Margaret O'Brien's mother wanted more money for her to play "Tootie" in the film. The studio then cast the young daughter of a lighting man working on the film, going so far as to even fit her with costumes. They then changed their minds and decided to go ahead and cast Margaret O'Brien. O'Brien was playing a scene when that lighting man intentionally dropped a heavy spotlight to the sound stage, narrowly missing the young actress. He was taken away and actually admitted to a mental institution for a time for his deed.
The book on which the film is based originally ran as a weekly feature in the New Yorker Magazine in 1942. For the film many of the actions attributed to Tootie were actually done in real life by Sally Benson's sister Agnes. Also in reality, Benson's father moved the family to NYC and they never did come back for the World's Fair.
The Halloween sequence on the street outside of the Smith home was primarily filmed from low angles, so that the movie audience would experience the Halloween night as though they were seeing it through the eyes of a child. When Tootie (Margaret O'Brien) embarks on her adventure to the Braukoff home, the houses appear to be large and looming.
A flustered Alonzo Smith (Leon Ames) makes a sarcastic remark about embarking on a new career as a baseball player for the Baltimore Orioles. The major league team known as the Baltimore Orioles from 1901-1902 moved to New York City in 1903 and would eventually become known as the New York Yankees. (The scene in this film takes place in 1903, when the Baltimore Orioles was the name of a minor league team.) Oddly, the St. Louis Browns, a major league club from St. Louis at both the time the movie is set and the time it was made, would relocate in 1954 and become the modern-day Baltimore Orioles.
In "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", Judy Garland refused to sing the grim original line, "Have yourself a merry little Christmas, it may be your last" to little Margaret O'Brien. The line was dropped from the final version of the song.
Also going on at the time of the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition were the Third Summer Olympic Games. They were the first Olympic Games to be held in the United States. Originally awarded to Chicago, President Theodore Roosevelt had the Games switched to St. Louis so that they would run at the same time as the World's Fair. This turned out to be a huge mistake. The Games merely became a side attraction to the fair's other events and turned out to be a first class disaster. They took nearly six months to complete and were very poorly run. Many competitors went to their graves without knowing that they had competed in the Olympics. As a result of these Games, the Olympic movement almost came to an end.
In "The Boy Next Door" Judy Garland sings that the Smith family lives at 5135 Kensington Avenue, which was also the title of Sally Benson's original stories. Kensington Avenue is still a residential street, though the lot at 5135 is now vacant.
The success of the film had encouraged MGM to create further movies involving the Smith family and was to be based on further tales of Sally Benson's family. MGM wanted to make sort of a deluxe color group of serials in the spirit of the popular "Andy Hardy" series. A proposed sequel titled "Meet Me in Manhattan" was in the works in which the Smith family actually moved to New York. (This happened in real life to Sally Benson's family.) However, the project never got out of planning stages and the film was never made.
The street on which the Smith home stood was built specifically for "Meet Me in St. Louis." Located on MGM's vast Backlot #3 that was at Jefferson and Overland Boulevards in Culver City,it was known at the studio as "St. Louis Street" and all of the houses that were on it were used in various film and television shows throughout the next 27 years, until Lot 3 was demolished to make way for an apartment and condominium project. Even in 1970, the last year of Lot 3's existence, the Smith home still looked like it did in 1944, minus the set dressings, of course.
"The Trolley Song" was inspired by a caption in a book about the history of St. Louis. The book had a page with a picture of a turn-of-the-century trolley car, captioned "Clang! Clang! Clang! went the jolly little trolley."
Judy Garland scoffed at the idea of portraying yet another teenager (she was 21 when filming began) and wanted nothing to do with the film. Her mother even went to MGM chief Louis B. Mayer on her behalf. However, Vincente Minnelli convinced her to play the part of Esther Smith, and Judy later fell in love with the story. In her later years she considered it one of her favorite roles.
Vincente Minnelli and Judy Garland met on this movie, and married soon afterwards. Minnelli was the director for the film. Garland claimed she married him because she felt extremely beautiful during the film.
Director Vincente Minnelli worked hard to make the movie as accurate to the times as possible. Not only did its novelist, Sally Benson, give explicit directions as to the decor of her home down to the last detail, but the movie's costume designer took inspiration for many of the movies costumes right out of the Sears & Roebuck, Montgomery Ward, and Marshall Fields catalogs from the time period.
After Tootie crashes Lon's going-away party, Esther asks her if she would like to recite "Did You Ever See a Rabbit Climb a Tree" for the company. This is a nonsense poem from "Father Goose: His Book" (1899) by L. Frank Baum, author of Judy Garland's most famous film, The Wizard of Oz (1939).
The Broadway stage version of "Meet Me In St. Louis" opened at the George Gershwin Theater on November 2, 1989, ran for 252 performances and for nominated for the 1990 Tony Awards for Best Musical, Book and Score.
