Alvin C. York himself was on the set for a few days during filming. When one of the crew members tactlessly asked him how many "Jerries" he had killed, York started sobbing so vehemently he threw up. The crew member was nearly fired, but the next day, York demanded that he keep his job.
Gary Cooper's acceptance speech typified so many of the actor's performances when he said "It was Sergeant Alvin C. York who won this award; Shucks, I've been in this business sixteen years and sometimes dreamed I might get one of these things. That's all I can say! Funny, when I was dreaming, I always made a good speech." As he left the stage, he forgot the Oscar on the podium.
When informed that Hollywood wanted to make a film about his exploits in World War I, Alvin C. York insisted that only Gary Cooper could play him. At almost 40 years of age Cooper was actually too old to play York - who was not quite 30 at the time of the battle - and York was informed of this, but he insisted that if Cooper couldn't play him, he would not allow the film to be made.
Alvin C. York had been approached by producer Jesse Lasky several times, beginning in 1919, to allow a movie to be made of his life, but had refused, believing that "This uniform ain't for sale." Lasky convinced York that, with war threatening in Europe, it was his patriotic duty to allow the film to proceed. York finally agreed - but only on three conditions. First, York's share of the profits would be contributed to a Bible School York wanted constructed. Second, no cigarette smoking actress could be chosen to play his wife. Third, that only Gary Cooper, could recreate his life on screen. Cooper at first turned down the role, but when York himself contacted the star with a personal plea, Cooper agreed to do the picture.
The highest grossing film of 1941. Adjusted for inflation, it still remains one of the highest grossing films of all time.
There were stories at the time of young men leaving the movie theaters after seeing the film and signing up immediately after. (War fever was particularly high in the USA at the time as the attack on Pearl Harbor had just happened.)
Joan Leslie was 16 when she made this film, the same age as the real Gracie. Alvin C. York had made it clear that he didn't want any actress with any sort of notoriety connected with her portraying his wife. He specifically said, "No Ooomph Girls!", a clear reference to Warner Bros. contract player Ann Sheridan. Incredibly, Jane Russell was considered, but the wholesome Leslie was ultimately chosen.
Gary Cooper, unable to participate in WWII due to his age and an old injury to his hip, felt strongly that this film was his way of contributing to the cause. Cooper later said, "Sergeant Alvin C. York and I had quite a few things in common, even before I played him in screen. We both were raised in the mountains - Tennessee for him, Montana for me - and learned to ride and shoot as a natural part of growing up. 'Sergeant York' won me an Academy Award, but that's not why it's my favorite film. I liked the role because of the background of the picture, and because I was portraying a good, sound American character."
When this film was being made, American public opinion was strongly isolationist and Warner Brothers initially worried that it would be condemned for being seen as too pro-war in attitude. Jesse Lasky went to great lengths to avoid marketing the film as a war picture. By the film's release, however, Adolf Hitler had conquered much of Europe and the public attitude towards war changed greatly, helping the film become one of the studio's biggest moneymakers of all time.
The actual firearm used by Alvin C. York to dispose of a line of seven Germans was not a Luger as depicted in the film, but rather a 1911 .45 ACP automatic. The Luger was preferred for the filmmaking, however, purely on the basis that they couldn't get the .45 to fire blanks.
Because of the 1941 draft, the filmmakers had difficulty finding enough young male actors to play the soldiers and were forced to hire students from local universities.
The film turned out to be a highly accurate representation of history, mainly because of the studio's fear of lawsuits. Alvin C. York and several of the townsmen in Tennessee, including the pastor who counseled him, refused to sign releases unless the film was portrayed accurately.
The scene where Alvin becomes converted because of the bolt of lightning was an invention of the screenwriters. In reality Alvin C. York was converted from his hard-drinking, roustabout ways to a Sunday-school teacher by his wife, and it was a longer and less dramatic process, unsuitable for a film depiction.
This earned Walter Brennan his fourth Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor and was the only time Brennan didn't take home the statuette.
Warner Brothers sought and obtained releases from other surviving members of Alvin C. York's platoon.
Alvin C. York thought he should be portrayed on the screen by Gary Cooper. Samuel Goldwyn, who had Cooper under contract, wouldn't release him. Henry Fonda, James Stewart and even Ronald Reagan were considered. Goldwyn finally gave in when Warners agreed to lend him Bette Davis for The Little Foxes (1941).
Gary Cooper was initially reluctant about playing a seemingly too-good-to-be-true character. It was only after he met the real Sergeant Alvin C. York that he reconsidered.
