When MGM originally began planning this film, it asked Jerome Kern what he thought about Robert Walker being cast. He said it sounded all right, but he wanted to hear his wife's opinion. He phoned her from the office and she told him to stay and play himself and send Walker home to her.
Judy Garland, who played real-life singer-dancer Marilyn Miller, was pregnant with her first daughter, Liza Minnelli. She was placed behind stacks of dishes while singing "Look For the Silver Lining", but it was not to "hide her belly" as some have thought, because moments before her number, she is shown walking over to the set and even during her song as she is standing behind the dishes, her abdomen is not disguised.
Judy Garland sings two numbers in the film: "Look for the Silver Lining" and "Who?". She also sang "Do You Love Me?" but it was cut before release. Her sequences were filmed by her then new husband, Vincente Minnelli.
Released on March 1, 1947, the MGM Records soundtrack album made from this film, originally presented on a 78-RPM album set, was the first soundtrack album ever made from a live-action film musical. Previously the only movie musical soundtrack released on records was that of Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). (The authentic soundtrack album of MGM's The Wizard of Oz (1939), with the film cast, was not issued until 1956.)
This film made national headlines in 1973 when it was announced that MGM had neglected to renew its copyright, resulting in the film entering public domain. Because of that, inferior VHS copies appeared a few years later when video became popular.
When Jerome Kern was told that MGM wanted to make a movie of his life he told them that, frankly, his life had been so boring they would have trouble making an interesting movie from it. In order to add some drama, the writers invented the Hesslers and especially the hunt for Sally Hessler.
During the "Who?" segment Judy Garland and the chorus move smoothly down the staircase. They did this by standing on a slide that was hydraulically controlled. It was supposed to ease to a stop at the bottom but, instead, stopped abruptly. There is a quick cut that partly hides this but it can still be seen as everyone suddenly gives a little lurch just before the cut.
During the circus horseback sequence in the show "Sunny" Judy Garland was doubled by a professional rider from the Ringling Brothers Circus. The switch is made when the extras crowd around her just before she enters the ring and goes to the horse. The camera is far enough away for the rest of the sequence that the face of the double is not clear.
The opening verse to "Ol' Man River" ("Dere's an ol' man called the Mississippi,/Dat's the ol' man that I'd like to be...," etc.) is never sung in this film, not even in the "opening night" sequence of "Show Boat".
For the 1946 Broadway revival of "Show Boat", which opened before this film was released, Oscar Hammerstein II not only changed the "N word" in the opening chorus to "Colored folks", but rewrote the entire second verse of that chorus because to him it seemed racially questionable. In "Till the Clouds Roll By", the verse is heard as Hammerstein originally wrote it in 1927 for the original stage production of "Show Boat", but the phrase "Colored folks work on the Mississippi" has been changed to "Here we all work on the Mississippi".
Tony Martin, already identified, via his December 19, 1939 Decca recording, with the incomparable ballad, "All the Things You Are" (lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II ), waxed another version for Mercury around the time of the film's Manhattan debut. Mercury paired Tony's remake with his solo of "Make Believe" (lyrics by Hammerstein) on a 78-rpm single. The MGM Records soundtrack album featured, as part of the "Show Boat" medley, Tony singing "Who Cares If My Boat Goes Up Stream?" (lyrics by Hammerstein) and a Martin-Kathryn Grayson duet of "Make Believe." On CD, Tony's one Decca side has a place on "Hear My Song" from the British label Flare in 1999; his two recordings from December 21, 1946 (first issued on a single one full year later) count among "The Best of Tony Martin: The Mercury Years," issued in 1996; and all of his movie vocals are contained on film-score releases from Sony in 1992 and then by The Soundtrack Factory, a Spanish label, in 2000.
