The screenplay was based on the first-hand recollections of the operations of New Orleans' "Red Light" prostitution district published in the book "Storyville, New Orleans: Being an Authentic, Illustrated Account of the Notorious Red Light District" by Al Rose. The book contains many of photos of New Orleans prostitutes taken by E.J. Bellocq, the character played by Keith Carradine in the movie.
Years after Brooke Shields starred in the film, she studied French Literature at Princeton University. Ironically, her 1987 senior thesis, written during her final year, was entitled "The Initiation: From Innocence to Experience: The Pre-Adolescent/Adolescent Journey in the Films of Louis Malle, Pretty Baby (1978) and Lacombe, Lucien (1974)", meaning she wrote about a film she herself had starred in.
Jodie Foster was initially considered for the role of Violet, but declined due to her commitment with Walt Disney Pictures, because she was starring in Candleshoe (1977). When interviewed with Rolling Stone magazine in 1991, Jodie said that she disliked to play that role, because she didn't want to be typecast as the underage prostitute she played in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976).