The scene in which Georgia drives off into the rainy night after discovering that Shields has been cheating on her was so complicated it took weeks after she had finished the rest of her scenes before she got to film it. Vincente Minnelli put the car's interior on a turntable, then choreographed the cameras moves in and out as the turntable shifted position. He then instructed Lana Turner to build her emotions to hysteria throughout the complicated take. It took a day to get all the angles Minnelli wanted, by which time Turner truly was hysterical. The scene was one of the most memorable in The Bad and the Beautiful.
The character of Shields is regarded as a mixture of producer David O. Selznick, Orson Welles and producer Val Lewton. Georgia, the alcoholic daughter of an iconic actor, is very clearly based on Diana Barrymore. Bartlow, the college professor turned best-selling author turned screenwriter, is thought to be based on Paul Green, a UNC professor who followed a similar career track. Gilbert Roland's appearance as "Gaucho" is seen as a self-parody; the Mexican-born actor, once a star in silent dramas, had just appeared as "The Cisco Kid" in a string of "B" westerns.
At 9 minutes and 32 seconds, Gloria Grahame's performance in this movie became the shortest to ever win an Oscar. She held the record until 1976, when Beatrice Straight won for her 5 minute performance in Network (1976).
To somewhat soften the depiction of Shields, Vincente Minnelli cut a scene in which he accepts the Best Picture Oscar® for the film whose idea he had stolen from his best friend. In the scene, Shields devotes most of his speech to his late father, then makes only a brief mention of his friend at the end.
Stories about the film's basis in fact were so strong that independent producer David O. Selznick asked one of his lawyers to view the film and let him know if it contained anything libellous about him. Despite the parallels between Selznick's life and that of the father-obsessed independent producer played by Douglas, the lawyer determined that there were no grounds for a lawsuit.
Realizing the film's shooting title, Tribute to a Bad Man, could lead audiences to expect a Western, John Houseman put out a call for new title suggestions. MGM Vice President in Charge of Publicity Howard Deitz quickly sent back The Bad and the Beautiful, an acknowledged bow to F. Scott Fitzgerald's story "The Beautiful and the Damned." Houseman and Schnee did not like that title which sounded like a cheap paperback novel, but MGM production head Dore Schary overruled them.
Leo G. Carroll's brief appearance as a "demanding" director is a thinly veiled reference to Alfred Hitchcock. When he first came to Hollywood, Hitchcock was under contract to producer David O. Selznick for years. Carroll had roles in many Hitchcock films of this era.
The photograph of Kirk Douglas' detested studio-head father, which Barry Sullivan straightens on the wall in this MGM film, looks exactly like Jack L. Warner, the head of Warner Bros.--MGM's competitor.
In conferences with Kirk Douglas, Vincente Minnelli suggested he downplay his character's explosive side and focus on charm instead. Douglas agreed, but throughout shooting whenever he finished a scene, he would say, "I was very charming in that scene, wasn't I?" After filming was completed, Douglas sent Minnelli a note complimenting him for "[getting] out of me a much more quiet quality than I have ever been able to get in any picture" (Douglas quoted in "Minnelli, I Remember It Well").
Kirk Douglas stands no more than 5'9" and wears super-high lifts that almost distort his walking. If you look closely at him in long shots you can spot the lifts (it's really apparent in Seven Days in May (1964)).
Although preview audiences were generally positive about the film, many felt it was too long, prompting MGM to cut almost 12 minutes, including shots of Shields in Paris as he phones to ask his former friends to work on his next film and a scene in which Georgia and James meet for the first time.
Given that the character of Jonathan Shields seems clearly based on David O. Selznick, there is a certain comic irony in the film, in that Shields's greatest flop, which destroys his career in Hollywood, is a costly Civil War epic. Selznick, of course, had his biggest-ever success with "Gone With The Wind".
The working title, "Tribute to a Bad Man", was later used as the title of an unrelated MGM feature (Tribute to a Bad Man (1956)). One reason for the title change was to add "beautiful", in consideration of the top-billed Lana Turner.
Ned Glass, who plays the wardrobe man in the cat costume scene, was an active member of the Living Newspaper unit of the Federal Theater project on Broadway during the Depression, an organization accused of being "leftist" and "pro-communist" by many on the political right. When Glass was blacklisted during the Joseph McCarthy "Red scare" era, he became a carpenter.
Vincente Minnelli was so impressed by Ned Glass' performance as the wardrobe man, he kept expanding his role. After two days of shooting, he still needed a close-up of Glass, but the next day the actor did not show up. Having failed to do a thorough background check before shooting started, MGM had hired Glass without realizing he had been blacklisted. The night before his final shot, studio security had called to inform him he would not be allowed on the lot. After a hasty conference with studio executives, MGM decided they would rather ignore the blacklist than pay the $20,000 to $30,000 it would require to re-shoot the key scene.
Concerned about Lana Turner's insecurities and talk of her limited acting abilities, Vincente Minnelli got her through her first scene by telling her that every retake was the result of somebody else's problem. Through gentle coaching he got a strong performance out of her while also keeping her confidence intact.
Vincente Minnelli wanted the music for the long, silent scene in which Georgia runs from her dressing room through a deserted sound stage, composed before shooting. That way he could match his blocking and camera movements to the score.
All of the scenes set at Jonathan Shields' studio were shot on the MGM lot, using the studio's actual facilities. In addition to studio sets, the film would also feature location shots of the Beverly Hills Hotel and of Lake Arrowhead.
Composer David Raksin had scored a huge hit with the theme song for Laura (1944) but resented the fact that the lyricist received an equal share of the profits. As a result, he insisted that the love theme from this film be released strictly as an instrumental. It became a hit, but not at the same high level of his theme for the earlier film.