Ernest Hemingway himself was initially involved in the production, although the extent of his participation after selling his book was to go marlin fishing off the coast of Peru to try to find a fish suitable for the story. In the end, the producers used a rubber marlin and stock footage of marlin fishing in which Hemingway didn't participate. After seeing the film, Ernest Hemingway expressed his disappointment and said that Spencer Tracy looked less the Cuban peasant fisherman and more the rich old actor that he was. Tracy won an Oscar nomination for the role.
In 1952, Humphrey Bogart attempted to purchase the film rights to Ernest Hemingway's novel through his production company, Santana Productions. Bogart identified strongly with the character of the old man and wanted to play the fisherman in the film project, with Nicholas Ray as the director. Unfortunately, the actor was unsuccessful in securing the film rights, and the film wasn't made until the year following his death, with his close friend Spencer Tracy starring.