The film was originally going to be produced by Gilbert Miller, and would be based on Anita Loos's 1954 non-musical stage adaptation. However, producer Arthur Freed had developed an interest in Colette's story in 1953. It took Freed $125,000 to get the rights from Colette's widower, and $87,000 to get the rights from Anita Loos (both had held on to the rights and the film could not be made without them).
The cat in the movie reacted violently whenever it was in a scene with Leslie Caron, but director Vincente Minnelli insisted on having that particular cat, so it had to be heavily drugged. This is especially obvious during "Say a Prayer for Me Tonight".
When Alan Jay Lerner met Leslie Caron in London to discuss the film with her, he was surprised to discover that Caron, who was of French birth, had become so immersed in the English culture that she had lost her French accent.
By mid-July 1957, the songwriters had still not come up with the title song. One evening, Frederick Loewe was at a piano while Alan Jay Lerner was indisposed in the bathroom, and when Loewe began playing a particular melody, he later recalled Lerner jumped up, "his trousers still clinging to his ankles, and made his way to the living room. 'Play that again,' he said." That melody ended up as the film's title song.
From 1954-56, Arthur Freed had to battle the Hays Code in order to bring Colette's tale of a courtesan-in-training to the cinema. He eventually convinced the film industry's Code Office to view the story as condemning rather than glorifying a system of mistresses.
Several characters in Beauty and the Beast (1991) are an homage to characters in Gigi: Lumiere is a tribute to Maurice Chevalier, perfectly impersonated by Jerry Orbach. The main male protagonist's name is Gaston, with a similar air of confidence as Gaston from Gigi. When Gigi rebuffs him, it is similar to when Belle rebuffs Gaston and both sing a self righteous song of indignation. Gaston of B&B is not redeemed in the end however unlike Gigi's Gaston. Beauty and the Beast is itself a take on the classic french novel La Belle et la Bete. Though not the same source material, both being french themed, B&B pays homage to great French actors and themes past in Gigi. Watching Gigi will lead to a greater appreciation of Beauty and the Beast.
Cecil Beaton had to supply over 150 period costumes for the scene in the Bois, and 20 ornate gowns for the scene in Maxims. Beaton had difficulty procuring such a large amount of costumes in Paris but when the production moved to Hollywood, he found warehouses stuffed to bursting with period furniture and costumes.
The song "Say A Prayer for Me Tonight" was meant to be sung by the British Eliza Doolittle in "My Fair Lady." This can be seen in the verse: "Onto your Waterloo, whispers my heart / Pray I'll be Wellington, not Bonaparte." Being sung by a French girl, this is considered an arguably strange sentiment to express. However, the French lost at Waterloo, and Gigi is hoping to win this "epic battle," so to speak.
The Broadway production of the stage play "Gigi" by Anita Loos opened at the Fulton Theater on November 24, 1951, ran for 219 performances and closed on May 31, 1952. The title role was portrayed by then unknown Audrey Hepburn who won the 1952 Theatre World Award for her performance.
Gaston's walk through Paris while singing "Gigi" uses camera magic to make parts of Paris which are miles apart seem adjacent to each other. This technique, called "creative geography", was created and named by French filmmaker Jean Cocteau.
The songs "She is Not Thinking of Me" and "I Remember It Well" were filmed by an uncredited Charles Walters, as Vincente Minnelli was overseas working on a new project. The first song had originally been shot in Maxim's, but Alan Jay Lerner was unhappy with the way it turned out and at great expense a Maxim's set was recreated on a soundstage and reshot.
According to Vincente Minnelli, when shooting in the French restaurant Maxim's the film crew the restaurant's famous mirrored walls to be covered up because they would reflect the equipment, but Minnelli contended that they had to be seen (and uncovered) as they were the hallmark of Maxim's. Eventually cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg resolved the matter satisfactorily, by putting suction cups on photo flood lights.
When the film was originally completed, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe were unsatisfied at first; Lerner felt it had slow action and was twenty minutes too long. He proposed changes that would cost Arthur Freed an additional $300,000, which Arthur Freed was dead against spending. The songwriting team offered to buy 10% of the film for $300000, and then offered $3 million for the print. Impressed with their faith in the film, MGM executives agreed to the changes, which included eleven days of considerable reshooting and put the project $400,000 over budget. However, the test screenings of the film changed from favourable (before the change) to affectionate (after the change), and Lerner felt the film was finally complete.
Leslie Caron said of her female co-stars, "Hermione Gingold was nothing like her stern character in the film. "Irreverent, naughty, and fun, she had a great appetite for life, like a cat lapping up a bowl of milk. Isabel Jeans was sweet and very disciplined. She never undid her corset at lunchtime like we all did, and she kept the straight back of a real pro from morning to night."
Alan Jay Lerner's usual collaborator, Frederick Loewe, hated working for Hollywood and had vowed not to work on another movie. However, he was sufficiently charmed by the original novel to renege on that promise, albeit under the condition that it be made in France.
Leslie Caron enjoyed working with Louis Jourdan, though he could sometimes be a challenge. She recalled, "Louis Jourdan, one of the handsomest men in Hollywood, was not comfortable with his image, yet his wit and self-deprecating humour were rare and unique.... "He tended to express his angst with constant negative comments about Minnelli's staging, but instead of having it out with Vincente, he poured his grudges out on me. I was quite exhausted to hear, every time the camera stopped, his litany of grievances."
