After filming, Gregory Peck informed the producers that, as Audrey Hepburn was certainly going to win an Oscar (for this, her first major role), they had better put her name above the title. They did and she did.
When Gregory Peck came to Italy to shoot the movie, he was privately depressed about his recent separation and imminent divorce from his first wife, Greta Kukkonen. However, during the shoot he met and fell in love with a French woman named Veronique Passani. Following his divorce, he married her, she became Veronique Peck, and they remained together for the rest of his life.
Paramount originally wanted to shoot this movie in Hollywood. William Wyler refused, insisting it must be shot on location. They finally agreed, but with a much lower budget. This meant the movie would be in black and white, not the expected Technicolor, and he would need to cast an unknown actress as the Princess, Audrey Hepburn.
Audrey Hepburn won the role of Ann thanks to a legendary screen test. She performed a scene from the film, and the cameraman was instructed to keep the cameras rolling after the director said, "Cut." Several minutes of unrehearsed, spontaneous Hepburn was captured on film. That, combined with some candid interview footage, won her the role.
Audrey Hepburn won the 1953 Best Actress Academy Award for Roman Holiday (1953). On March 25th, 1954, she accepted the award from the much revered Academy president Jean Hersholt. After accepting the award, Audrey kissed him smack on the mouth, instead of the cheek, in her excitement. Minutes after accepting her 1953 Oscar, Audrey realized that she'd misplaced it. Turning quickly on the steps of the Center Theater in New York, she raced back to the ladies' room, retrieved the award, and was ready to pose for photographs.
Gregory Peck's role was originally written with Cary Grant in mind. Grant, however, turned the role down as he believed he was too old to play Audrey Hepburn's love interest. He did, however, play her on-screen love ten years later in Charade (1963). The two became firm friends working on the film, and Grant considered her one of his favorite actresses to work with.
At the end of production, Paramount Studios presented Audrey Hepburn with her entire wardrobe from the film, including hats, shoes, handbags, and jewelry. They were intended as wedding presents. Soon after production, Hepburn ended her engagement to James (later Lord) Hanson, a businessman.
By the time he got the script for this film, Gregory Peck was hungry to do a comedy (he had not been in a comedy on film) and jumped at this opportunity. He later said that, at the time, he felt like every romantic comedy script he had the chance to read "had the fingerprints of Cary Grant on it".
A lot of the film's success was attributed to the public's fascination with Britain's Princess Margaret who was creating a stir with her highly publicized relationship with commoner Peter Townsend. The Princess was forced to renounce her true love because he was divorced, and marry more "suitably".
The original writer, Dalton Trumbo, was blacklisted as one of the legendary Hollywood Ten, and therefore could not receive credit for the screenplay, even when it won the Academy Award for Best Motion Picture Story. Instead, his friend, Ian McLellan Hunter, one of the writers of the final screenplay, took credit for the original story and accepted the Oscar. Hunter did, however, pass on the $50,000 payment he received for the job on to Trumbo. Trumbo's wife, Cleo, was finally presented with the award in 1993, long after his death in 1976. The Oscar she received was actually a second one, because Hunter's son wouldn't give up his father's Oscar. Thus, two awards for Best Motion Picture Story of 1953 exist. The story credit was corrected to credit Trumbo when the restored edition was released in 2002, nearly fifty years after the original release.
Audrey Hepburn was performing on Broadway in "Ondine" with her future husband Mel Ferrer when she won best actress for "Roman Holiday." Later that year, she won the Tony for her performance in "Ondine," making her one of only two actresses to win the Oscar and the Tony in the same year. Ellen Burstyn is the other, winning the Oscar for Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974) and the Tony for "Same Time, Next Year."
The Roman summer was stiflingly hot, with the temperatures in the high 90s. Crowds swarmed over all the locations, making huge impromptu audiences for the actors. Meanwhile, Italy itself was beset with clashes between political parties that resulted in strikes and unrest that threatened to disrupt production.
