Shooting the early scenes, director Michael Curtiz accused Joan Crawford of needlessly glamorizing her working mother role. She insisted she was buying her character's clothes off the rack, but didn't mention that her own dressmaker was fitting the waists and padding out the shoulders.
Joan Crawford was nominated and won the Academy Award for Best Actress for Mildred Pierce. She was not at the award ceremony because she was home in bed with pneumonia. However, in the special features of the dvd, her daughter Christina says that she faked her illness. Joan did not think she would win the Academy Award and she did not want to attend the ceremony to be humiliated. It was said that after she heard that she won the award for Best Actress, she jumped out of bed, did her make up and put on her best negligee to meet the press.
Monty's Beach House, used in the key opening scene and several others, was actually owned by the film's director, Michael Curtiz. It was built in 1929 and stood at 26652 Latigo Shore Dr. in Malibu. It collapsed into the ocean after a week of heavy storms in January 1983.
After seeing the film, James M. Cain sent Joan Crawford a signed first edition of the original novel. The inscription read: "To Joan Crawford, who brought Mildred Pierce to life just as I had always hoped she would be, and who has my lifelong gratitude."
Ann Blyth remembered Joan Crawford as "the kindest, most helpful human being I've ever worked with. We remained friends for many years after the film. I never knew that other Joan Crawford that people wrote about."
Warner Bros. didn't want to cast Ann Blyth as Veda because she was under contract to Universal, and it would necessitate a loan-out. Joan Crawford coached Blyth privately for her screen test and after viewing it, Warner's began negotiations to "borrow" her for the film.
Joan Crawford had been under contract with Warner Brothers for two years before starring in this movie. To get the role, she had to submit to a screen test after years of flops at MGM - her previous studio - and turning down several scripts at Warner Brothers.
After hearing exaggerated rumors about her behavior at MGM, Michael Curtiz was unsure about casting Joan Crawford in the title role. However, she so badly wanted the role that she offered to do a screen test, something an established star was never expected to do. Curtiz directed the screen test and after watching it, astonished, agreed that Crawford was perfect for the part.
There were conflicts between Michael Curtiz and Joan Crawford. He wanted her canned, claiming she was altering the look and interpretation of the character to make her more glamorous. There were the inevitable arguments over shoulders, with Crawford tearfully (and not altogether truthfully) claiming her dowdy off-the-rack Sears dresses were unpadded. Curtiz started referring to her as "Phony Joanie" and "the rotten bitch," laying into her mercilessly in front of cast and crew. Crawford wanted the director fired and replaced "with a human being."
The ad slogan "Don't tell anyone what Mildred Pierce did" was parodied by a Los Angeles diner which had a sign that read: "For 65c we'll not only serve you a sell blue plate - we'll tell you what Mildred Pierce did."
Among the many versions of the screenplay, William Faulkner''s rewrite differed significantly from the others. He wrote an elaborate voice-over narration and concentrated on Mildred's restaurant business, describing sleazy, underhanded business dealings. Veda is even more calculating and cold than she appears in the final film.
Joan Crawford claimed that Michael Curtiz gained respect for her after she stood up to his "post-graduate course in humiliation," and she admitted that once they reached détente, "he started training me."
The film was made around the time Jack L. Warner asked the studio's cinematographers and art directors to "devise new means of cutting corners without losing any of the quality." Apparently there was concern that too much detail was being used in sets, which in turn, took more time to light and thus slowed up production. Despite this proclamation, the film suffered no loss of set detail. Beneath its noir lighting lay strikingly complex settings like the Beragon beach house. So essential to the plot that it opens the film, Beragon's home is a twisting maze of rooms and staircases that perfectly represent Grot's desire to build "menace into the sets."
Producer Jerry Wald was keen to exploit the potential of James M. Cain's novel. He envisaged the idea of a climactic murder, then restructuring the story using flashbacks. He also infused the project with a higher moral tone that is in the original novel. With these changes, he was able to extract a cautious go-ahead from the Breen Office, which then prompted studio head Jack L. Warner to approve the purchase rights to the novel in early 1944.
Jerry Wald acted as peacemaker during arguments between Joan Crawford and Michael Curtiz. He recalled, "I had to be the referee. We had several meetings filled with blood, sweat, and tears. Then everything started to settle down. Mike restricted himself to swearing only in Hungarian, and Joan stopped streamlining the apron strings around her figure and let them hang."
When filming began, Michael Curtiz mocked Joan Crawford's famous shoulder pads, and accused her of having her assistant alter the store bought clothes used for her costumes. By the time filming ended, however, she and Curtiz had become closer, and Crawford presented him with a pair of oversized shoulder pads as a gift.
When Jack L. Warner proposed filming the novel, Joseph I. Breen of the MPPA wrote in a letter dated February 2, 1944, "...the story contains so many sordid and repellent elements that we feel the finished picture would not only be highly questionable from the standpoint of the Code, but would, likewise, meet with a great deal of difficulty in its release...." Breen went on to suggest that the story be dismissed from further consideration. The major changes made by the writers to conform to the Code involved the elimination of overt references to extra-marital sex and the blackening of Veda's character. "Monte's" murder was added by the screenwriters for dramatic purposes.
Most of the leading actresses of the day shyd away from the role of Mildred Pierce as they didn't want to play the mother of a teenage daughter. Joan Crawford had no such reservations, knowing that it would be the part of a lifetime so she campaigned vigorously to land it.
Michael Curtiz and Joan Crawford would clash frequently over Crawford's insistence that Mildred Pierce would always be dressed glamorously. Curtiz felt this was inappropriate for a working mother while Crawford said it was because Mildred was proud and wanted to project an upwardly mobile appearance.