The original title for this film was "Tahiti." The writers of the music for the film, 'Harry Warren' and Arthur Freed, wrote a song by that title, but when the title of the movie was changed, the song was dropped and Nacio Herb Brown and Freed's "Pagan Love Song" was added.
The melody to the song "The House Of Singing Bamboo" was actually written in 1945 by 'Harry Warren' for the MGM picture The Harvey Girls (1946), which starred Judy Garland. The song was called "Hayride" and it originally had lyrics by Johnny Mercer. The song was cut from the picture. In 1950, the Mercer lyrics were dumped and the melody was changed slightly for use in this picture.
While producer Arthur Freed had engaged Esther Williams peripherally for Ziegfeld Follies (1946) and as an eleventh-hour replacement in Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949), this was the only Williams vehicle proper to be produced by the legendary MGM producer, as most were spearheaded by either Joe Pasternak or Jack Cummings. Freed was vocal in his distaste for the property, but studio chief Louis B. Mayer persuaded him to move forward with it because Williams was idle and neither Pasternak nor Cummings had anything lined up for her. Once committed, Freed used the film as a means of grooming members of his unit, chiefly promoting Robert Alton from choreographer to director. Still, Pagan Love Song (1950) is an anomaly in the Freed canon, and is generally considered his most lackluster film.
This film marked Rita Moreno's screen debut. Based on her ethnicity, MGM was unsure of how to market her, so she was relegated to playing island stereotypes in this film and The Toast of New Orleans (1950) until she was cast as flapper Zelda Zanders in Singin' in the Rain (1952).
Adding to this troubled production's challenges, Howard Keel broke his right arm just as filming began. As the company was already on location, and Keel had prerecorded the score, shooting could not be delayed, so Keel's first scene, on a bicycle performing "Singing in the Sun," was shot with a towel covering the cast on his arm. The song's conclusion, wherein Keel falls off the bicycle into a lagoon, was filmed many weeks later.
This was Howard Keel's second picture, following his successful screen bow in Annie Get Your Gun (1950). Both films were plagued with delays - weather-related in Pagan Love Song (1950) and personnel-related in Annie Get Your Gun, following the firing of Judy Garland, the death of Frank Morgan and the replacement of Geraldine Wall.
Esther Williams usually did her own singing, only occasionally being dubbed for more challenging musical numbers, particularly in Jupiter's Darling (1955). In Pagan Love Song (1950), Williams' singing is dubbed in "Sea of the Moon" on screen, but her own prerecording was used for MGM Records' original sound track album.
Volume Two of the TCM Spotlight DVD release of Esther Williams' films features four deleted musical numbers from Pagan Love Song (1950): Williams' hammock rendition of "Why is Love So Crazy?"; the reprise of "Sea of the Moon" from the dream ballet; and two renditions of Howard Keel's "Tahiti," one of which is sung against blue screen in the studio.