Ann and Joe get into an argument over which poet wrote the words that Ann quotes, "Arethusa rose from her couch of snows in the Acroceraunian mountains." Joe was right; it's from the poem "Arethusa" by Percy Bysshe Shelley.
One of the reasons why William Wyler was anxious to film in Europe was because he wanted to put some distance between himself and the House Un-American Activities Committee, which was threatening to embroil him in their investigations because of his liberal stance.
The story was originally optioned by Frank Capra in 1949, who had hoped to cast Cary Grant and Elizabeth Taylor in what would essentially amount to being a variation on his Oscar-winning classic, It Happened One Night (1934). However, Capra's Liberty Films production company was beset with financial problems and he was forced to sell the property to Paramount, where a combination of political timidity (Capra discovered the involvement of blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo) and a tight budget prompted him to withdraw from the project. William Wyler, however, had no compunctions whatsoever about working with Trumbo.
Audrey Hepburn's casting conflicted with her appearance in the title role of the Broadway production of Gigi, for which author Colette personally had picked her, but modern sources note that William Wyler delayed production for six months to accommodate her schedule.
Audrey Hepburn was so overwhelmed at winning an Oscar for the film, that she took the wrong route to get to the stage, gave a breathless speech, and then left the trophy in the ladies' room. She and Oscar were soon reunited, however, and lived happily ever after.
When Joe (Gregory Peck) is putting Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn) in the cab, she says "It's a taxi!" and he says "It's not the Super Chief!" Joe was referring to a train and route of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. In the 1940s and 1950s, ATSF marketed it as "The Train of the Stars" because it supposedly carried celebrities on every passage between Chicago, Illinois, and Los Angeles, California. The SC was the first Diesel powered, full Pullman sleeping car train in the USA, setting the standard for American luxury train travel. Initially, with one set of equipment, it ran once in each direction each week between Chicago and Los Angeles. Later, after taking delivery or more engines and coaches, it ran twice in each direction each week, and finally daily after 1948.
The airplane in which the Secret Service men arrive to search for Princess Ann is a very unusual type, the Breda-Zappata BZ.308, of which only one prototype was built in 1949 (for the Italian Air Force). It was scrapped shortly after its appearance in the movie.
Princess Ann, unrecognized by Joe, as well as doped and drowsy from Dr. Bonnachoven's sleeping drug, recites a poem, "If I were dead and buried when I heard your voice, beneath the sod my heart of dust would still rejoice." which prompts Joe to declare her "well read." The poem is actually an original work by Dalton Trumbo, the blacklisted writer, Dalton Trumbo. Trumbo wrote the film's Oscar-winning screen play using his friend, Ian McLellan Hunter Ian McLellan Hunter, to front for him in the original credits.
First choices for the part of the princess were Jean Simmons and Suzanne Cloutier. Elizabeth Taylor was also considered for the part. Both Taylor and Simmons had to be immediately ruled out as they were preoccupied with other projects at the time.
Paramount made an agreement with the British Government and stipulated there would be no mention made of a possible connection between the film and the British Royal Household, in particular, Princess Margaret. A scene was shot for the sole purpose of establishing that the princess was not British.
The country of which Ann is princess, is never said. The introductory News Flash lists a visit to London and Buckingham Palace as first on her tour of European capitals. There is also a reference to links with Western Europe, suggesting that Ann's own country is in eastern Europe.
Ben Hecht worked on the screenplay from June to October 1951, but ultimately waived his credit. His version was markedly different from the completed picture. Preston Sturges worked on the script in March 1952, and Valentine Davies was hired for two days of revisions. The contribution of these writers to the final film, if any, has not been determined. The last scene was rewritten many times.
