When Katharine Hepburn was interviewed at length by Dick Cavett, she told a story. Most of her life, her favourite off-camera outfit was dungarees and whatever sort of comfortable top seemed appropriate. When she was working on this first film, the studio PR department kept trying to get her to wear the elegant costumes from the film off the set, instead of her dungarees and sweaters. (This was a fairly common practise, since photos of the actors at nightclubs and fancy restaurants in the gowns and clothing they would wear in the film made good PR when they appeared in newspapers and screen magazines.) She refused. They said that they'd hide her dungarees while she was on the set, so that she'd have to wear the fancy duds. She said that she said "Oh, I REALLY wouldn't do that." But they did. When Cavett asked "So what did you do?", she said "What else could I do? I walked across the lot to the car waiting for me at the front gate in my underpants." Her dungarees were returned the next day.
David O. Selznick and George Cukor disagreed about casting Katharine Hepburn. Cukor had seen Hepburn's screen test and was impressed by the 24-year-old, but Selznick did not like the way she looked and was afraid she would not be well received by audiences. Cukor cast her anyway (beginning what would be a lifelong professional and personal relationship between the two)
For her screen test, Katharine Hepburn chose, not a scene from A Bill of Divorcement, but a scene from the Philip Barry stage play Holiday. The test, directed by RKO talent scout Lillie Messenger, was shot in New York, with Alan Campbell playing opposite Hepburn. Although RKO executives in Los Angeles were less than impressed by the footage, George Cukor was struck by the way that Hepburn had placed a glass on the floor of the set and voted to cast her. Backed by David O. Selznick, who also felt that Hepburn had a striking, fresh screen presence, Cukor brought Hepburn to Los Angeles. Before shooting began, Cukor arranged for Hepburn's hair to be re-styled and her facial freckles covered with makeup. In preparation for her first film role, Hepburn spent time on the RKO lot, studying each aspect of the filmmaking process. Hepburn praised John Barrymore for teaching her a "tremendous lot" about film acting during this production.
In an inter-office memorandum to various RKO executives, David O. Selznick wrote that this was "one of the best pictures, and possibly the most adult and intelligent picture, ever made." He then admonished his executives that "even if it is correct that the picture is 'too good for our audiences' (and I, personally, don't think there is such a thing), I do not think we should arrive at this conclusion in advance of its presentation to the public."
According to RKO records, Billie Burke was paid $1,500 per week for a total of four weeks, while John Barrymore's contract guaranteed him $50,000 and 15% of the film's gross after the first $1,000,000 in profits. Katharine Hepburn was paid $1,500 per week for a total of $7,125.
Katharine Hepburn's performance as the "Amazon Queen" in the 1931 Broadway play The Warrior's Husband landed her a screen test with RKO. After executives saw the finished film in the projection room, they signed Hepburn to a contract, which called for her to appear in two films per year, with time off for stage plays.