William Powell suggested his ex-wife Carole Lombard for the leading role with the explanation that his real life romance with Lombard had been much the same as it was for the characters of Godfrey and Irene.
This is the only film to receive Oscar nominations for writing, directing and all four acting awards without being nominated for Best Picture. It was also the only film to receive those six nominations without winning in any of the categories until American Hustle (2013).
When William Powell and director Gregory La Cava had a disagreement over how Godfrey should be played, they talked it out over a bottle of Scotch in Powell's dressing room. The next day, LaCava returned to the movie set with a major headache, but Powell was not there. The director received a telegram from his star: "WE MAY HAVE FOUND GODFREY LAST NIGHT BUT WE LOST POWELL. SEE YOU TOMORROW."
Although stars William Powell and Carole Lombard had been divorced for three years by the time they made this, when offered the part Powell declared that the only actress right for the part of Irene was Lombard.
When Irene, portrayed by Carole Lombard, and Molly, portrayed by Jean Dixon, are sobbing in the kitchen, Godfrey, portrayed by William Powell, comes in, tipsy after his drinking bout with Tommy, portrayed by Alan Mowbray. The lines of the song he sings are "for tomorrow may bring sorrow/ So tonight let's all be gay./ Tell the story of the glory". These lines come from "Drink a Highball", a song of Harvard's Ivy League rival, University of Pennsylvania. The lines continue "of Pennsylvania." The writers likely cut it off to avoid the obvious contradiction of a Harvard man singing a Penn song, no matter how appropriate to his imbibing.
About one hour into the film, Carlo starts reading a poem: "'Courage!' he said, and pointed toward the land, 'This mounting wave will roll us shoreward soon.'" These words are from the opening lines of the poem "The Lotus-Eaters" by Alfred Lord Tennyson.
Mischa Auer's character Carlo repeatedly sings "Ochi Chornya" in this movie. Nine years later in And Then There Were None (1945) his character Prince Nikita Starloff begins playing the first few notes of "Ochi Chornya" on the piano before meeting his demise.
The Bullock mansion is located at 1101 Park Avenue, Manhattan, New York City, New York. 1101 Park Avenue is at East 89 Street, just behind the famed Museum Mile section of Fifth Avenue, just a few blocks north and east of the Metropolitan Museum of Art at East 82 Street and Fifth Avenue.
The failure of the original copyright holder to renew the film's copyright resulted in it falling into public domain, meaning that virtually anyone could duplicate and sell a VHS/DVD copy of the film. Therefore, many of the versions of this film available on the market are either severely (and usually badly) edited and/or of extremely poor quality, having been duped from second- or third-generation (or more) copies of the film.
The hotel where the charity scavenger hunt is being staged is the "Waldorf Ritz Hotel," which did not exist. However, one of the best hotels in New York City in 1936 was the Waldorf Astoria, and another one of the best hotels in New York City at that time was The first Ritz-Carlton Hotel in the U.S., which was built in New York City in 1917. The "Waldorf-Ritz" was an amalgamation of those two iconic brands.
In production during the most volatile period in Universal's long history. The studio was reeling from the recent costly flop, Sutter's Gold (1936) and was banking heavily on the success of Show Boat (1936), which would experience production delays and cost Carl Laemmle his studio. Despite the relatively economical cost of Godfrey (under $700,000) it was released too late to benefit Laemmle and the new owners were able to capitalize on both it and Show Boat's revenues to finance a much cheaper and scaled back 1937 production roster. The "new" Universal wouldn't produce another true A-list film until 1939 (with Son of Frankenstein (1939) and Destry Rides Again (1939)) and would only survive by the singular popularity of its one major star, Deanna Durbin until the arrival of Abbott and Costello in 1941.
At the beginning of the film, and sporadically throughout, Godfrey, portrayed by William Powell, is called "Duke" by his friend Mike, and by other hobo town men at the city dump, but he is never called Duke by anyone else off of "the dump" property.
The film's copyright appeared at the beginning of the film, under the "production credit," which was "A Gregory La Cava Production." This was unusual in two ways, first that the copyright appeared at the beginning of the film, instead of at the end, and second that it was under the director's name in small print, and not under the production company's name in small print.
Rogelio A. González, a mexican director, took this story and adapted it to make Escuela de Vagabundos (School of vagabonds) starring the mexican superstar Pedro Infante. That movie is considered one of the funniest movies in mexican film history.