Because of years of alcoholism and prescription drug abuse, Montgomery Clift was considered uninsurable due to chronic ill health. Ordinarily that would have meant he would have been fired and replaced, but his good friend Elizabeth Taylor saved his job by insisting she would not do the film without him.
According to Mercedes McCambridge, she would ride to the London set of this film in the same car as Montgomery Clift. Clift always insisted that the driver stop by Wormwood Scrubs prison, so that Clift could scream out the car window at the convicts behind bars.
Screenwriter Gore Vidal credits film critic Bosley Crowther with the success of this film. Crowther wrote a scathing review denouncing the film as the work of degenerates obsessed with rape, incest, homosexuality, and cannibalism among other qualities. Vidal believes advertising such salacious detail made audiences flock in droves to the film.
According to author Garson Kanin in his memoir "Tracy and Hepburn", Katharine Hepburn was reportedly so furious at the way Montgomery Clift was treated by Sam Spiegel and Joseph L. Mankiewicz during the filming that, after making sure that she would not be needed for retakes, she told both men off and actually spat at them (although it remains unclear just which one of the two she spat at, or if she spat at both.)
In Catherine's climactic monologue, Elizabeth Taylor (who had recently been widowed) used the emotions of her husband's death in order to create the acclaimed performance. However, she was only able to do one take as she could not stop crying after completing the first.
Patricia Neal played the lead role to so much acclaim on the London stage she was sure she would be given the part in the film adaptation, even without her agent promoting her the job. She then woke up in shock to find Elizabeth Taylor had been assigned the role.
Peter O'Toole did a disastrous screen test. In fact it went so badly, when O'Toole was in the running for the lead in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), producer Sam Spiegel (who had produced "Suddenly..." and was producing "Lawrence...") didn't want anything to do with O'Toole again.
The allusion to Herman Melville and the Galapagos islands refers to the "The Encantadas or Enchanted Isles", a series of "sketches," or short prose works, about the Galapagos Islands written primarily from Melville's own experience sailing around the islands.
This film was an adaptation of a one-act play by Tennessee Williams that was originally performed Off-Broadway on a double bill with another one-act play by Tennessee Williams, "Something Unspoken". The double bill was presented under the title of "Garden District" and opened on January 7, 1958 at the York Playhouse in New York. The original stage production of "Suddenly, Last Summer" starred Anne Meacham as Catherine, Hortense Alden as Mrs. Venable, and Alan Mixon as George Holly. This same double bill of one-act plays was presented on Broadway, again under the title "Garden District", in 1995. This production starred Elizabeth Ashley as Mrs. Venable, Jordan Baker as Catherine and Mitchell Lichtenstein as George Holly. This version opened Oct 10, 1995 at the Circle in the Square Theater and ran for 31 performances.