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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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."
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.