For the intermission of the premiere engagement at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, the filmmakers recorded messages supposedly sent over police radios describing what was happening to various characters. These messages were played not only in the auditorium during the intermission, but out at the concession stand and even in the bathrooms.
It became well known that Stanley Kramer was casting nearly every comedy performer he could think of. Some famous stars actually contacted Kramer to volunteer for the project, or to inquire as to why they had not been contacted.
When Jonathan Winters backed the truck into the water tower, it actually fell too soon, before the truck actually hit it. To compensate, special effects split the screen and slowed down the side with the water tower so that the fall would coincide with the hit.
Don Rickles reportedly wanted to be in the movie but was never asked. He never let Stanley Kramer live it down, either, even heckling him about it from the stage whenever Kramer came to see Rickles' show.
When the cast first assembled for a meeting with director Stanley Kramer, they were shown the stunts and second unit footage that had already been shot. Buddy Hackett was so impressed that he went to Kramer and asked, "What do you need US for?"
Edie Adams almost didn't accept the role of Monica, because her husband Ernie Kovacs had been killed in an auto accident a few months earlier. However, she did accept because Kovacs had died deeply in debt and she had vowed to pay off all of her husband's creditors (a pledge she was able to fulfill by accepting this and all other roles she was offered after his death.)
The billboard that the twin-engine Beechcraft flies through was made of thin balsa wood, except for a thicker frame for support. Stunt pilot Frank Tallman had to fly the aircraft directly through the center of the billboard or the thicker frame would shear off a wing. The billboard was located in Irvine, at what is now the intersection of Interstate 405 and Hwy. 133 (Laguna Canyon), near Lion Country Safari, just east of John Wayne Airport. They had practiced with paper signs, but used balsa wood for the actual movie stunt. The wood stopped one engine and the other was sputtering enough that the plane barely made it back to John Wayne Airport.
In the opening title animation, when the figure blows up the world and the actors' names scatter on the screen, there is a very brief moment--only three frames, in fact--when the letters form the names of the animators, including Bill Melendez, Bernie Gruver [ Bernard Gruver ], and other animators.
In the scene where Pike is attacking Meyer at Irwin and Ray's Garage, Jonathan Winters actually injured Phil Silvers at least twice, visibly seen due to Phil Silvers's reactions to getting hit. Once when Pike rams the back of Meyer's head into a gas pump a little too hard, and again at least once during when he is hitting Meyer with a pair of spare tires.
During filming of the infamous "gas station" destruction, Jonathan Winters was accidentally left on stage and completely bound in thick tape. Hours later, when the cast returned from lunch, they found that he had not even been able to free his arms from the chair. In retaliation, Winters gave a three-hour lecture to Arnold Stang and Marvin Kaplan on forced potty training.
Most of the desert "chase" scenes were filmed near what is now Palm Desert, CA. If you look closely, you will see a road sign for Hwy. 74, which runs south from the heart of the city of Palm Desert. The vast open spaces are now largely residential country clubs with golf courses. The chase scenes that are not in the desert were mostly filmed along Hwy. 101 between Woodland Hills and Agoura Hills, with a few scenes in Malibu and Port Hueneme. The former Mobile gas station where Don Knotts loses his car is now Wood Ranch Grill in Agoura Hills. The red Dodge and the blue Chevy overturn into a creek at Agoura Road and Vejar Drive, in Agoura Hills.
The famously stone-faced Buster Keaton was originally set to play "Smiler Grogan." When the part was re-assigned to Jimmy Durante, Keaton was given another role as "Jimmy", a former smuggler who Captain Culpepper forces to help him in his plan to run away with the money.
The statue of Abraham Lincoln that the cab driver lands in the arms of was made entirely out of foam rubber. It was on outdoor display as part of the Universal Studios tour until it deteriorated from the weather late in 1966.
Arnold Stang said in an interview that Stanley Kramer offered to replace him in the cast, since his arm was broken, with full pay. Arnold said that he told Kramer that he would have taken the role even if he had lost his arm.
Arnold Stang broke his left forearm just days before his scenes were shot. In all shots, he wears garage workman's gloves on both hands and his left arm is always crooked, and held in place by a cast concealed under his garage uniform.
The roles of Melville and Monica Crump were originally larger roles written for Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. When production of The Judy Garland Show (1963) ran into trouble, Garland had to turn down the part. Rooney eventually got the role of Ding "Dingy" Bell. Edie Adams, who was originally cast as Emeline, got the role of Monica. Ernie Kovacs was cast as Melville, but was killed in a car crash before shooting began. Sid Caesar replaced him.
In guitar legend Jeff Beck's 1999 album "Who Else?". the first track is titled "What Mama Said". There is a repeated sound sample of Dick Shawn (as Sylvester) saying "Y'all hear what Mama said?". This line is from the scene where the men are all digging up the money under "The Big W". Beck did this as an homage to this film, as it is one of his favorite movies due in much part to its many crazy car stunts.
