While filming the climactic ballroom scene, Erich von Stroheim noticed an extra whose costume was not adjusted to his liking. He stepped off the high camera platform on which he was standing, fell and broke his leg. He directed the rest of the film from a reclining chair, while his leg healed.
One of the most expensive scenes to be filmed, a champagne-fueled orgy with numerous under-dressed chorus girls, was cut for censorship reasons.
Author Scott Eyman, in his book "Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer", says that Mae Murray was "abusive, borderline delusional, and served as the primary inspiration for the character of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard (1950)." When she was later in difficulties, Louis B. Mayer "refused to add her to his list of pensioners."
Joan Crawford and Clark Gable both appear as extras in this film. According to author William J. Mann, in his book "Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood 1910-1969", future costume designers Irene and Walter Plunkett also appear as dance partners.
During filming, Mae Murray would frequently visit the front office to complain that director Erich von Stroheim was making a dirty movie. The two of them fought constantly during production.
Erich von Stroheim wanted his friend Norman Kerry to play Prince Danilo. The two had previously worked together on Merry-Go-Round (1923).
Erich von Stroheim did not want to have John Gilbert play Danilo and the two got into a big fight when filming began. Soon afterward, they made up and became close friends.
Supposedly, during a day of viewing rushes, Irving Thalberg asked Erich von Stroheim about a particular behavioral aspect of the character Baron Sadoja, played by Tully Marshall. "That is a foot fetish", replied Stroheim. Thalberg is said to have replied, "You, Von, have a footage fetish!"
In a videotaped interview conducted in March 2010 at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, dancer Marge Champion noted that her father, dance instructor Ernest Belcher, worked as a choreographer in the ballroom sequence of this film. According to her, he worked extensively with leading lady Mae Murray. When Champion recently watched the film on TCM, however, she was surprised to see that her father received no on-screen credit.
About one-fifth of the film's running time constitute the plot of the original operetta. The preceding storyline was concocted by Erich von Stroheim and Benjamin Glazer.
May 1924: A $10,000 bonus was offered to Erich von Stroheim by MGM chief Louis B. Mayer if he finished this film in less than six weeks.
Erich von Stroheim originally intended to play the secondary lead role of Crown Prince Mirko. He could not, however, as his contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer stipulated that he could not appear in his directorial effort. Roy D'Arcy, a generally unknown actor at the time, was cast in the role after von Stroheim saw him acting in a play in Los Angeles.
The closing sequence, running 136 ft., was filmed in 2-strip Technicolor, but only survives in B&W.
When MGM released the 1952 remake of The Merry Widow, the studio ceased further distribution of the earlier versions so as not to compete with the remake's box office take. The 1925 silent film disappeared entirely for decades, not to be seen again until it was reclaimed by Turner Classic Movies. The 1934 version turned up on television with a new title, A Lady Dances, to minimize confusion, as the more recent 1952 version was also leased to local television stations.