Anna May Wong was producer Ross Hunter's original choice for Madame Liang, and Wong wanted to do the film. Her sudden death at the age of 56, just before filming was scheduled to begin, resulted in the part being given to Juanita Hall, who had created the role on Broadway.
This was the only film version of a Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II musical not released by 20th Century-Fox. (The 70mm Todd-AO version of Oklahoma! (1955) had been released by RKO, but the 35mm Cinemascope version was released by 20th Century-Fox.) Flower Drum Song (1961) was produced and released by Universal-International.
During the brief scene where Sammy Fong and Mei Lei sit in a beatnik coffee shop, on stage someone reads the poem "Like a God". This was originally a song in the stage production sung by Wang Ta to Mei Lei, but was cut out of the screenplay.
Lyric of song "Chop Suey" was changed from stage play's "Harry Truman, Truman Capote and Dewey" to "Bobby Darin, Sandra Dee and Dewey." Change was possibly made because by time film was made Truman administration was a decade in the past, but, just as likely, because producer Ross Hunter had Sandra Dee and Bobby Darin under contract and they were "hotter", more recognizable names. (Dated reference to 1944 presidential candidate Thomas Dewey presumably stuck because there simply weren't many other unused words that rhymed with "Suey".)
The original Broadway production of "Flower Drum Song" opened at the Saint James Theater on December 1, 1958, ran for 600 performances and was nominated for the 1959 Tony Award (New York City) for the Best Musical. Miyoshi Umeki and Juanita Hall reprise their stage roles in the movie. Jack Soo was in the original stage production in a different role.
The original Broadway cast album of "Flower Drum Song", issued in early 1959, was the first Broadway cast album of a Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II show to be issued in stereo. (The stereo versions of the film soundtracks of "Oklahoma!", "Carousel", "The King and I", and "South Pacific", were all issued in 1958.)
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
The character of Helen (Reiko Sato)is not given a resolution to her storyline in the film. In the original novel she commits suicide, but Rodgers and Hammerstein felt the ending was too depressing for such a strong character.