Marlon Brando had been cast in the role of Sky Masterson, a role coveted by Frank Sinatra, while Sinatra was relegated to the supporting role of Nathan Detroit. Relations between the two actors were strained during production. Many years later, Brando said of Sinatra, "Frank's the kind of guy who, when he gets to Heaven, is going to give God a hard time for making him bald."
After filming repeated takes of the scene where Sky (Marlon Brando) and Nathan (Frank Sinatra) first meet, they had to quit for the day when Sinatra had eaten too much cheesecake. He said he could not take one more bite. Practical joker (some would say jerk) Brando, knowing how much Sinatra hated cheesecake, purposely flubbed each take so that Sinatra would have to eat piece after piece of cheesecake. The next day, they came back and shot the scene perfectly on the first take.
Marilyn Monroe wanted to play Adelaide, but director Joseph L. Mankiewicz did not want to work with her again (she appeared briefly in All About Eve (1950)) and supposedly pretended he never got her phone messages. Animal lover Betty Grable was in talks to play Adelaide, but when she canceled a meeting with producer Samuel Goldwyn to be with her sick dog, who had to be taken to the vet with a broken leg, a miffed Goldwyn would not reschedule and dropped her from consideration. Judy Holliday was also briefly considered for the role.
Very few contractions--"aren't" for "are not" or "wouldn't" for "would not," for example--are used in the dialogue in this movie (the songs are a different story). While it makes the language seem stilted and excessively formal at times, this is true to the writings of Damon Runyon. He also eschewed the use of contractions, and this characteristic gave his works a very recognizable style.
Marlon Brando (Sky Masterson) and Frank Sinatra (Nathan Detroit) did not get along at all. The cast and crew were quickly divided between Brando's supporters (among them, director Joseph L. Mankiewicz and lead actress Jean Simmons) and Sinatra and his entourage. Eventually, Brando and Sinatra spoke to each other only through intermediaries.
The songs "A Woman in Love," "Pet Me Poppa" and "Adelaide" were written for the screen version, and were not in the original Broadway show. On Broadway, Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra) does not sing in the title song. That was added for the film to increase Sinatra's singing part.
Although he worked very hard at the musical aspects, constantly working with voice coaches and choreographer Michael Kidd, Marlon Brando thought his voice sounded like "the mating call of a yak." He had to spend many hours in the sound studio recording his numbers over and over again. In the end, his songs were patched together from countless retakes for playback during shooting. Years later, he wrote in his autobiography, "They sewed my words together on one song so tightly that when I mouthed it in front of the camera, I nearly asphyxiated myself because I couldn't breathe while trying to synchronize my lips."
The tension between the two male leads, Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra, started right off. Brando approached Sinatra, asking for help with musical numbers and suggesting they get together often and work on them. Sinatra told him he did not go for "that Method crap," and refused.
The decision to cast Marlon Brando was hotly contested, largely by Frank Sinatra, who wanted the part of Sky Masterson himself. Later in his career, he made Sky's big number, "Luck Be A Lady," part of his stage act.
The character of Sky Masterson is rumored to be based upon New York sportswriter and former frontier marshal William Barclay 'Bat' Masterson. In another rumor, according to David Blaine's book "Mysterious Stranger," Sky Masterson was one of the few men to successfully con gangster Al Capone.
Samuel Goldwyn was so pleased with Marlon Brando's behavior on-screen and off-screen for this film that he rewarded him with a brand new white Thunderbird, which Brando immediately began racing around the streets. In return, Brando went against his usual practice and agreed to do substantial publicity for the picture. However, his good intentions were short-lived and after some initial appearances on behalf of the film, he eventually refused to do any additional promotion, stating, "I've done enough for that white Thunderbird."
Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz had the highest praise for Michael Kidd's choreography. He was sceptical at first when Kidd wanted to stage the crap game as a big ballet, but the choreographer's unique conception and execution of the number impressed everyone when it was finally screened.
The "blank dice" gag is a reference to an old gambler's trick in which the sides of a pair of dice are altered so that only odd numbers come up on each die when you make a roll, so that both dice make an even number.
Jean Simmons and director Joseph L. Mankiewicz got along splendidly. Years later, she said, "Yes, I was aware that he was in love with me, and I think I was with him, really, which I've never admitted to anybody."
In 1959, Frank Sinatra said his role in this picture was the only one he was ever disappointed with. "I wanted to play Masterson," he told Newsweek. "I mean, nothing disparaging about Marlon Brando, but Masterson didn't fit him and he knew it."
Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz decided to strive for realism only in the characterizations, but not the settings. There was no location shooting, no rear projection--only actors on highly stylized sound stages to comply with the feel of the play, which was subtitled "A Musical Fable of Broadway."
Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz and Irene Sharaff worked together to use costume as character cue, as in Sarah's nervous habit of opening the second button of her tightly cinched jackets, signalling her desire to be free of her prim existence.
After a tryout in Philadelphia, the play opened on Broadway on 24 November 1950 and closed on 28 November 1953 after 1200 performances. The play won a Tony for best musical and another for best choreography for Michael Kidd, who staged the dances and musical numbers in this movie. Original cast members included Robert Alda (father of Alan Alda) as Sky Masterson, Isabel Bigley as Sarah Brown, and Sam Levene as Nathan Detroit. Vivian Blaine as Adelaide, Stubby Kaye as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, B.S. Pully as Big Jule and Johnny Silver as Benny Southstreet all appeared in their original Broadway roles for the movie.
