Grace Kelly was on the board of directors at 20th Century-Fox and the script treatment was sent to her for her reaction. Director Herbert Ross said: "Grace loved the story, and said she'd come out of retirement to play the ballet dancer who opts for marriage. Then Grace showed the script to Prince Rainier and he told her he didn't want her to go back to work".
First of two Academy Award Best Picture nominees to receive 11 nominations without winning any Oscars. This film jointly holds the record with The Color Purple (1985) for the film with most Oscar nominations without a single win.
In one scene, Anne Bancroft throws a drink in Shirley MacLaine's face. The moment was scrupulously rehearsed by director Herbert Ross - up to the point where Bancroft throws the drink into MacLaine's face. During rehearsal he had the actress set the glass down on the counter without tossing its contents every time; then continuing with the scene. When everything was ready, Ross took the shot in one take -- the scene you see on film, where Bancroft throws the drink into MacLaine's face. Having only been hit the one time, the look of shock on MacLaine's face is real.
Of Shirley MacLaine and 'Anne Bancroft' (aqv), MacLaine was the accomplished dancer. All of the dance scenes featuring Bancroft consist of her striking dancer-like poses while those around her actually danced.
The movie was inspired by the real life story of friends of director Herbert Ross and his ex-ballerina wife Nora Kaye. Ross has said: [They were] "A dancer named Kelly Brown, who was so marvelous in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), and a ballerina named Isobel Miro, who is a distant relative of Nora's. They met, married, gave up ballet, and opened a dance school in Phoenix. They had four children...The marriage eventually dissolved (though it doesn't in the film), and Isobel and the kids moved to New York, where they could study ballet. Over the years, she'd send us pictures of the kids, and Nora and I would talk about the family."
The film's Gala Performance Programme features excerpts from seven ballets. These were Legende; Vortex; Black Swan Pas De Deux, Swan Lake, Act III; Aurora's Wedding Pas De Deux; Le Corsaire; Tchaikovsky Pas De Deux and Anna Karenina, the last being a mythical ballet invented specifically for this movie.
Leslie Browne replaced the American Ballet Theatre's Gelsey Kirkland in the role of Emilia. Kirkland withdrew from the picture due to a recurring muscle injury. Browne is the daughter of Kelly Brown and Isobel Miro whose true life story inspired the movie.
Michael, the choreographer/artistic director, is partly based on Jerome Robbins. James Mitchell was the principal male dancer in Robbins' musical "Billion Dollar Baby" (1945) and participated in his American Theatre Laboratory in the late 1960s; later, while performing with American Ballet Theatre, he partnered executive producer Nora Kaye in Robbins' ballet "Facsimile."
Director Herbert Ross once commented of the film's long path to getting made: "For a long time it was a movie no studio would touch. Everybody kept asking: "Who's interested in ballet?". The period has been described as a seven-year behind-the-scenes pas de deux. By the time the film came out it was ten years.