Tatum O'Neal was 10 years old when she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in this movie, making her the youngest person ever to win an Oscar in a competitive category. As of 2016, she still holds this record. She was four years younger than her rival nominee, Linda Blair, in The Exorcist (1973).
Peter Bogdanovich has said that the long, one-take sequence where Addie and Moze fight in the car about running out of Bibles took 2 days and 39 takes to get right. It was shot on a one-mile stretch of road just before hitting a very modern portion of the town, so each time a line was flubbed, they would have to turn everything around and drive back.
When Addie is going to meet Moses and a businessman on the corner (near the end of the film) she walks out of the hotel and does a little skip before hitting the street. According to Peter Bogdanovich, Tatum O'Neal was very proud of this little skip - she thought of it on her own.
Peter Bogdanovich didn't like the title of the novel "Addie Pray", but wasn't sure whether "Paper Moon" was good enough; so he asked his mentor Orson Welles what he thought about it. Welles replied, "That title is so good, you shouldn't even make the picture, just release the title!"
In the picnic scene, Madeline Kahn initially refused to say the line "Let Miss Trixie sit up front with her big tits," objecting to the vulgarity. Director Peter Bogdanovich convinced her to say the line for only one take. This take appears in the final film. Kahn's odd reaction of embarrassment after saying the line is genuine.
Peter Bogdanovich said that John Hillerman, playing both the bootlegger and his brother the Sheriff, had just a few weeks in the shooting schedule to lose the weight for the Sheriff role that he had deliberately put on in a short period of time prior to shooting the bootlegger's scenes.
Orson Welles, a close friend of director Peter Bogdanovich, did some uncredited consulting on the cinematography. It was Welles who suggested shooting black and white photography through a red filter, adding higher contrast to the images.
Some Hollywood insiders suspected that Tatum O'Neal's performance was "manufactured" by Peter Bogdanovich. It was revealed that the director had gone to great lengths, sometimes requiring as many as fifty takes of some of her scenes, in order to capture the "effortless" natural quality for which Tatum was critically praised. Either way, Bogdanovich maintained later that working with the young actress was "one of the most miserable experiences" of his life.
Peter Bogdanovich wound up making the film, despite his initial resistance, mainly because his estranged wife, Polly Platt, felt he was ideally suited to the material, both on a pictorial and narrative level. Bogdanovich wanted Platt to serve as the film's production designer, but she refused at first, because of her husband's open affair with Cybill Shepherd, whom he directed in The Last Picture Show (1971). Platt acquiesced on the condition that Shepherd not be allowed to visit the Paper Moon set.
Prior to finalizing casting, Peter Bogdanovich says he met with Ryan O'Neal and Tatum O'Neal at their Malibu home. When Ryan invited Bogdanovich to start an exercise regimen of running on the beach, Tatum countered he wasn't the type. When she explained to Bogdanovich she said that because he wouldn't take his shoes or shirt off, he told Ryan, "She'll do."
Before her audition for the role of Imogene, P.J. Johnson walked right up to Peter Bogdanovich and said, "Ooo-WEE! You good-lookin'!" Impressed with her guts, Bogdanovich responded by saying, "You just got the part."
In a May 20, 1973, article in the New York Times, Ryan O'Neal spoke at length about his professional and personal relationship with Tatum O'Neal: "I wouldn't have done the picture without (Tatum). The whole concept was such an interesting connection for Tatum and me. No father and daughter can connect with the intensity of a movie, and in a way, the story is a parallel of our lives." Ryan also reassured readers that Tatum would not become addicted to cigarettes, despite having smoked them in numerous scenes. Reportedly, they made her extremely nauseous.
Various changes were made in adapting the book to film. Addie's age was reduced from twelve to nine to accommodate young Tatum O'Neal, several events from the book were combined for pacing issues, and the last third of the novel, when Moses and Addie graduate to the big leagues as con artists after going into partnership with a fake millionaire, was dropped. The location was also changed from the rural south of the novel - primarily Alabama - to midwestern Kansas and Missouri.
This was Peter Bogdanovich's second film photographed in black and white, the first being The Last Picture Show (1971). Bogdanovich was quoted as saying, "I have more affection, more affinity for the past. Since I am more interested in it, it comes easier for me."
Neither the movie or the book ever does definitively answer the question is Moses Addie's father. She keeps accusing him, but she doesn't have any proof, and he keeps denying it. So the audience is left unsure. (Although the book's title, "Addie Pray", definitely gives you a hint that either Addie is Moses' daughter, or she becomes like a surrogate daughter because she latches on to him).
Moze refers to a "Coney Island" delicacy. It's a version of the hot dog, as popularized by restaurateur Nathan Handwerker in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn. Out-of-state eateries would create variations called "Coney Islands"; the name would also be applied to the eatery itself.
The actress playing Imogene was a 15-year-old Houston, Texas schoolgirl named P.J. Johnson. Before becoming something of a local movie celebrity in Houston following the film's release, Johnson had gone to Dallas and auditioned for Peter Bogdanovich. The director told Johnson she got the part because she said he was handsome.
Production Designer Polly Platt looked for a seersucker suit in Paramount's costumes for Ryan O'Neal. After she found the suit that would be the one he would wear, inside it she found a piece of tape that indicated that George Raft had wore it in a movie, although it did not indicate which one.
In the book (which Addie Loggins narrates) Addie states that she does not know if Moses is her father, to the reader anyway. She says that it is between Moses and two other men. But in the movie she seems quite adamant that Moses is her father.