Humphrey Bogart was a last minute replacement for Cary Grant (supposedly, Grant rejected the part because he did not want to carry an umbrella onscreen). Bogart and William Holden couldn't stand each other. Bogart disapproved of Audrey Hepburn (he wanted his wife Lauren Bacall in the role), while Holden fell in love with her. Bogart got $300000, Holden got $150000, and Hepburn only $15000. Asked how he liked working with Hepburn, Bogart replied: "It's OK, if you don't mind to make a dozen takes."
This was the second film in a row where Audrey Hepburn gets her hair cut as a symbol of maturity. The first was in Roman Holiday (1953). It is also the first of four films in a row where she'd play a character romantically linked with a man old enough to be her father.
Although Hubert de Givenchy provided Audrey Hepburn's wardrobe, Edith Head won an Oscar for Best Costumes, as Givenchy is uncredited. Head, as the film's official costume designer, was given credit for the costumes, although the Academy's votes were obviously for Hepburn's attire. Head did not refuse the Oscar. In a 1974 interview, Head stated that she was responsible for creating the dresses, with inspiration from some Givenchy designs that Hepburn liked, but that she made important changes, and the dresses were not by Givenchy. After Head's death, Givenchy stated that Sabrina's iconic black cocktail dress was produced at Paramount under Head's supervision, but claimed it was his design.
Like Sunset Blvd. (1950), this film started production without a finished script. Ernest Lehman worked himself to exhaustion working on the script with Billy Wilder during production. One day, when Lehman did not have an extra copy of a scene rewrite to give to Humphrey Bogart, Bogart exploded. Wilder told his crew they would not film another foot of film until Bogart apologized to Lehman. Bogart invited Lehman to his dressing room and shooting eventually continued.
Ernest Lehman, whom Paramount borrowed from M-G-M, worked frantically to complete the script during filming and eventually suffered a nervous breakdown. One scene was written during a lunch break and shot that afternoon in seventy-two takes.
Humphrey Bogart was very unhappy during the filming, convinced that he was totally wrong for this kind of film, mad at not being Billy Wilder's first choice, and not liking William Holden or Wilder. But Wilder's offbeat casting produced a performance that critics generally considered successful. Bogart later apologized to Wilder for his behavior on-set, citing problems in his personal life.
The location used to portray the Larrabee family's mansion in Glen Cove, New York, was 'Hill Grove', the home of George Lewis in Beverly Hills, California. This mansion was later demolished during the 1960s.
Audrey Hepburn originally wanted famed couterier Cristbal Balenciaga to design her costumes, but he turned her down. She then asked Hubert de Givenchy, Balenciaga's lesser known proteg. (One modern source claims that Billy Wilder's wife Audrey discovered Givenchy during a Paris shopping spree and brought him to her husband's attention.)
The original title of "Sabrina Fair" was reinstated in the UK due to well known TV personality, Sabrina (real name Norma Sykes) who became an icon simply by appearing on The Arthur Askey Show (1961). Askey, at little over 5 feet tall got huge laughs just by standing next to the statuesque Sabrina, whose substantial bosom became her trade mark, never spoke any lines. The film distributors thought the momentary stardom of the Rubenesque Sabrina in the UK would mislead British audiences.
Paramount paid $75,000 for the rights to Samuel A. Taylor's play, prior to its first production. Paramount had bought the rights with the proviso that the film would not be released until the play had run for one year.
Some modern sources contend that Audrey Hepburn, whose previous film was Paramount's hit Roman Holiday (1953), had read Samuel A. Taylor's play before Paramount's involvement and convinced the studio to buy it for her. Other modern sources state that Billy Wilder found the play and suggested that the studio, to whom he was under contract, buy it as a vehicle for Hepburn.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
The scene in which David forces Linus to reveal his love for Sabrina had to be shot before Wilder and Lehman had decided whether Linus would end up with Sabrina, because William Holden had to leave for another role.