George Stevens was the next director to inherit the project after Frank Capra bailed, but Stevens declined to pursue it. The property was then offered to William Wyler, who was coming off the back of two very weighty dramatic movies - The Heiress (1949) and Detective Story (1951) - and was only too glad to tackle a light romantic comedy, his first since the mid 1930s. Wyler was also very keen to work abroad in order to exploit a tax loophole.
In addition to a Paramount contract and instant stardom in America and Europe, Audrey Hepburn gained major celebrity in Japan due to her role in the film. Her hairdo was copied by many young Japanese women
It was just chance timing that the film appeared at the moment when Princess Margaret was having to decide between love and duty. Apparently the script had been kicking around Hollywood for about ten years, with nobody backing it.
In a scene shortly after Ann and Joe meet, she quotes a line from a poem, and they disagree about who wrote it, Keats or Shelley. Soon after, there is an important scene on the famous Spanish Steps. Keats and Shelley both lived in Rome, Keats in a house right at the bottom of the Spanish Steps. The house is now a museum, the Keats Shelley House, devoted to Keats and other Romantic poets of the same era.
One reason why Frank Capra passed on making this movie when he was offered the script is that he thought the English government might object because the story was partly inspired by the tumultuous private life of Princess Margaret.
Cary Grant turned down the role of Joe Bradley, believing he was too old to play Audrey Hepburn's love interest (though he played opposite her ten years later in Charade (1963).) Other sources say Grant declined because he knew all of the attention would be centred around the princess.
Paramount purchased the rights to the screen story from Frank Capra's Liberty production company for $35,000. Capra backed out of the film because he felt that he could not make the film for $1.5 million, Paramount's then budget ceiling.
The airplane carrying the royal family is an Italian Breda-Zappata BZ.308, which was designed for routes across Europe and across the Atlantic. First flown in 1949, this airplane was only three years old at the time of filming. Unfortunately, production was canceled due to a shortage of orders. The airplane in the film was the prototype. No others were ever built.
According to Ian McLellan Hunter, blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who was a member of the "Hollywood Ten," was the actual writer of the film's story. Credited writer Hunter fronted for Trumbo, and Hunter's agent sold the screen story to Frank Capra under Hunter's name. Hunter then wrote a draft of the screenplay for Capra. In October 1991, the Writers Guild of America West, acting on the recommendations of its ad hoc blacklist credits committee, officially credited Trumbo with the film's story, and awarded him with the same Guild screenplay prize that Hunter and co-screenwriter John Dighton shared in 1954. Although he refused to attend the ceremony, Hunter also won an Academy Award for Best Writing (Motion Picture Story), which AMPAS restored to Trumbo posthumously in 1993. William Wyler's longtime collaborator, Lester Koenig, went to Rome to work on the script, but also did not receive credit because of blacklisting.
Near the beginning of the film, the princess is in bed, with a book about Alfred Hitchcock. Audrey Hepburn never got to make a film with Alfred Hitchcock. He had planned to make a film entitled "No Bail for the Judge" starring Hepburn, who had long admired his work, but it was never made. In 1959, a Paramount publicity brochure titled "Success in the Sixties!" had touted "No Bail for the Judge" as an upcoming feature film starring Hepburn to be filmed in Technicolor and VistaVision.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
In the famous "Mouth of Truth" scene, Audrey Hepburn's reaction to Gregory Peck's "bitten-off hand" was genuine. Just before the cameras rolled, Peck quietly told director William Wyler that he was going to borrow a gag from comedian Red Skelton, and have his hand hidden up his sleeve when he pulled it out of the sculpture's mouth. Wyler agreed, but Hepburn was not told. When she saw Peck's "missing hand," she let out what she later described as "a good and proper scream." The scene was filmed in only one take.
When filming the scene where the princess (Audrey Hepburn) says her goodbyes to Joe, the inexperienced Hepburn was unable to produce the necessary tears, eventually causing director William Wyler to complain at the number of wasted takes. Hepburn promptly burst into tears and the scene was filmed successfully.