Coming hot off her success in The Exorcist (1973), the studio granted Ellen Burstyn total creative control over this project. She had two goals: to make a film about woman with real-life problems, and to secure an up-and-coming film maker as the director. Upon selecting this script, Brian De Palma brought Francis Ford Coppola to Burstyn's attention who suggested she consider Scorsese. While impressed with Scorsese's talent after viewing Mean Streets (1973), Burstyn still hesitated to hire the director, fearing he could only direct men. When she asked Scorsese what he knew about women, Scorsese replied "Nothing, but I'd like to learn." Satisfied with his enthusiasm, Burstyn immediately hired Scorsese.
Diane Ladd's daughter Laura Dern can be seen in the final diner scene - she is the little blonde girl with glasses sitting at the end of the counter eating an ice cream cone. As Dern would recall years later, it was after the 19th take - and exactly that many cones consumed - that director Martin Scorsese informed Ladd that if her daughter could do that without throwing up, she had to be an actress.
The actual restaurant that this movie is based on is located in Phoenix, Arizona at 1747 NW Grand Ave. This restaurant was at one time known as Mel's Diner, then later on Pat's Diner. It has recently changed again, and it is again Mel's Diner (as of May 2006).
Diane Ladd played Flo in this movie. In the television series Alice (1976), the part was played by Polly Holliday. When Holliday left the series, Ladd stepped in to portray Belle, the waitress who replaced Flo at Mel's Diner. Vic Tayback reprised his role as Mel in the TV series. Alfred Lutter III played Alice's son Tommy in the pilot episode of the TV series, but was afterwards replaced by Philip McKeon.
Martin Scorsese said one of his favorite leading men to direct was Kris Kristofferson, since he represented the strong, silent masculine hero that Scorsese always looked up to but rarely worked with throughout his career.
At the beginning of the film, Alice promises Tommy that she'll take him to Monterey, California, before his birthday; the last shot of the film shows Alice and Tommy walking down a road in Tucson towards a big sign for a shopping center called "Monterey Village". The shopping center is at the intersection of Speedway and Wilmot in Tucson.
"Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" was the title of an episode of 'The Brady Bunch (1969)' that aired on October 17, 1969, more than four years before the film came out. It was based on the 1933 song "Annie Doesn't Live Here Anymore," written by Joe Young, Johnny Burke, and Harold Spina, and popularized by Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians.
As is common in casting child actors, 'Alfred Lutter''s personality contained many of the characteristics the filmmakers sought for his character, Tommy. Martin Scorsese mentions (11:33 in the 53 minute selected scene commentary) that the pointless shoot-the-dog story was improvised into the script after a long van ride back from a location shoot during which Alfred incessantly repeated the story to Martin. Martin wanted to get that feeling of being a captive audience subject to the relentless retelling of the nonsense story into the film, so they improvised it into the script as Tommy repeating it to his mother and later to David.