When Scotty mentions having attended the 1928 execution of Ruth Snyder and Judd Grey, another character asks him if he was able to get a picture of it. Scotty answers, "No, they didn't allow cameras, but one guy . . . ". He is interrupted by the Thing's approach before he can finish the sentence. Scotty is referring to Chicago Tribune photographer Tom Howard, who smuggled a miniature camera into the execution chamber strapped to his ankle and was able to take a famous photograph of Snyder's final moments in the electric chair.
Veteran stunt man Tom Steele replaced James Arness in the fire scene. Steele wore an asbestos suit with a special fiberglass helmet with an oxygen supply underneath. He used a 100% oxygen supply which was highly combustible. It was pure luck he didn't burn his lungs while breathing in the mixture.
When one character is asked if he knows how to use a Very pistol his response is, "I saw Gary Cooper in Sergeant York (1941)". He then proceeds to lick his finger and run it along the gun sight like York does throughout the film. "Sergeant York" was also directed by Howard Hawks.
According to make-up artist Lee Greenway, he took James Arness in his car to the home of producer Howard Hawks to show off the make up for the Thing. After months of frustration, Hawks told Greenway to put a Frankenstein (1931) type of headpiece on Arness.
Howard Hawks asked the US Air Force for assistance in making the film. He was refused because the top brass felt that such cooperation would compromise the U.S. government's official stance that UFOs didn't exist.
It is generally believed that Howard Hawks took over direction during production, and it has always been acknowledged by director Christian Nyby that Hawks was the guiding hand. However, in an interview James Arness said that while Hawks spent a lot of time on the set, it was Nyby who actually directed the picture, not Hawks.
Originally, it was intended to make the creature a shape-changer as in the novel, but the limited budget forced the film makers to drop the idea. Early conceptual sketches depict a very plant-like looking creature with one of its limbs seemingly undergoing a transformation into a human hand.
When producer Howard Hawks attempted to get insurance for the creature, five insurance companies turned him down because "The Thing" was to be frozen in a block of ice, hacked by axes, attacked by dogs, lit on fire, and electrocuted.
Scotty mentions being at the execution of Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray. This is a real case. The couple were tried for and convicted of the murder of Snyder's husband in 1927 and were executed in New York by the electric chair.
When they are all flying out to the crash site for the first time, they see where the craft has landed and discuss it. It touched down, skidded and then came to stop and melted through the ice. They show a long shot of the skid and where it finally stopped. If you slow motion the film or stop it, it reveals the following: At the beginning of the skid, the touchdown point, there is what looks like a guy in a hat knelt down by a machine of some sort. That could be the ice cutting machine that made the entire etching for the scene.
As opposed to that interview with James Arness, the film's star Kenneth Tobey has maintained in many interviews that it was indeed Hawks who directed the film. Tobey said that he had worked with Nyby after this film on many occasions and he was a fine director, but Hawks did call the shots on most of the film.
Charles Lederer's original script featured an inhuman-looking creature looking almost exactly like the novel's creature in its original form (blue-skinned, with three red eyes, a sucker mouth and stringy hair), but the budget resulted in a simpler-looking alien. Allegedly, test footage was shot featuring a creature with the earlier alien design, played by a one-legged man.
Although they are not credited, some well-known faces and voices appear in the movie. John Dierkes played in several John Ford / John Wayne westerns, George Fenneman was Groucho Marx's announcer and foil for many years on TV, and everyone's favorite "disembodied voice", Paul Frees, is one of the scientists (and makes it to the end of the picture).
At about 55 minutes there's a long shot of the camp with the nose of the C-47 in the foreground. You can see engine warmers attached by hoses, and emblazoned on the nose of the plane is a hula dancer and the name "Tropical Tilly," an obvious irony for an Alaska-based aircraft.
In an interview on NPR's "Fresh Air" with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, when asked about the most scared they'd ever been at the movies, Ebert indicated that this film scared him to death, especially the scene where they incinerated the "Thing".
The difference of opinion between Kenneth Tobey and James Arness as to who actually directed the film is not a surprise. Directors very often had their assistants direct the "action" sequences so that they could focus their time on the speaking roles, where most of the "important" portions of the film were centered. Assistant directors generally were assigned to get multiple takes of action sequences which the directors would then be able to see with a more objective eye.
Although it has frequently been derided by science-fiction purists for being an overly-loose adaptation of the original John W. Campbell novella, it actually hews quite closely to the first six chapters of the original story. Nearly all the borrowings from the novella that recur in the movie, including the discovery of the flying saucer through the electromagnetic anomaly it makes and its accidental destruction through the use of thermite charges, the thawing of the creature, the suggestion that it reads minds, and its death in the electrical trap, come from these first few chapters.
John Wayne was offered the lead in the TV series Gunsmoke (1955). He turned it down but recommended James Arness. The first episode of the series features an introduction by Wayne, who endorses Arness. Ironically, Arness had been wounded while fighting in the US Army during World War II--hit by machine-gun fire during the landings at Anzio--and had a limp; he found it difficult to film long scenes in the saddle.