Spencer Tracy worked on the film for a total of nine days. Aware of Tracy's poor health, director Stanley Kramer only allowed him to work for three to four hours a day and did not let him appear in any of the desert exterior scenes. A stunt double was used in a few action scenes, including the chase scene where he runs up the building stairs.
Stanley Kramer asked Buster Keaton to perform one of his signature bits, moving two steps forward then one back before racing away from whatever was threatening him. Even in his 60s the comedian was as spry as he had been in his prime.
On 17 November 1963, the day before the movie opened for the public in New York, there was a much-publicized gala charity premiere benefit at the Cinerama Theater for the Kennedy Child Study Center in New York and the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Institute of Washington. In addition to the stars in attendance, most of President Kennedy's family was there, including his mother, sisters, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, and brothers Robert F. Kennedy and Ted Kennedy. John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas five days later.
The Rancho Conejo Airport, where Dingy and Benjy land, was a real airport by that name that was open in Newbury Park, a part of Thousand Oaks, from 1960-65. In 2013 the property was covered by a gated community named Rancho Conejo Village. It is just north of the 101 freeway at the Ventura Park exit. The Rancho Conejo Airport never had a tower. The one in the movie was built just for the movie.
In addition to Cinerama showings, the film was also released in a 35mm version for regular movie theaters. The 35mm version was actually shorter than the 70mm Cinerama version, which included a prelude, an intermission and special news inserts reporting the characters' progress in searching for the buried loot.
The final gas station collapse did not go quite as planned. The water tower crashed into the small building behind the station, which was rigged to collapse but was accidentally triggered before the water tower actually hit it. Special-effects technician Linwood G. Dunn was called in to optically fix the scene. Dunn took the scene and split-screened the small building, first freeze-framing it then catching the collapsing action up to the water tower strike. All this took place on the right side of the frame.
Usually a very disciplined performer who liked to know exactly what was going to happen in each scene before he shot it, Spencer Tracy quickly warmed up to the more improvisatory approach of the various comics cast in the film.
Much of the film was shot on location in Palm Springs during a very hot summer. Stanley Kramer set up an air-conditioned truck filled with benches, stools and chairs where the cast could cool off between shots.
When Jack Benny shot his cameo appearance, Stanley Kramer let him hold the comic pause before his signature line, "Well," as long as he wanted. The entire crew was holding back laughter before he finally said the line. In the editing room, however, Kramer shortened the pause a bit.
Billing was a huge problem with such a large cast of famous names. Stanley Kramer finally decided to give Spencer Tracy top billing, since he was the biggest film name in the cast. He then billed the leading comedians in alphabetical order, followed by supporting players billed the same way. The only name which didn't conform to this credit ranking besides Tracy's was Jimmy Durante's. Kramer wanted to give him special mention to compensate for the brevity of his role.
Despite being released by Cinerama, this film was not shot in the three-strip Cinerama process, but was projected on the deeply curved original Cinerama screen upon original release, which was exclusively to Cinerama theatres, followed by release to "regular" theatres. It was shot in Ultra Panavision 70, a one-strip process that, when projected on a huge curved screen, somewhat mimics the Cinerama effect. The souvenir booklet for the film, sold during the picture's roadshow run, falsely boasted that the Cinerama image, which normally required the use of three strips of film on three projectors running simultaneously, had been "miraculously blended into one", when in fact the film was not being projected in Cinerama at all.
Many of the locations for "Santa Rosita" were filmed in Long Beach, CA. The "Santa Rosita" Police Department was in real life the main branch of the YMCA at 6th and Long Beach Blvd. The hardware store the Crumps were locked in was at 5th and Locust.
Contrary to popular belief, the car that Jack Benny drives in his cameo is not a Maxwell, the defunct brand of automobile famed as his "jalopy" on his radio show. The car he is driving is a 1931 or 1932 Cadillac. It is either a Series 355-0A (which came with a V-8 engine) or a Series 370-A (which came with a V-12 engine).
Of all the accidents that happen throughout the film, blood only occurs twice. The first time is when Russell punches Hawthorne in the nose. The second time is when Mrs. Marcus crashes in the tow truck. Both times the blood isn't even seen.
The scene where Capt. Culpeper (Spencer Tracy) runs out onto the roof was filmed atop the building at 201 East Broadway, Long Beach, CA. The Edison apartment building can be seen, to the southeast, in the background of the shot. Both buildings still stand to this day.
Only one of the four palm trees that made up the "Big W" survived into the 21st century. However, some time between 2000 and 2010, the remaining tree (the very far-right of the Big W) was lost during a storm, leaving a stump. None of the trees have been replaced as of July 2010.
The "big W" is visible almost the moment the cast arrives at the park. In a wide shot showing the first ones to arrive (Edie Adams, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett and Mickey Rooney) you can see three of the four palms to the extreme left of the screen, albeit obscured by bushes.