When the stage production of 'My Fair Lady' was trying out in Philadelphia, producer Arthur Freed tackled songwriter Alan Jay Lerner about doing a film musical for him. Lerner had a pre-existing contract with MGM and owed Freed another musical. After reading Colette's novel, he knew he had found the right material to fulfill that contract.
As he often did with his films, Vincente Minnelli looked toward the art world for inspiration on how each scene should look. He found inspiration in the work of French caricaturist Sem, whose sketches had been admired by Colette herself when she was writing the original characters in Gigi. For the opening sequence in the Bois du Boulogne he looked to the work of artist Constantin Guys. Boudin's work served as the inspiration for the beach sequences in Gigi. In addition, Minnelli also threw in some Art Nouveau to represent the character of Honoré Lachailles. Minelli recalled, "Our reasoning for using the influence in the settings was to show how avant garde Chevalier's character would be, using the brand-new style in his bachelor digs."
The title song was Alan Jay Lerner's favorite of all his compositions. Also, in his semi-biography, "On the Street Where I Live" Lerner stated that in the song "She is Not Thinking of Me" the line "She's so ooh-la-la-la, so untrue-la-la-la" was the one line in his career that it took him the longest time to write.
Leslie Caron was dubbed by Betty Wand. According to 'Alan Jay Lerner, Caron made a point to be present at Wand's recording sessions. "She was there, she told André, to supervise the recording and to make certain that every line would be sung with her intention and her motivation," he said. Still, Caron was never pleased with Wand's interpretation. "To this day," she said, "the childish cuteness of Ms. Wand and her artificial French accent hurt my ears."
Leslie Caron's singing voice was dubbed by Betty Wand. However, original demo recordings of Caron singing "The Night They Invented Champagne" and ""Say A Prayer for Me Tonight" were retained, and have been released on CD.
In 1957, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer lost money for the first time in over three decades. When this film began to have cost overruns the studio ordered the main unit back from location shooting in Paris to complete the film on the back lot.
Samoin is an ice-skating instructor, but Jacques Bergerac couldn't skate. To deal with this unexpected twist, the crew quickly came up with a device for Bergerac to wear while he was on ice skates that would prevent him from falling. The device meant that Bergerac could only be shot from the waist up.
As the film went into post-production, Vincente Minnelli realized what a toll it had taken on him. "Gigi...so involved me that when it was over I discovered I'd lost thirty-five pounds during the filming," he said. Sadly, the production of Gigi had also seen the end of his marriage to second wife Georgette.
The film had a sneak preview in Santa Barbara. Alan Jay Lerner was not happy with what he saw. "The picture was twenty minutes too long," he said, "the action was too slow, the music too creamy and ill-defined, and there must have been at least five minutes...of people walking up and down stairs. To Fritz and me it was a very far cry from all we had hoped for, far enough for us both to be desperate." While the feedback from the sneak preview audience was generally positive, Lerner felt strongly that many improvements could be made with the film. They felt at the very least that some re-writing would be necessary and the "I Remember It Well" number would have to be completely re-done. This lead to reshoots.
With only four letters in its title, this movie set the record for the shortest title of any film to win the Oscar for Best Picture. This record was tied by Argo (2012). The Best Picture winner with the longest title is The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) (10 words and 35 letters).
Leslie Caron described filming inside Maxim's as a "nightmare." Vincente Minnelli was given only a few days to get the important shots he needed inside Paris' most famous restaurant. It was a beautiful but tight space, and it had the added challenge of its signature mirrors along the walls, which could easily reflect the cameras and lights if the crew wasn't careful. Caron recalled, "From the sidewalk entrance to the dining area, the space was crowded like an anthill full of technicians trying to set up the lamps, the black flags, the cables and sound equipment-a constant flow of ladies in evening dresses with hats bigger than the waiters' trays, makeup artists wiping the sweat off the gentlemen's brows, the blaring playback music drowning all else, adding to the confusion."
While most of the shoot went smoothly, there were a few difficulties, beginning with the trouble associated with shooting on location. According to Leslie Caron, "The hazards of weather, traffic, sound pollution, and television antennas, added to the difficulty of obtaining police permits, were nearly insurmountable...the scenes in the Bois de Boulogne were hellishly difficult to film; there was so much traffic - carriages, promenading crowds, everything coming and going in complex motion. We had to repeat the shots many, many times."
Leslie Caron said of Maurice Chevalier, "His attitude seemed to be, 'You know me on the screen, but you don't really know me at all,'". One crew member added, "He was grumpy. He made his demands - whether for a chair in the shade, a sandwich, or a glass of water - imperiously. He never acknowledged the existence of the crew." others on the set found Chevalier to be a charming man who was conscientious, worked hard and took his role very seriously. "Maurice was the infinite professional: always punctual, always courteous, always frank, always encouraging, always working header than everyone else," said Alan Jay Lerner.
In the summer of 1957 the cast and crew gathered in Paris to begin principal photography. The launch party was held at one of Paris' most famous restaurants, Maxim's, where Vincente Minnelli would later shoot some of the film's most memorable scenes.
Adding to its record of winning every Oscar it was nominated for, Gigi holds the record for the movie with the fewest letters in the title to win the Best Picture Academy Award. It shares with Argo the fewest total letters in the title, but is alone in fewest different letters (2) used.