This picture, which began its run nationally on July 8, 1948, was the second-biggest moneymaking film of the year, directly after the Crosby-Hope-Lamour Road to Rio (1947), which was launched nationally on Christmas Day of 1947. The critical and financial success of the Garland-Astaire pairing chiefly "made up" for the mixed reviews and poor box office (except in a few large cities) of Judy Garland's prior musical, The Pirate (1948), which had opened nationally on June 11, only a month before her frolic with Mr. Astaire was seen by moviegoers.
Gene Kelly was originally scheduled to play Don, but he broke his ankle when he stamped his foot in anger after losing a volleyball game. It was at his suggestion that he be replaced by Fred Astaire. Cyd Charisse was up for the role of Nadine, but a torn ligament in either one or both of her knees forced her to drop out. She was replaced by Ann Miller. Although she had been a star for years, Judy Garland had never met Astaire before, and was afraid to speak to him until they were properly introduced.
Ann Miller danced with pinched nerves in her back. She was also taller than Fred Astaire, so she had to wear flats in her scenes with him. This can be seen towards the end of the movie. When she finishes the number "The Girl I Love" she goes behind the curtain wearing red high heels; when she comes back out in front of the audience to entice Astaire to dance with her to their old song "It Only Happens When I Dance With You", she's wearing red flats.
Sidney Sheldon revealed this in an interview decades after the film came out: On the first day of filming, before the first scene, Sidney Sheldon was telling Judy Garland a story. Though it was time to shoot, Judy pressed him to continue on, ignoring the calls. When Sidney jokingly asked if she wanted to do the scene, Judy said no because the first scene was a kissing scene with Fred Astaire and she had never met him before, though it was assumed that they had since Astaire and Garland were both already big stars at the time. Sidney introduced Judy to Fred, and they all went on to filming the movie.
The song "Easter Parade" that the movie was based upon was first sung in Irving Berlin's 1933 Broadway revue "As Thousands Cheer" by Marilyn Miller and Clifton Webb and was inspired by the annual event in New York City where people stroll down Fifth Avenue displaying their new hats (some very outrageous) and their Easter finery. The song also appeared in the Irving Berlin movie Holiday Inn (1942).
Jules Munshin's film debut. He plays the comic waiter who gives very entertaining descriptions of the menu items. The next year, he would play one of the three sailors on leave in New York City in On the Town (1949) with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra.
The film deleted a musical number, "Mr. Monotony," in which Judy Garland wears the same costume she would immortalize two years later in Summer Stock (1950) in the number "Get Happy"; the costume was a man's tuxedo coat and hat. For years, there were rumors that "Get Happy" was cut from another film and inserted into Summer Stock (1950). It is believed that this song being removed from "Easter Parade" is the origin of that rumor. An abbreviated version of the "Mr. Monotony" number was included in That's Entertainment! III (1994), and the complete number is included as an extra on the Warner Home Video Easter Parade (1948) DVD.
Ann Miller had to perform her biggest numbers in a back brace. In an interview with Robert Osborne, she revealed that she had been thrown down the stairs by her then husband. She was also pregnant at the time and was in a lot of pain.
The title song contains the line "the photographers will snap us, and you'll find that you're in the rotogravure." Rotogravure was the method that newspapers used to print photos, meaning the photo would end up in the newspapers.
In the title song, the term "rotogravure" does not refer to the photographic process. In the days that this movie took place, newspapers would have a special insert - on holidays and Sundays - of photographs of local people and events. This special insert was called the Rotogravure.