The vestal virgins (who took the oath of chastity) in Caeser's palace in "The Roman Empire" segment are all Playboy playmates. The film's closing credits declare that the "Vestal Virgins [were] portrayed by Playboy playmates & models". Hugh M. Hefner (Playboy's patron) appears as the pipe-smoking entrepreneur talking about his invention, the "centerfold".
Gregory Hines replaced Richard Pryor. Just like in Mel Brooks' earlier Blazing Saddles (1974), Pryor was originally cast but had to pull out of the picture. Pryor's part eventually was taken by Hines in his screen debut. Just before filming was to begin, Pryor had his infamous drug-related accident, catching fire and getting severely burnt.
At the beginning of the French Revolution segment, the sign we see outside of Mademoiselle De Farge's hotel reads "Serving the Scum of Paris for 300 years". The French Revolution takes place in 1789 (according to the Piss Boy ("Garçon de Pisse") posing as King Louis, played by Mel Brooks). The previous segment depicting the Spanish Inquisition takes place in 1489 (according to Orson Welles' introduction), which is exactly 300 years earlier.
When the Court Spokesman is whispering "Remember thou art mortal", that actually happened. When a Roman general entered Rome after a successful campaign, he had a servant riding in his carriage with him, whispering that in his ear.
John Hurt did this movie because he had just gotten through doing two seriously dramatic films, and said that he wanted to have some fun and do a comedy. Hurt previously started in the title role in the Mel Brooks produced The Elephant Man (1980). That movie later became the subject of a comedy itself with "The Elephant Man" musical segments in The Tall Guy (1989).
The movie's closing credits were designed like the opening credits of another 20th Century Fox production of a "Star Wars" film, of which at the time the picture was made, there had only been two, Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) and Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980). The credits directly followed the "Jews In Space" segment which is said to have anticipated Mel Brooks later "Star Wars" spoof Spaceballs (1987) which was made and released about six years after this picture.
The movie's title is is a play on "The Historie of the World, Volume 1" by Sir Walter Raleigh. According to Wikipedia, "The History of the World was a book about the ancient history of Greece and Rome, written by Sir Walter Raleigh while prisoner in the Tower of London; he had only managed to complete the first volume before being beheaded". According to the British Explorers website, "whilst in the Bloody Tower he [Raleigh] wrote the "History of the World"...which was first printed in 1614. It was composed of five volumes but only reached as far as the second Macedonian War in 130 BC".
The film makes quite extensive use of matte paintings for backgrounds. Every segment (except "The Stone Age" and "The Old Testament") features backgrounds that are nothing more than paintings, especially in the segments' establishing shots and in numerous wide shots. Such paintings were used for the harbor and for many of the city shots in "The Roman Empire", the castle in "The Spanish Inquisition" and both the city and the countryside in "The French Revolution."
The French palace in "The French Revolution" segment was not French but actually English. The facility used to double for the gigantic French maison-chalet was historic Blenheim Palace in Oxford, England. Authorisation to film there came from, as billed in the film's closing credits, with the permission of England's Duke of Marlborough.
This movie's first two segments are The Dawn of Man and The Stone Age. This picture was released around the same time as the serious prehistoric drama Quest for Fire (1981) (Quest for Fire (1981)) as well as the prehistoric comedy Caveman (1981). These three movies were all first-released in 1981.
Parts of history that are spoofed and parodied in this movie include The Dawn of Man; The Stone Age; Moses and the Ten Commandments; The Roman Empire; The Vikings; The Spanish Inquisition; World War II and The French Revolution. The only segment in this film which is not history-related is the Jews in Space sketch.
Mel Brooks performed a number of duties on this picture. Brooks acted in five roles, was writer, producer and director, as well as composer and lyrics writer for the songs "Jews In Space" and "The Inquisition", being also the performer of the latter.
The movie is an "episodic comedy in the spirit of Monty Python" according to Paul Brenner at Allmovie stating also that "the French revolution section is a broad parody of The Man in the Iron Mask story".