Jeffrey Hunter was jokingly referred to as "I Was a Teenage Jesus" for his youthful appearance. In reality, he was 33 years old at the time of filming, Jesus' age at the time of His death and resurrection. Movie audiences were accustomed to more mature actors portraying Jesus.
After its theatrical run, the film wasn't sold to the major networks, but instead went to local television stations. Because all television screens were approximately square at the time, those stations aired it in the pan/scan format, with approximately half of the wide screen picture cropped off, thus destroying the composition of the image. To date, the film has still not been shown by NBC, ABC, or CBS -- only by local affiliates of the three networks, and on cable television. As of 2017, it's in the Turner Classic Movies library, which has restored it to its original wide screen format and shows it in its correct original 70MM Technirama wide screen ratio, most often at either Christmas or Easter time, or both.
Franz Planer, the original Director of Photography, suffered a heatstroke during principal photography of the Sermon on the Mount sequence in Spain. This became one of his last films and he passed away only a few years later.
Most films at the time did not show Jesus' face, preferring to do shots of his hands (as in Ben-Hur (1959)) or over-the-shoulder views. This was the first large-budget major studio sound film in English to actually show Christ's face.
This film's narrator, Orson Welles, would later narrate a portion of another Biblical work, The New Media Bible: Book of Genesis (1979). Before narrating this Biblical epic about the King of kings, Welles had earlier portrayed a king himself in another Biblical epic, David and Goliath (1960). Welles would even portray a director directing a Biblical epic in Ro.Go.Pa.G. (1963), when he ironically had earlier directed himself in his own scenes in "David e Golia".
Not only was Jeffrey Hunter's chest hair shaved for the crucifixion scene but his underarms as well. So much attention has been paid to this situation over the past fifty years, that nobody's ever noticed Hunter also wears a false putty nose throughout the film, most evident in the close-ups at the crucifixion scenes.
The film began life as a very personal project for director John Farrow, who had recently made John Paul Jones (1959) for producer Samuel Bronston. Farrow, an ardent convert to Roman Catholicism and quite possibly the only Hollywood director ever to be made a Papal Knight, called the project "The Sword And The Cross" and planned to use only the words of the Bible for dialogue. His script was deemed impossible to film and producer Bronston elected to proceed without him. Farrow never directed a film again.
The scenes between John the Baptist, Herod, Herodias, and Salome are supposedly based more on Oscar Wilde's play "Salome", than on the Bible, though Salome's grisly behavior as depicted by Wilde is not shown.
Hurd Hatfield (Pontius Pilate) and Viveca Lindfors (Claudia) had appeared together in the original Broadway stage production of "Anastasia". Lindfors played Anna Anderson and Hatfield played Prince Paul.
The production was photographed in Technirama by Manuel Berenguer, Milton R. Krasner and Franz Planer, and was presented in 70mm Super Technirama at selected first-run engagements. It was the first film of the life of Christ to be presented in 70mm, which was not in use when previous films on the same subject had been made. The previous film version of Christ's life Day of Triumph (1954), had been filmed in standard "spherical" widescreen by many of the same people who had filmed television's The Living Christ Series (1951).
King of Kings (1961) date of release, Monday, October 30th, 1961, was 23 years after off-screen narrator, Orson Welles (& other Mercury Theatre Radio station co-workers & members) scared numerous radio listeners, all across the United States of America, of the science-fiction novel written by H.G. Wells, he titled "The War of the Words". Their live CBS radio broadcast occurred on Sunday evening, October 30th, 1938.