Frank Sinatra refused to perform his one ballad, "Adelaide," in character as the comic, Bronx-accented Nathan Detroit, turning on all his romantic crooner charm instead, and composer Frank Loesser was less than pleased with the star's turn in the comic "Sue Me" number. ("We'll do it my way or you can f**k off," he reportedly told Loesser.) When Marlon Brando pointed out to director Joseph L. Mankiewicz that he should tell Sinatra how to sing his songs ("We can't have two romantic leads," Brando allegedly said), Mankiewicz refused. Brando swore never to work with him again, and he never did.
Shortly after signing to do the part of Nathan Detroit, Frank Sinatra realized Marlon Brando's role was the more substantial and romantic one, and he quickly let his jealousy show. According to Regis Toomey, "Sinatra was snotty and very difficult, as he really didn't want to do 'the role.' He can be very cruel and disagreeable. Joe [Mankiewicz] had an awfully hard time on that picture."
Frank Sinatra wanted the lead role of Sky Masterson in this film, but Marlon Brando was cast instead. Likewise, Sinatra had previously wanted the part of Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront (1954) and later Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather (1972), and Brando was ultimately cast in both those roles; he even won two Academy Awards for Best Actor for those parts.
Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz objected to Samuel Goldwyn's insistence that the film be shot in CinemaScope, because of what Mankiewicz called that format's "dollar-bill proportions," and he was not happy with the result. "When you've got to fill the CinemaScope screen, everything spreads out," he said later. "On that screen you had twice as many gangsters, twice as many twirls, and twice as many intricacies."
Several of the songs from the Broadway show that were cut from the film were featured in the movie as background music. Among them are "A Bushel and a Peck," "My Time of Day," "I've Never Been In Love Before" and "More I Cannot Wish You."
The storyline was based on the 1933 Damon Runyon short story "The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown." That story was later a radio play, broadcast on "Damon Runyon Theater" in 1949 on NBC radio. The voice of Sky Masterson at that time was Richard Egan, who had just begun his acting career.
Both Vivian Blaine (Adelaide) and B.S. Pully (Big Jule) appeared previously in Greenwich Village (1944). In that earlier film, though playing a character similar to "Big Jule," Pully managed to sing and dance, to the delight of the movie audience.
The original Broadway production of "Guys and Dolls" opened at the 26th Street Theater on November 24, 1950, ran for 1,200 performances, and won the 1951 Tony Award (New York City) for the Best Musical. Vivian Blaine, Stubby Kaye, B.S. Pully and Johnny Silver recreated their stage roles in the movie version.
The three horse parlay that Sky refers to is a bet picking three winners of three separate races. His picks, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, are the three pious Jewish youths thrown into a "fiery furnace" by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, when they refuse to bow down to the king's image, according to chapter 3 of the book of Daniel.
For the film, the lyrics to Vivian Blaine's musical number "Adelaide's Lament" have been changed from the original stage words. "When they get on the train for Niagara...and they get off at Saratoga for the fourteenth time!" have been altered to "they get off at Yonkers Racetrack..." This is because the quaint, historic Saratoga could be an equally romantic wedding destination, whereas Yonkers Racetrack can only be considered a gambling diversion.
Decca Records had distributed the Broadway show's original cast album and was contracted to issue the film soundtrack as well. Alas, Frank Sinatra was at the time newly signed by Capitol Records, so his inclusion was impossible. As Vivian Blaine's recreation of "Adelaide's Lament" and "Take Back Your Mink" were virtually identical to her vocals on the Broadway album, Decca ultimately decided to release the soundtrack album as an Extended Play 45rpm single containing only four songs, all of them sung by Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons. This has forever galled soundtrack collectors, as the only commercial recordings available from this major musical were those recorded by the non-singers, leaving original songs such as "Pet Me Poppa" unreleased. For his part, Sinatra was so miffed at having to play Nathan Detroit that he never bothered to record "Adelaide," the song Frank Lossser had composed especially for him.
For the publicity value alone, Samuel Goldwyn decided early on that Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons would sing their own vocals. Ironically, amid all the critical attention paid to Brando's singing debut, no one at the time or since has taken issue with Simmons' vocals, which, despite a game and spirited effort, are noticeably off-key the majority of the time.
In 1952, Frank Sinatra was considered washed up. In 1953, he virtually paid Harry Cohn to allow him to play Maggio in From Here to Eternity (1953). By 1954, he had regained enough clout to force the creative team of Young at Heart (1954) to rewrite the original ending of their story, which he refused to play. In 1955, he swallowed his pride to play Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls , not yet having regained enough power to dethrone number one box office attraction Marlon Brando. One year later, obviously feeling he had once again reached the pinnacle, Sinatra walked off the set of Carousel (1956) in a fit of temperament on the first day of filming. Four years earlier, he could not get a job.
Marlon Brando and Vivian Blaine share only one scene together, a tender exchange wherein Sky is moved to make Adelaide see Nathan for who he really is. The actors work so well together that one wishes the plot allowed them to share more screen time.