more obvious Cinderella story, as are many Julie Roberts movies. (Touchstone Pictures)

Cinderellas are as ancient as democracy, as current as this week’s contestants on “The Voice.” High school homecoming divas and Rose queens are Cinderellas. “Carrie” was an example of the “reverse Cinderella” (not to be confused with the “perverse Cinderella”). One is bent on revenge, the other on success, no matter the price.

Certainly, Annie Hall was a Cinderella, with an odd taste in men, as was the divine one, Miss Piggy. In “Good Will Hunting,” Matt Damon was the Cinderella, and Robin Williams his savior-prince.

They come in some surprising flavors, obviously.

Instead of a carriage, Sandra Bullock rode an L.A. city bus to become a famous Cin. She is among our favorites, because she sounds like Jersey and constantly blows the bangs out of her eyes in gum-chomping, every-girl exasperation.

Bullock could get gassy on screen and she’d still be a leading Cinderella.

Of course, Hollywood didn’t invent the character. As with many literary tools — ogres, reversals of fortune, chance and fate — this folk tale has Greek ancestors. Scholars link it to a story by Strabo in 7 B.C., and a European version in 1634. Disney later added the pixie dust and the mice.

These days, Cinderella stories exist in all walks of American life: Reagan and Obama were rags-to-riches political Cinderellas. Arnold Schwarzenegger was a Cinderella in several different careers.

Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos are digital Cins. Oprah is a talk-show Cin. Elon Musk is the industrialist Cinderella, and might be the first Cin we ever send off into space.

Sorry. No exchanges, no returns.

Every NFL quarterback is a sweaty Cinderella — more “multiple Cins” — and their stories lead to the Super Bowl, the most-watched TV event of the year.

No matter the situation, Cinderellas transport us, as they transcend ridiculous odds. They are rebels, underdogs, surrogate fighters, who give us the things we require most in life: whimsy, romance and a sense of hope.

So, fight on, Cinderella. You are Lara Croft, just as you are the Karate Kid. This awards season, you’re Lady Gaga, who after “A Star Is Born” may be headed to perhaps the most magnificent of all Cinderella moments.

An Oscar win.

Good night, sweet prince.

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