Composer Hugh Martin did not enjoy his experience writing the film's score. Although Martin greatly admired Judy Garland and the talent of those he was working with, he did not appreciate Producer Arthur Freed's volatile temperament, or the one-upsmanship and self important attitudes shared by the MGM hierarchy. He has said that he found all that showing off and competing for attention "depressing". A devout Christian, in later years he adapted "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" into "Have Yourself a "Blessed" Little Christmas" for several popular gospel singers, including Mahalia Jackson.
First intended as a duet for Alfred Drake and Joan Roberts in the Broadway production of "Oklahoma!", the Rodgers & Hammerstein song "Boys and Girls Like You and Me" had been discarded from that 1943 Broadway triumph and replaced with "People Will Say We're in Love". MGM producer Arthur Freed then purchased screen rights to the song, planning to interpolate it into the film score as a Judy Garland solo, but her rendition was cut from the picture. Miss Garland's Decca album of songs from the film included the song in an arrangement similar to her MGM prerecording. Later, the ballad was chosen to be crooned by Frank Sinatra to Betty Garrett in another Arthur Freed production, Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949), but again the tune was deleted. The footage of Judy singing the song to Tom Drake no longer exists, but on the Warner Home Video special-edition DVD, the original audio recording is played over Garland-Drake production stills. Only about two or three seconds of footage from this sequence may be seen on the trailer in which Tom Drake's name is screened. It shows a medium shot of Tom Drake, and in the background, you can see some buildings supposedly under construction as they would appear in the surviving production stills.
At the end of the film, John Truitt, referring to the fairgrounds, says "I liked it better when it was a swamp, and it was just the two of us." This refers to a deleted scene, that took place after the trolley scene, when John and Esther visit the fairgrounds then under construction. This scene was set to the Rodgers and Hammerstein song "Boys And Girls Like You And Me" that was dropped from the final print.
1940's interior sound stage and exterior set movie lighting equipment used Klegl Brothers lamp fixtures equipped with carbon-arc lamps. These lamps became famous for being so bright that it hurt the eyes of the actors, causing them to wear sun glasses during camera rehearsals. In the "Meet Me in St. Louis" after party sequence between Esther Smith (Judy Garland) and neighbor John Truett (Tom Drake), Esther asks John to stay while she turns off the rooms lighting, gas-sourced chandeliers, in the living room, dining room, entrance hallway, and main staircase. Klegl carbon-arc lamps can not be dimmed. In the 1940's, movie studios did not have dimmer boards for the movie Klegl lighting fixtures. For this sequence, to create the illusion of the set's gas light fixtures being turned off, large venetian blinds were hung in front of the carbon-arc set lighting fixtures. As Esther and John turn off each chandelier, the electrician-grip would close the Venetian blind hung in front of the set lighting lamp, hanging in the stage-set's overhead scaffolding cat-walk surrounding the set wall perimeter. Closing the Venetian blind closed off the light source creating the illusion of the chandelier being turned off. After John leaves the house, Esther's action is to ascend the staircase, where she turns the two staircase wall gas lamps back on! The electrician-grip, stationed at his assigned carbon-arc lamp, opened the Venetian blind in front of the carbon-arc lamp, creating the illusion that the staircase wall gas lamp fixture was re-lighted, lighting the staircase as Esther heads to her upstairs bedroom.
After principle photography was completed, Vincent Minnelli and Judy Garland visited NYC during the production process period of the film. Staying at the Plaza Hotel, Vincent and Judy attended the S.M. Berman (author) Broadway comedy, in three acts, "The Pirate". Minnelli's "Meet Me in St. Louis" art director, Lemuel Ayers, recommended the play for Minnelli's future project. "The Pirate", produced by The Theatre Guild, (177 performances) featuring Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, with a cast of 38. The play's Scenic Designer was Lemuel Ayers. The play's costume designs were by Miles White, with the costumes executed by Madam Barbara Karinska. Directed and staged by Alfred Lunt, the comedy was performed at the Martin Beck Theatre. Enamored with the comedy, Minnelli called the studio asking MGM to purchase "The Pirate" filming property rights for him, as a follow up project after "Meet Me in St. Louis" was completed. After investigating, the MGM production office responded "we already own it!" Minnelli and Garland repeatedly attended the play's performances during their NYC stay; with Minnelli inscribing sketches and notes of the sets, costumes, and production details.
Introducing Margaret O'Brien (Tootie) riding in the horse drawn cart with Chill Wills (Mr. Neely), this single camera sequence was filmed on the MGM sound stage in film process. The "moving background projected screen action" had been previously filmed by a second unit filming company, coordinated with extras, horse drawn and motorized vehicles moving as background action. The exterior MGM-Culver City back-lot set's background reveal the existing Culver City foothill terrain, located behind the exterior Victorian street set. Ignoring the fact that St. Louis is flat land country, the back-lot newly constructed Victorian Saint Louis street had "foothills". The "Trolley" sequence was also filmed on the same MGM sound stage in film process. The "process plates" are projected by a motion picture projector onto a "rear screen" set directly in center line with the film camera's lens. The distance between the projector and the rear screen requires approximately 200' of separation. The film process requires a huge stage for the process projector/screen set-up, which also must include the vehicle and actor's film action occurring in front of the screen projection screen.