The play opened on Broadway in New York City, New York, USA on 22 October 1932 and closed in May 1933 after 232 performances. The opening night cast included Constance Collier as Carlotta Vance, Paul Harvey as Dan Packard, Conway Tearle as Larry Renault and Cesar Romero as Ricci (character deleted from the movie). The play had 2 Broadway revivals, the last in 2003.
As originally filmed, Carlotta's dog was named Mussolini. However, due to the changing world political climate of the 1930's, the dog's name was post-dubbed as "Tarzan", even though Marie Dressler's lips are clearly saying "Mussolini".
Jean Harlow got along with all of her co-stars, except Wallace Beery. She had worked with him before in The Secret 6 (1931) and the two had developed a dislike for each other that carried over. Beery thought that Harlow wasn't experienced enough as an actress and treated her rudely. Harlow found Beery gruff and boorish. Since the two were playing a husband and wife that can't stand each other, the real-life feelings worked to the comic benefit of the characters.
Bravely, it seems, John Barrymore--who notably struggled with chronic alcoholism that would lead to his death at age 60 in 1942--plays the has-been actor Larry Renault who was also addicted to the bottle. And just like his character Renault, he was in the death throes of a third marriage, one that would end within a year.
Marie Dressler was impressed with Jean Harlow. She realled in her autobiography, "It was whispered behind more than one hand that Jean Harlow, Metro's much-advertised platinum menace, was picked for parts that called for more allure than art. And in Dinner at Eight, she had to throw a bomb in the works by proving that she is a first-rate actress! Her performance as the wife of the hard-boiled, self-made politician played by Wallace Beery belongs in that limited category of things which may with reason be called rare. The plain truth is, she all but ran off with the show!"
John Barrymore relished the challenge of a strong character part. He got involved in his part, making suggestions along the way to play up his character such as having him misquote famous writers and botch his own suicide. George Cukor was pleased that an actor of such prominence was confident and committed enough that he would be willing to sacrifice vanity for the greater success of the film. He later said, "Although (Barrymore) was playing a second-rate actor, he had no vanity as such. He even put things in to make himself hammier, more ignorant."
Jean Harlow was in awe of Marie Dressler's talents and praised the veteran actress for her generosity. "Being in the same cast with Marie was a break for me," said Harlow. "She's one trouper I'd never try to steal a scene from. It'd be like trying to carry Italy against Mussolini."
The dowager character played by Marie Dressler is reportedly based on actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell, for whom George Bernard Shaw wrote the role of Eliza Doolittle in the play "Pygmalion", the basis for the musical My Fair Lady (1964). Mrs. Campbell was legendary for her inappropriate remarks, and she failed dismally in an attempt at a Hollywood film career.
George Cukor later said of Marie Dressler, "She acquired a peculiar distinction, a magnificence. She was a law unto herself. She'd mug and carry on-which she did in this picture-but she knew how to make an entrance with great aplomb, great effect".