According to the April 21, 1958, edition of Time Magazine, as an addendum to its cover story on Sir Alec Guinness, in 1957, Sir Laurence Olivier turned down a Hollywood offer of two hundred fifty thousand dollars for one movie. Instead of making the movie and pocketing the cash, Olivier preferred to take on the role of Archie Rice in this movie (a role written specifically for him) at the Princely sum of forty-five pounds sterling per week.
John Osborne wrote his play "The Entertainer" specifically at the request of Sir Laurence Olivier, who wanted the "Angry Young Man" of the British theater to create a vehicle for him, one of the figures of the British Establishment, against whom Osborne was rebelling. Olivier hoped that appearing in the Osborne play would make him relevant to a new generation of theatergoers. It proved to be one of Olivier's greatest stage successes (the Colonial Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts, has a plaque on the outside wall commemorating Olivier's appearance there during the U.S. tour of the play), while this movie won him the sixth of his ten acting Academy Award nominations. His performance as Archie Rice, as well as his marriage to his young co-star Dame Joan Plowright, one of the leading actresses of the new wave of British thespians, did keep Olivier contemporary with the new leaders of the British theater. Conversely, his generational contemporaries, including Sir John Gielgud, Sir Ralph Richardson, and playwright Terence Rattigan, started to seem stout and old-fashioned, as they failed to keep up with the theatrical evolution (Gielgud countered with the role of Julian in Edward Albee's obscure "Tiny Alice" on Broadway in 1962, but outside of the classical repertoire, he and Richardson did not recover their cachet as actors in contemporary plays until the mid 1970s, in Harold Pinter's "No Man's Land".) Olivier helped shepherd the new generation of actors, actresses, directors, and playwrights as the head of the National Theatre in the 1960s and early 1970s.
Part of Sir Laurence Olivier's performance was based on Music Hall comedian Max Miller, a.k.a. "The Cheeky Chappy" ("There'll never be another one like me"). Miller was anything but third-rate, having been the highest-paid variety show entertainer of his time at one thousand five hundred pounds sterling per week, plus a percentage of the takings (Olivier purposely toned down the act because being third-rate was part of the story), Miller never performed in Blackpool, however, because he believed his humor wouldn't travel to the north.
The original Broadway production by John Osborne opened at the Royale Theater in New York City on February 12, 1958, and ran for ninety-seven performances. Brenda de Banzie was nominated for the 1958 Tony Award (New York City) for Supporting or Features Actress in a Drama for her role as Phoebe Rice, which she re-created in this movie.