Delbert Mann had no idea who to cast in the lead role, so asked his friend Robert Aldrich. Aldrich immediately suggested Ernest Borgnine. Mann was skeptical, as Borgnine was only known for playing heavies, but Aldrich convinced him. Borgnine regularly says that he owes his career to Robert Aldrich.
Betsy Blair, who portrayed Clara, was almost not permitted to do the film by Hecht-Lancaster Productions and United Artists due to the 1950s Hollywood Blacklist. However, Gene Kelly, her husband at the time, basically blackmailed United Artists and Hecht-Lancaster into casting her, at the last minute, by threatening not to direct or star in any of UA's or Hecht Lancaster's productions if she was not cast for the role.
The first American film to win the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. However it was not the first American film to win the Cannes Film Festival's award for the festival's best picture. Since its inception, the film festival called its highest prize the "Grand Prix du Festival International du Film." However, following the 1954 ceremony, the festival's board of directors voted to change the award's name and design to a golden palm, the Palme d'Or. Previous American-produced films had won the festival's highest honor, but this film was the first American film, and indeed the first film ever, to win the newly conceived Palme d'Or at the 1955 festival.
Rod Steiger, who had originated the role of Marty in the eponymous TV production, said that he turned down the role in the movie because the Hecht-Lancaster Productions contract would have bound him for years. Harold Hecht and Burt Lancaster, on the other hand, said that they did not want to cast Steiger as they felt the public would not go for the same actor that they had seen for free on TV.
The most prominent uncredited role was Ralph, portrayed by Frank Sutton, who was later famous for his role of Sgt. Vince Carter on Gomer Pyle: USMC (1964), a military themed comedy, which was a ratings competitor, from 1964 to 1966, to the military themed comedy which Ernest Borgnine starred on, McHale's Navy (1962).
Paddy Chayefsky wrote the play (which originally appeared on television) as a starring vehicle for his friend, actor/director Martin Ritt, even naming the lead character after him. But Ritt had been blacklisted during the McCarthy "Red Scare" era and the network wouldn't allow him to be hired, and the role eventually went to Rod Steiger.
The street scene behind the opening credits is Arthur Avenue at 187th Street in The Bronx, in front of the City of New York's old Arthur Avenue Retail Market under a billboard sign for Knickerbocker Beer, an actual New York City brand, brewed by the Ruppert Brewing Company, the family business of Colonel Jacob Ruppert, owner of the New York Yankees from 1915 to 1939, also known as the Bronx Bombers, which is where the film is set.
Washington lawyer Edward Bennett Williams was offered a 10% ownership in the movie in lieu of a fee for legal work he had done. He turned down the stake and took his fee, thus losing a considerable amount of money.
Film historians have credited this film with demonstrating the viability of low budget, independently-produced films in the United States and with the proliferation of such films. Studio executives were well aware that low budget, independent, and realistic films had been successful in Europe for many years, but most studios were skeptical that such successes would occur in the United States. Marty's profitable returns and critical acclaim demonstrated that low budget productions with lesser-known casts could be remunerative in the United States and could compete with European art-house productions on an artistic level. The film cemented United Artists' reputation as a haven for daring, independent producers, and inspired rival studios such as MGM and 20th Century Fox to delve into a similar brand of film-making with some of their productions.
Screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky was inspired to write the source material for this film when he stumbled across a Friday night Friendship Club Meeting at the ballroom of the Abbey Hotel in New York City. Chayefsky noticed a sign near the ballroom entrance that read "Girls, Dance With the Man Who Asks You. Remember, Men Have Feelings, Too," it gave him the idea for a play about a young woman attending a neighborhood dance like that. He said that he wanted to write a film about a man who goes to a ballroom, and that he set out to make Marty "the most ordinary love story in the world."
United Artists pushed for Harold Hecht and Burt Lancaster to cast Marlon Brando in the title role. The studio felt that Brando was a more recognizable star and would make the film more appealing to the audience. Hecht and Lancaster balked at the suggestion and pursued a lesser-known cast for the film.
Partway through production United Artists threatened to pull the plug because other Hecht-Lancaster films were over budget. According to Ernest Borgnine, the studio's accountants saved the film by pointing out that under new tax laws they had to complete Marty and show it at least once before they could write it off as a tax loss.
Paddy Chayefsky won his first of three Academy Awards for Best Screenplay with his work on this film. His three wins set a record for the most Academy Awards for a solo author. Woody Allen would later match the feat.
When reading for his part, Ernest Borgnine moved both screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky and director Delbert Mann to tears. When Borgnine had finished his read-through, both Mann and Chayefsky knew that they had found their Marty.
United Artists was willing to burn the film off as a second feature, but Paddy Chayefsky insisted it have some kind of first-run engagement, so it premiered at the Sutton Theatre in New York, normally a venue for art films. Hecht-Lancaster's New York publicity chief, Bernie Kamber, conducted a personal campaign for the film, setting up private screenings and convincing major press outlets to feature it positively. His biggest coup was getting influential columnist Walter Winchell to hail the film as one of the biggest sleepers in Hollywood history. The slow build in viewership began with strong reviews. Then the film won the Grand Prix at Cannes, generating more press and more box office. As a result, it played 39 weeks at the Sutton to mostly packed houses. For subsequent openings, United Artist scheduled two weeks of screenings in various markets for community leaders to generate positive word of mouth. The move paid off, for though the film could not compete with the major studios' big blockbusters, it made a small profit in its initial release. That was helped by its success at the Academy Awards®, which led United Artists to reissue it to 5,000 theatres.
Five students from the film division of the University of California, Los Angeles' College of Dramatic Arts were going to "attach themselves" to the production of Marty at the Goldwyn Studios and "follow progress of the picture to its windup." At the end of production, the students were scheduled to "shoot their own interpretation of a key scene, using the film's cast and crew," which would then earn them college credits toward a master's degree.
Paddy Chayefsky: The character of Leo, who appears in the back of the car when Marty is approached by his friends to make up the pair for the "odd squirrel" they have with them. According to Delbert Mann, Chayefsky (who was once a moderately renowned stage actor) was recruited for the very visually obscured part solely to save the time and money of hiring an extra. According to Chayefsky, for his three lines he was required to rejoin the actor's union, which required dues of $140. He recalled the role as paying about $67.