The original stage play "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" by Tennessee Williams premiered at the Morosco Theater in New York on March 24, 1955 and ran for 694 performances. It was nominated for the 1956 Tony Award (New York City) for the Best Play. Elia Kazan directed the production, and amongst the replacement cast members during its long run was Jack Lord as "Brick".
This film was originally to be filmed in black and white, as was the standard practice with "artistic" films in the 1950s. (Virtually all film adaptations of the plays of Tennessee Williams had been in B&W up to that time.) However, once Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor were cast in the leads, director Richard Brooks insisted on shooting in color, in deference to the public's well known enthusiasm for Taylor's violet and Newman's strikingly blue eyes.
When Paul Newman agreed to play the role of Brick, he was under the impression the film would simply adapt the original script into a screenplay. When the screenplay deviated wildly from the stage text over Tennessee Williams' objections, Newman expressed his disappointment.
Due to a musicians union strike, the movie lacks a traditional musical score composed especially for the picture. Instead, a "canned" score, comprised of pre-recorded pieces from the MGM music library, is used. Most of this music, including the evocative main theme, was originally composed by André Previn for MGM's Tension (1949).
Tennessee Williams wrote the role of Big Daddy with Burl Ives in mind. Prior to the original stage production, Ives was known primarily as a folk singer, and many within the theatre community questioned Williams' decision. Ives won rave reviews in the role on both stage and screen, and went on to a long and prestigious acting career.
Newman, at one point, takes up Elizabeth Taylor's nightgown and buries his face in it, to demonstrate his heterosexuality, although the movie implies strongly that his friend Skipper is Newman's true love. During rehearsals, as a gag, Newman tore off his pajama jacket and stepped into the nightgown, howling, "Skipper, Skipper!"
Although Elia Kazan directed "Cat" on Broadway, he was not involved in the film, despite having two cinematic successes with Tennessee Williams work A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and Baby Doll (1956). Kazan had had trouble with Williams, demanding that he rewrite the third act of the play to bring Big Daddy back on stage. He also was tired of having critics call him a "co-author" of Williams work, which he knew he was not. He would eventually direct one more Williams play on Broadway, Sweet Bird of Youth (1962), but that film also would be directed by Richard Brooks.
Eventually Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor and Burl Ives turned in comic characters in the same universe: Newman was used as the visual inspiration for superhero Hal Jordan/Green Lantern, Taylor was Carol Ferris/Star Sapphire (Jordan's love interest and occasionally enemy as her alter ego) and Ives was Hector Hammond, one of the most important Jordan's foes.