The MGM Jerome Kern (27 January 1885-11 November 1945, age 60) biographical movie musical "Till the Clouds Roll By" featured Angela Lansbury (b. 16 October 1925) performing as a London music hall soubrette, swinging in a London vaudeville music hall production number. All of Angela Lansbury's previous MGM musical films had her singing voice performances ghost dubbed. Angela convinced producer Arthur Freed, (9 September 1894-12 April 1973, age 78), that she should do her own singing, as a London music hall soubrette, a light lyric soprano with a very youthful voice. Coloratura and soubrette are very closely related. A coloratura will have the flexibility and a few more usable notes on top, while a soubrette is required to have low A's. Angela's London music hall "swing" number was choreographed by Hermes Pan, (10 December 1909-19 September 1990, age 80), with a ton of dancing chorus boys, elaborate sets and costumes. Angela, born in 1925, twenty years old in 1945 when the sequence was filmed. Judy Garland at age 22 (10 June 1922-23 June 1969) performed her "Till the Clouds Roll By" production numbers, directed and staged by her new husband Vincente Minnelli (28 February 1903-25 July 1986). There is only one MGM stage on the lot where the theatre scenes were always filmed. The stage, located in the middle of the MGM lot, is on the main MGM street dividing the lot in half. The elephant doors on this filming stage, centered in the sound stage exterior/interior wall, is raised off the MGM main street approximately five feet off the street ground level. Incidental, when rains occurred, ironically, this MGM main street was a conduit for a flash river flooding because of the street's down hill grade, from the main MGM gate to the studio's back lot gate. This MGM film stage was the interior back wall of the raised theatre stage, where any and all MGM musical "stage production numbers" were filmed. All scenery had to be loaded into the stage off trucks, where scenery was usually built in the studio carpenter shop and mill. The stage had a complete counterweight pin rail system, with arbor pipes for stage lighting fixtures, hanging drops, scenery, drapery legs and borders, stage lighting, etc. The stage was 30' deep, with the front of the stage apron dropping into an orchestra pit. This interior four foot high raised stage floor with a centered stage pit, a floor pit cover, removable to configure for filming requirements of production numbers. In front of the footlights stage apron was another pit, with a floor pit cover, allowing for the orchestra size area configuration as required, including allowances for a prompter's box position center stage, and for a conductor center podium position. The theatre's raised four feet high stage" had a stage pit for water sequences if needed. Normally studio lighting was carbon arc fixtures. Electric "stage lights" were used as set dressing on the stage arbor pipes, with carbon arc lamps hung on scaffolding over the set, actually lighting the production number. The other part-half of the stage was raised one foot off ground level, where a theatre audience area could be installed. The stage configuration had a frame for the stage proscenium, which could be re-configured scenically, to represent different styles of theatre prosceniums. The sides of the stage were wide enough for European style theatre box seating, with a rear balcony over the raked main audience area, usually built for the theatre (stage) audience floor. Otherwise, the actual stage floor was level. The audience arm chair seats were all arranged on rails for easy access to strike for camera positions. This also allowed aisles to be configured, either a center aisle down the middle, or two aisles dividing the center seats and side seat flanks. The "studio theatre" never had an overhead ceiling. Should a ceiling be seen in the finished film, this was accomplished with a matt shot. Chandeliers could be hung for set dressing the theatre audience area. Every MGM musical production number, supposedly in a theatre, showing an audience, with an orchestra, was filmed on this stage. When no film musical production numbers were being required for the stage's filming schedule, other productions used the stage for normal stage sets required for dramatic and comedy subject films. Stage scaffolding installed over the stage set were hung from the stage ceiling rafters.
In the release print, two of the Jerome Kern songs were edited to remove their verses: Judy Garland's production number "Who?" (lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and Otto A. Harbach), and Virginia O'Brien's "Life Upon the Wicked Stage" (lyrics by Mr. Hammerstein). Recordings with the verses (but just a partial verse for Miss Garland, and also a less-elaborate last chorus without the film's choir) were made available on the MGM Records soundtrack album. In the CD era, both prerecordings with their verses are presented on a soundtrack disc from the British label Prism.
Not all the singers in the film were featured on the 78-rpm soundtrack album released by MGM Records. Among those missing artists, both Dinah Shore and Frank Sinatra and Dinah Shore were under contract to Columbia Records, which had in the marketplace 78-rpm platters of Frank's "Ol' Man River" (lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II), a recording (arranged and conducted by Axel Stordahl) cut on December 3, 1944; and Dinah (with Morris Stoloff's Orchestra) singing "They Didn't Believe Me" (lyrics by Herbert Reynolds), from Miss Shore's 78-rpm album, "A Date With Dinah," reviewed in the May 3, 1947 issue of Billboard magazine. Both Columbia sides have been transferred to Sony CDs: Mr. Sinatra's on a 1998 box set called "The Best of The Columbia Years: 1943-1952," and Miss Shore's on her 1991 collection of "16 Most Requested Songs." Represented on a film-score CD released in 2000 by The Soundtrack Factory, a Spanish label, are the two film recordings by Dinah and Frank, with the disc also featuring Dinah's rendition of the Oscar-winning song of 1941, "The Last Time I Saw Paris" (lyrics by Hammerstein). Other vocalist left off the MGM Records soundtrack set who were added to the Spanish CD include Van Johnson, Angela Lansbury, Ray McDonald, Lee and Lyn Wilde, Dorothy Patrick and Trudy Erwin (dubbing for Lucille Bremer).
In the release print, Frank Sinatra does not begin "Ol' Man River" (lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II) with the verse. However, the verse opens both of Mr. Sinatra's commercial recordings -- the first for Columbia, arranged and conducted by Axel Stordahl, waxed on December 3, 1944, and originally released as a 78-rpm single, which featured on the flip side, "Stormy Weather" (music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Ted Koehler); and Frank's second version for Reprise, arranged and conducted by Nelson Riddle, cut on February 18, 1963, and part of "The Concert Sinatra" LP, which has been reissued on an import CD, unveiled by Universal Distribution on November 10, 2009.