Jessica Tandy was originally slated to play Blanche, after creating the role on Broadway. The role was given to Vivien Leigh (after Olivia de Havilland refused it) because she had more box-office appeal. De Havilland turned down the role because her-then husband Marcus Goodrich advised against her playing it.
Vivien Leigh had already played Blanche in the first London production of the play, under the direction of her then-husband, Laurence Olivier. She later said that Olivier's direction of that production influenced her performance in the film more than did Elia Kazan's direction of the film.
Despite giving the definitive portrayal of Stanley Kowalski, Marlon Brando said he privately detested the character. However, it should be added that Brando was an eccentric character who loved misleading people and playing pranks.
Composer Alex North wrote and recorded the first ever jazz-orientated film score for a dramatic picture, 'A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)'. The score served to color the sound of the film's steamy New Orleans setting. It has become a well-deserved landmark in the history of film music and paved the way for numerous movie jazz scores.
During Blanche's birthday dinner she begins telling a joke which Stanley interrupts. In the play she finishes the joke, which told of an old maid who had a parrot with a lot of profanity in its vocabulary. The only way to silence the parrot was to cover its cage with a cloth so it would think it was night time and go to sleep. One morning the pastor comes to visit the woman right after she uncovered his cage, so she had to immediately cover it again. The pastor came inside and heard the parrot say, 'G**damn, that was a short day!'
Mickey Kuhn plays the young sailor who helps Vivien Leigh onto the streetcar at the beginning of this film. He had previously appeared with her in Gone with the Wind (1939) as Beau Wilkes (the child of Olivia de Havilland's character Melanie) toward the end of that film when the character was age 5. When Mickey Kuhn mentioned this to someone else on the set of "A Streetcar Named Desire", word got back to her, and Miss Leigh called him into her dressing room for a half-hour chat. In an interview in his seventies, Kuhn stated that Leigh was extremely kind to him and "one of the loveliest ladies he had ever met."
The Production Code censors demanded 68 script changes from the Broadway staging, while the interference of the Catholic Legion of Decency led to even further cuts, most of them having to do with references to homosexuality and rape. In his memoirs, Tennessee Williams wrote that he liked the film but felt it was "slightly marred by the Hollywood ending".
After Blanche first arrives at the Kowalskis' she and Stella have an argument in which Blanche says "Where were you. In there with your Polack!" In the play her line was, "In bed with your Polack!" In the movie Blanche says she has had "many meetings with strangers!" In the play it was, "many intimacies with strangers!"
Vivien Leigh initially felt completely at sea when she joined the tight New York cast in rehearsals. Director Elia Kazan was able to exploit her feelings of alienation and disorientation to enrich her performance.
By the time the film was made, the Desire streetcar line had been converted to buses, but streetcars were still used in other parts of the city. The authorities were able to lend the production a car with the Desire destination sign for the opening sequences of Blanche's arrival in the city.
Elia Kazan originally resisted the idea of directing the film adaptation as he felt that he had achieved everything he wanted with the stage version. It was only after Tennessee Williams implored him to take on the assignment that Kazan signed on.
Due to the highly contentious subject matter, no major studio would dare touch the property. 20th Century Fox head Darryl F. Zanuck expressed an interest but had to relinquish the idea when his boss point blank refused to allow it to happen.
Vivien Leigh replaced Jessica Tandy as Blanche. This was actually the second time the two of them had shared a role. Leigh previously played Ophelia opposite her husband and director Laurence Olivier as Hamlet. Tandy played Ophelia in actor/director John Gielgud's production of Hamlet.
The varsovienne / varsouvienne / varsoviana, named for Warsaw (Poland) where it originated about 1850, is a slow, graceful dance in 3/4 time with an accented downbeat in alternate measures. It combines elements of the waltz, mazurka, and polka. The dance was popular in 19th-century America, where it was danced to the tune "Put Your Little Foot".
Della Robbia blue is a color used in the Italian Majolica bas reliefs of Luca Della Robbia (1400-1482), whose famous gates of the Sacristy of the Cathedral were said by Michelangelo to be worthy of being the Gates of Heaven.
Independent producer Charles Feldman bought the screen rights to Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize-winning play. He took it to Darryl F. Zanuck, head of 20th Century Fox, about making it but Zanuck point-blank refused, knowing that the censors would strip all the meaning out of the play.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
The script follows the Tennessee Williams play closely with several small changes. However, there are three notably large alterations of the original plot. The first is the exclusion of Blanche's late young husband's homosexuality, which is referred to explicitly in the play, but only obliquely referred to in the movie. In the play, Blanche caught him in bed with another man and she screamed at him, calling him weak, and he killed himself; she blames herself for not understanding his feelings and for his resulting suicide. In the movie, the fact that her husband committed suicide is masked with a line from Blanche that says that "she killed him herself" by leading him to suicide. The second large difference is the rape scene. It is not explicitly shown/described in the play, but it is more obviously alluded to than in the movie. Two of Stanley's key lines in the scene were omitted from the theatrical release: "Tiger, tiger, drop that bottle top," which has since been added back to the movie, and "We've had this date with each other since the beginning!", after which Stanley grabs Blanche and hauls her off to the bed. Both of these changes were made for censorship reasons, but they've changed the story in some basic ways and led to some confusion, especially about the rape scene, which is key to understanding Stanley's final breaking of Blanche. The last change from the play is the ending. In the play, Stella stays with Stanley at the end: "He kneels beside her and his fingers find the opening of her blouse." The reason she left him in the film was that the punishment of the rapist was demanded by the Hollywood moral code.