Greta Garbo initially formed a very close relationship with Freddie Bartholomew until the 11-year-old asked her for an autograph for his uncle one day. After that their relationship was strictly professional. For the rest of his life he was dismayed at suddenly losing her friendship.
Aware that her co-star Fredric March was notorious for seducing his leading ladies, Greta Garbo reportedly wore garlic under her clothes and purposely had bad breath in order to stave off his advances.
In a letter dated January 7, 1935 from David O. Selznick to Greta Garbo, Selznick told Garbo that he preferred a George Cukor-directed Dark Victory to Anna Karenina as a starring vehicle for her, and urged her to agree with him. One week later, in a letter to MGM director J. Walter Ruben, Selznick stated that he would do Dark Victory if he succeeded in purchasing the rights to the play at a reasonable cost and if Philip Barry consented to write the screenplay. Selznick pointed to the box office disappointments of Queen Christina (1933) and The Painted Veil (1934) as evidence that Anna Karenina would be an unwise choice for Garbo, and noted that Fredric March, who was "fed up with doing costume pictures," made it known that he would do Anna Karenina only if required to by his studio. Despite Selznick's best efforts to convince Garbo to do Dark Victory, she insisted on doing Anna Karenina, a story she had already done as a silent movie entitled Love (1927). According to a biography of Garbo, she was determined to do Anna Karenina because she did not like what she had heard about Dark Victory, and because she "had immersed herself in Anna Karenina and it was now too late to make an abrupt turnabout." Furthermore, a clause in Garbo's contract gave her the option to refuse to make a film if she disliked the script.
According to studio publicity records, cinematographer William Daniels, who had photographed all but one of Greta Garbo's first twenty pictures, made it a rule never to photograph Garbo with unflattering intermediate or full-figure shots-only closeups and long shots.
The file for the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library contains a memo, dated November 6, 1935, from PCA Director Joseph I. Breen, who suggested that David O. Selznick alter the scene in which "Vronsky" returns to Moscow from Italy, to show that "Vronsky" is "definitely punished as a result of his sinful alliance with Anna." According to the memo, when Breen suggested that "Vronsky" be denied reinstatement in the Russian army and be banished from his native land, "Mr. Selznick agreed to this change." Breen also raised a number of objections to specific scenes that showed "Anna" and "Vronsky" carrying out an "adulterous" affair with impunity. In March 1935, Selznick wrote a letter to Breen, in which he sharply criticized new objections raised by the PCA to the script, claiming that Breen's "change of heart...will jeopardize a million dollar investment." Selznick went on to say that Breen's comments left M-G-M with no alternative but to make a "completely vitiated and emasculated adaptation of Tolstoi's famous classic." Following the film's release, the PCA received a letter from the Chicago Legion of Decency, which stated: "We are thoroughly disgusted to hear that you have passed Anna Karenina (1935) and Barbary Coast (1935) and shall boycott these and all others like them."
According to a January 10, 1935 Hollywood Reporter news item, production on the picture, which was originally scheduled to start that week, was postponed indefinitely due to story changes. A Daily Variety pre-production news item noted that MGM had planned to rush production on the film so as to finish with Greta Garbo before 1 May and avoid having to pay "heavy overages" for her services.