The directing gig was turned down by Michael Curtiz, Henry Koster, Henry Hathaway, Victor Fleming and Norman Taurog before it was finally offered to Howard Hawks. He was always Gary Cooper's choice for director and this choice was vindicated with Hawks' sole Academy Award nomination.
"The Screen Guild Theater" broadcast a 30 minute radio adaptation of the movie on 18 January 1942 with Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan and Joan Leslie reprising their film roles as Alvin C. York, Pastor Rosier Pile and Gracie Williams, respectively.
This picture was shown on the deck of the USS Enterprise (CV-6), to the officers and crew on the evening of Saturday, December 6, 1941, when the carrier was anchored off Hawaii. The next day was the Japanese attack which brought the United States into World War II. Some of the Enterprise's aircraft took part in repulsing attacking Japanese planes, when in the process of augmenting SBD dive bomber aircraft, and F4F Wildcats based at NAS Ford Island. Several were lost, mostly due to friendly anti-aircraft fire.
The original film included a scene that featured the dance Alvin and Gracie were going to. It was cut in the theatrical release but the York family still has a copy of the movie with that deleted scene.
Principal photography occurred between February and late April 1941. The film was criticized by pacifists for its pro-war stance.
A press release dated July 2, 1941 states that the film was the first motion picture to be made into a stage play. It was transcribed by Robert Porterfield, who made his debut in this film.
Included among the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the 400 movies nominated for the Top 100 Greatest American Movies.
The world premiere in New York City, New York on July 2, 1941 was attended by Alvin C. York and Gary Cooper, as well as producers Jesse L. Lasky and Hal B. Wallis and many well-known government and Army officials.
When this movie was made, America was not taking part in World War II. At this time a number of Hollywood studios were pro-American involvement in the war. This movie is one of a number of films made during the late 1930s and early 1940s that represented pro-American intervention in the war. These films include: A Yank in the R.A.F. (1941), Man Hunt (1941), Foreign Correspondent (1940), The Mortal Storm (1940), Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939).
Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
In 2008, Sergeant York (1941) was added to the National Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress.
Alvin York was a member of the 82nd Division, organized in 1917 and nicknamed the "All American" division because it had soldiers from all 48 states. York's division patch showed the "AA" on his left sleeve, and while he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in the movie his commanding general referenced his pride that York was part of the All American division. The 82nd was reconstituted as the 82nd Airborne Division in World War II, where it won even greater fame.
According to the daily production reports included in the film's file at USC, Vincent Sherman directed some scenes while Howard Hawks went to a racetrack.
The first ever film to earn at least 10 Academy Award nominations, and not win Best Picture.
This film earned legendary director Howard Hawks his only Best Director Oscar nomination.
When Sergeant York performed the acts that won him the Medal of Honor, he was actually a corporal at the time.
At 1:26 when York is teaching how to shoot a flock of turkeys back to front so that they don't scatter, the 30 '06 cartridges he uses to represent the turkeys are blanks. The shell casings have crimped mouths that only blanks have.
At 55:27, after Alvin is hit by lightning, Alvin looks over to his mule where you can see a whip entering from the left hand side of the screen and striking the mule's stomach so it will get up.
Alvin C. York Medal of Honor citation, verbatim. The President of the United States in the name of The Congress takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to YORK, ALVIN C. Rank and organization: Corporal, U.S. Army, Company G, 328th Infantry, 82d Division. Place and date: Near Chatel-Chehery, France, 8 October 1918. Entered service at: Pall Mall, Tenn. Born: 13 December 1887, Fentress County, Tenn. G.O. No.: 59, W.D., 1919. Citation After his platoon had suffered heavy casualties and 3 other noncommissioned officers had become casualties, Cpl. York assumed command. Fearlessly leading 7 men, he charged with great daring a machinegun nest which was pouring deadly and incessant fire upon his platoon. In this heroic feat the machinegun nest was taken, together with 4 officers and 128 men and several guns.
The producer, Jesse Lasky suggested Jane Russell for the part of "Gracie" and Helen Wood, Linda Hayes and Susan Peters tested for the role; Mary Nash tested for "Mother York," and Pat O'Brien and Ronald Reagan were tested for the role of "Sergeant York." Charles Root was also considered for a role in the film.
Joan Leslie followed up her 1941 role as Alvin York's wife in this film, with her performance in 1942 as the wife of George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy. The lead actors in both of these movies, Gary Cooper and James Cagney, won the Academy Award for Best Actor in the two consecutive years.