The sequence "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody" was filmed in two lengthy takes after several weeks of rehearsals and filming (a definite cut is made when moving to a close-up on the singer dressed as Pagliacci, presumably to effect a change of camera position, necessary to start the inexorable move up the huge staircase). It features 180 performers and cost $220,000; 4,300 yards of rayon silk were used for the curtains in the scene.
The set for "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody" took months to build and cost over $200,000. This was substantially more than it cost the real Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. to produce a whole show, according to former Ziegfeld girl Doris Eaton.
Billie Burke never really rated the film much despite taking a personal interest in the writing of the script. She went to great lengths to make sure that writer William Anthony McGuire never besmirched the good name of Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., hence the playing down of his infidelities.
Eugen Sandow is portrayed as a typically "dumb strongman". In real life, however, Sandow was highly intelligent and a superb businessman. Because he was among the first men to display his muscular body as a "work of art", he was considered to be "The Father of Bodybuilding", and this is what his gravestone reads today. Among his friends were Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas A. Edison (who filmed him at the Black Maria Studios) and even King Edward VII. Sandow's career became bigger than ever after his association with Florenz Ziegfeld Jr.. He became very wealthy and famous because of his mail-order businesses, gyms, souvenir photographs, books and personal appearances. There is a mountain in Alaska, a railroad and a small town in Texas (near Austin) named after him. Unfortunately, the town no longer exists per the Texas Historical Society--the Alcoa Aluminum factory near Rockdale is named after the town, as it sits where the town once was.
The film's costs were proving too much for Universal, so MGM bought the rights for $300,000 from them. Ultimately the film cost MGM about $2 million to make, a huge amount in its day. It did,however, go on to earn over $40 million.
For her famous telephone conversation scene, which is generally credited as being what clinched the Oscar for her, Luise Rainer drew a lot of her material from a play by Jean Cocteau entitled "The Human Voice".
Nat Pendleton was a former champion weightlifter and easily duplicates some of Eugen Sandow's feats in this film; at the time, Nat was the only man to have ever played a strongman from this time period.
Universal Pictures bought the film rights to Florenz Ziegfeld Jr.'s life story from his widow Billie Burke in late 1933. William Powell was to play Ziegfeld, Burke was to play herself and it would feature specialties by Fanny Brice, Judy Garland (and her sisters), Eddie Cantor and Ray Bolger. When Universal decided to make a faithful film version of the Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein II musical "Show Boat", which Ziegfeld himself had originally produced onstage, Universal sold "The Great Ziegfeld" to MGM in March 1935 while still in pre-production. Only Powell, Brice and Bolger survived to the final picture. Ironically, MGM would buy the rights to "Show Boat" from Universal in 1942, and remake the musical, in Technicolor, in 1951 (Show Boat (1951)).
In the footnotes of their American Film Institute's Feature Films, 1931-1940, Catalog mistakenly lists Mary Lou, an adult, played by Jean Chatburn, and Sally Manners, a Ziegfeld star, played by Rosina Lawrence, as the same person.
Ray Bolger never worked for Ziegfeld, although he is presented in the film as a Ziegfeld star. Fanny Brice was a Ziegfeld star and plays herself in the film. Other Ziegfeld stars, Eddie Cantor and Will Rogers are portrayed by fakes in the film.
This film was first telecast in Seattle Saturday 2 February 1957 on KING (Channel 5); in New York City it first aired 5 April 1957 on WCBS (Channel 2), followed by Norfolk VA 18 May 1957 on WTAR (Channel 3), by Honolulu 23 June 1957 on KHVH (Channel 13), by Minneapolis 3 July 1957 on KMGM (Channel 9), by Miami 17 August 1957 on WCKT (Channel 7), by Chicago 31 August 1957 on WBBM (Channel 2), by Philadelphia 27 December 1957 on WFIL (Channel 6), by Altoona PA 25 January 1958 on WFBG (Channel 10), and by San Francisco 13 April 1958 on KGO (Channel 7); it finally found its way to the Los Angeles airwaves Sunday 4 November 1961 on KTTV (Channel 11).
According to Samuel Marx, an M-G-M executive at the time, this film cost $2.2 million, and went on to gross $2.9 million, making it profitable, but less so than it might have been with a more constrained budget. The most expensive sequence involved a several stories high rotating white staircase, featured more than 180 performers, required weeks of rehearsals and several takes to stage, and cost over $220,000. The lavish nature of this production was one of the hallmarks of M-G-M, and was a factor in the studio's being considered Hollywood's most successful dream factory.
In 1935, Judy Garland and her sisters, known as "The Garland Sisters," tested and were signed to Universal Studios for their upcoming biopic of Florenz Ziegfeld titled "The Great Ziegfeld." When the property was sold to MGM in the spring the sisters were dropped from the project. The film would go on to become one of MGM's biggest hits, earning several Oscars including Best Picture and Best Actress, the marvelous Louise Rainer. Nine months later Judy would successfully audition for MGM.