When the forest that Max Reinhardt designed could not be lit properly, cinematographer Hal Mohr thinned the trees slightly, sprayed them with aluminum paint and covered them with cobwebs and tiny metal particles to reflect the light. As a result, he became the first (and only) write-in winner of an Academy Award.
The shooting schedule had to be rearranged because of Mickey Rooney's broken leg. According to Rooney's memoirs, Jack L. Warner was so furious with him that he threatened to kill him and then break his other leg.
James Cagney's daughter, Cathleen Cagney, has said when she was a child and saw this movie, she was so upset by the scene where her father is turned into a donkey, that they had to bring James out to calm her down.
At the time, cinemas entered into a contract to show the film with the right to pull out within a specified period of time. Cancellations usually ran between 20 and 50. A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935) pulled in nearly 3,000 - a new record.
William Dieterle had full charge as director for about a week because of a breach-of-contract suit filed against Max Reinhardt by a French film company. The judge found in favor of Reinhardt, and lifted the restraining order.
1935 proved professionally to be a big year for Ross Alexander, the young actor being groomed by Warner Brothers to be their next big star. Two of his films from that year - this one and Michael Curtiz's Captain Blood (1935) - were both nominated for the Academy Award for Best Film. But Alexander's world started unraveling badly at the tail end of 1935, when his wife Aleta Friele (sometimes spelled "Freel") committed suicide. Speculation about her motive ranged from despair over her acting career to her having caught Alexander with another woman -- or perhaps with another man. Two years later, Alexander also took his own life, reportedly with the same gun that Friele used to kill herself.
Composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold was personally chosen by director Max Reinhardt. Both agreed early in the production to use the original incidental music written by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, as the film's soundtrack. (Reinhardt had done a lavish stage production of the play at the Hollywood Bowl, and had used Mendelssohn's music. That production inspired Warner Bros. to make this movie version.) As the film runs over two hours it was obvious that Mendelssohn's composition would be too short. Instead of just repeating several musical cues to fit the film's final length Korngold adapted the incidental music and parts of some other compositions by Mendelssohn, re-orchestrated them for a larger orchestra and choir (most notably heard in his Wedding March version at the end) and composed some short musical bridges by himself. Thus he created a complete symphonic score for the movie based on Mendelssohn's music. However, he chose to remain uncredited as a composer and insisted on giving full musical credit to Mendelssohn.
Victor Jory claimed in 1975 that his famous "I know a bank where the wild thyme grows" speech was directed by Music Arranger Erich Wolfgang Korngold out of camera range while lying on his stomach behind the bushes in order to ensure the actor achieved the desired rhythm.
Max Reinhardt had just produced a star-laden production of "Shakespeare Under the Stars" at the Hollywood Bowl in 1934. Producer Hal B. Wallis persuaded his boss Jack L. Warner that it would be a good idea to make a film based on one of Shakespeare's works. Warner was not so sure, having been badly burned by a disastrous filming of The Taming of the Shrew (1929) a few years before. Wallis was able to persuade him otherwise.
According to the Vitaphone featurette A Dream Comes True (1935), the premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood was, at the time, the largest in the city's history. It was also the first time that child actors Freddie Bartholomew and Sybil Jason attended a movie premiere.
Producer Reinhardt originally wanted Charles Laughton, Leslie Howard, Bette Davis, and Laurence Olivier but Warners forced him to use James Cagney, Dick Powell, Anita Louise, and Ian Hunter in the leads. It's not entirely clear why Davis, a Warner contractee, wasn't used.
This film's earliest documented telecasts took place in Tucson Tuesday 18 September 1956 on KDWI (Channel 9) and in San Francisco Thursday 27 September 1957 on KPIX (Channel 5); it first aired in Bloomington IN Friday 18 January 1957 on WTTV (Channel 4).