Gene Kelly was originally scheduled to play Don, but he broke his ankle when he stamped his foot in anger after losing a volleyball game. It was at his suggestion that he be replaced by Fred Astaire. Cyd Charisse was up for the role of Nadine, but a torn ligament in either one or both of her knees forced her to drop out. She was replaced by Ann Miller. Although she had been a star for years, Judy Garland had never met Astaire before, and was afraid to speak to him until they were properly introduced.
Ann Miller had to perform her biggest numbers in a back brace. In an interview with Robert Osborne, she revealed that she had been thrown down the stairs by her then husband Reese Milner. She was also pregnant at the time and was in a lot of pain.
The film deleted a musical number, "Mr. Monotony," in which Judy Garland wears the same costume she would immortalize two years later in Summer Stock (1950) in the number "Get Happy"; the costume was a man's tuxedo coat and hat. For years, there were rumors that "Get Happy" was cut from another film and inserted into Summer Stock (1950). It is believed that this song being removed from "Easter Parade" is the origin of that rumor. An abbreviated version of the "Mr. Monotony" number was included in That's Entertainment! III (1994), and the complete number is included as an extra on the Warner Home Video Easter Parade (1948) DVD.
The song "Easter Parade", which inspired the movie, was first sung in Irving Berlin's 1933 Broadway revue "As Thousands Cheer" by Marilyn Miller and Clifton Webb. It was inspired by the annual event in New York City where people stroll down Fifth Avenue displaying their new hats (some very outrageous) and their Easter finery. The song also appeared in the Irving Berlin movie Holiday Inn (1942).
Jules Munshin's film debut. He plays the comic waiter who gives very entertaining descriptions of the menu items. The next year, he would play one of the three sailors on leave in New York City in On the Town (1949) with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra.
In the title song, the term "rotogravure" does not refer to the photographic process. In the days that this movie took place, newspapers would have a special insert - on holidays and Sundays - of photographs of local people and events. This special insert was called the Rotogravure.
This picture, which began its run nationally on July 8, 1948, was the second-biggest moneymaking film of the year, directly after the Crosby-Hope-Lamour Road to Rio (1947), which was launched nationally on Christmas Day of 1947. The critical and financial success of the Garland-Astaire pairing chiefly "made up" for the mixed reviews and poor box office (except in a few large cities) of Judy Garland's prior musical, The Pirate (1948), which had opened nationally on June 11, only a month before her frolic with Mr. Astaire was seen by moviegoers.
Ann Miller danced with pinched nerves in her back. She was also taller than Fred Astaire, so she offered to wear ballet slippers instead of heels when she danced with him. This can be seen towards the end of the movie. When she finishes the number "The Girl I Love" she goes behind the curtain wearing red high heels; when she comes back out in front of the audience to entice Astaire to dance with her to their old song "It Only Happens When I Dance With You", she's wearing red flats.
Irving Berlin wrote the entire score for the film, including "Everybody's Doin' It Now" (the music during Hannah's number when Don discovers her) and "Call Me Up Some Rainy Afternoon" (the piano accompaniment during Hannah's audition the following morning). Berlin did not compose these songs in the 1940's leading up to the film's production year of 1948 but rather in 1911 and 1910, respectively. Since the story is set in the year between the Easter Sundays of 1911 and 1912, the songs do not just reproduce the musical sound from the vaudeville era but are authentic period pieces. This is the same for the entire vaudeville montage, whose songs were written between 1911-1915, and "The Girl on the Magazine Cover" (1915). Other songs such as "A Fella With an Umbrella", "It Only Happens When I Dance With You", and "A Couple of Swells" were written in 1948 specifically for the film.
The story is set between the Easter Sundays of 1911-1912, which was just prior to the beginning of World War I (1914). The film was produced in 1948, just three years after the end of World War II (1945).
In the film, the Ziegfeld Follies of 1912 opens several weeks before Easter Sunday, which would have been April 7, the actual date of Easter that year. In fact, the Ziegfeld Follies of 1912 ran from October 21, 1912 to January 4, 1913.
Jules Munshin's seemingly superfluous routine, as the waiter who pantomimes the elongated making of a gourmet salad, had a purpose beyond this film. It was one of several instances wherein MGM enacted a screen test through a feature film in order to determine public response to the performer, and how he or she registered on film. Other memorable examples are Charlotte Arren's madcap rendition of "Il Baccio" in Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940), the Ross Sisters' jaw-dropping contortionist routine to "Solid Potato Salad" in Broadway Rhythm (1944), and five-year-old Margaret O'Brien's push-the-button histrionics during an audition sequence in Babes on Broadway (1941). In most cases, these screen tests-cum-screen debuts were ill-fated, but both O'Brien and Munshin scored studio contracts based on enthusiastic audience response to their brief snippets of screen time.
Seven years later, Doris Day would also perform 'Shakin' the Blues Away" in an M-G-M musical. Day's version, in Love Me or Leave Me, focused on her vocal and had her surrounded by male dancers in tuxedos, while Ann Miller's version in this film is a solo number, focused on Miller's tap dancing skills.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
Sidney Sheldon revealed this in an interview decades after the film came out: On the first day of filming, before the first scene, Sidney Sheldon was telling Judy Garland a story. Though it was time to shoot, Judy pressed him to continue on, ignoring the calls. When Sidney jokingly asked if she wanted to do the scene, Judy admitted that she didn't, because the first scene was a kissing scene with Fred Astaire. She was nervous because she had never met him before. This had never occurred to anyone on the film -- since Astaire and Garland were both already big stars at the time, it was assumed that they knew each other. Sidney brought Judy over and introduced her to Fred, and they proceeded to film the movie.