According to Judy Garland's biographer, Gerold Frank, The Pirate (1948) was the first film ever in which the studio hired a psychiatrist, paid for out of the film's production budget, to treat the star during shooting and make sure she was mentally healthy enough to perform.
Both Gene Kelly and Judy Garland fought to get The Nicholas Brothers (Fayard Nicholas and Harold Nicholas) included in the movie. They succeeded, but the "Be a Clown" sequence was cut by exhibitors in Memphis and other U.S. cities in the South because it included The Nicholas Brothers, who were black.
When one dance sequence was being rehearsed, Harold Nicholas was just going through the motions, and Gene Kelly accused him of not knowing the routine - so Nicholas danced the whole routine, alone, full-out and flawlessly. Kelly was speechless.
In the MGM 1952 musical Singin' in the Rain (1952), the song "Make 'Em Laugh" was plagiarized (by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed) from "Be a Clown" although Cole Porter did not make a complaint. Both films were MGM productions and starred Gene Kelly, who appeared in the "Make 'Em Laugh" segment (but did not sing) while the song was sung and performed by Donald O'Connor.
The torrid romance enacted by Judy Garland and Gene Kelly in the song-and-dance number "Voodoo" so enraged MGM chief Louis B. Mayer that he demanded the negative be burned.
The film was a major financial bust upon release, eventually losing $2 million for MGM.
The film's musical production final sequence, "Be a Clown", composed by Cole Porter, featured the acrobatic and dancing talents of the Nicholas Brothers, with Gene Kelly, who choreographed the dance number. Judy Garland joins Kelly's act and the film ends with the two of them singing a reprise of "Be a Clown." The dance sequence was the first time The Nicholas Brothers had danced onscreen with a Caucasian, while it was Kelly's insistence that they perform with him. The Nicholas Brothers were the ones punished. When released to the feature movie theater circuit distribution, this Nicholas Brothers sequence was deleted by MGM when screened in the Southern States, such as Memphis, because it featured black performers, the result of racial bigotry in the South. Only in the Northern States' movie theaters, were audiences allowed to view the entire end production presentation. Essentially blackballed, Fayard and Harold moved to Europe and did not return until the mid-sixties making a comeback appearance on The Hollywood Palace (1964) hosted by Roy Rogers and Trigger.
The second of three movie musicals in which Judy Garland and Gene Kelly co-starred.
Upon completion of principal photography, MGM decreed the finished film's ending was unacceptable. Vincente Minnelli, confronted with re-writes, finding a new finale, took Gene Kelly's advice to conclude the film with a major musical number based upon "Be A Clown". When it seemed the movie was near completion, Barbara Karinska had returned to New York, leaving Tom Keogh to finish and wrap production. Minnelli met with MGM scene dock, scenic parts were reassembled for re-staging the film's major town square setting, adding the new performance "Be A Clown" finale stage. Gene Kelly, working with the Nicholas Brothers, choreographed and staged the production sequence. Minnelli and his crew photographed the musical dance number, edited, and "The Pirate" finale was accepted by the studio's bosses.
Gene Kelly helped invent a device which allowed the bulky Technicolor cameras to shoot from low angles.
Originally bought as a vehicle for Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon. Over the years it was going to star Garson, Cary Grant and Charles Laughton, then Myrna Loy, then Grant and Ingrid Bergman, and then William Powell and Hedy Lamarr. Eventually, it was decided to make the film a musical.
The original script by Anita Loos and Joseph Than included a role for Lena Horne as a Caribbean dressmaker, which was later cut. Horne twice recorded Cole Porter's sensual movie ballad for Judy Garland, "Love of My Life": initially waxed by Lena for a 1948 MGM Records single; then sung in a Porter medley on the best-selling RCA Victor LP from 1957, "Lena Horne at the Waldorf Astoria", which has been reissued on CD by the Collectables label.
Cole Porter was asked to write the songs for the movie, and he did on the condition that he could change the name of the Pirate (who was named Estramundo in the play) to Macoco - the name of a friend of Porter's whose nickname was Mack the Black.
The second of a projected four films that would have starred Judy Garland and Gene Kelly. the first was For Me And My Gal (1942), Kelly's first film appearance, the second was this film, the third would have been Easter Parade (1948) if Kelly hadn't broken his ankle and been replaced by Fred Astaire, and the fourth was Summer Stock (1950).
Two songs written by Cole Porter for Judy Garland were revised in the release print. Judy's first rendition of "Love of My Life", which included the verse, was not used. However, on the MGM Records soundtrack album, listeners heard Garland's initial prerecording. Also dropped from the movie was the original "Mack the Black", intended as the curtain-raiser. In the revamped version transferred to midway, replacing the feverish Garland-Gene Kelly "Voodoo" number, Cole Porter's somewhat violent "Mack the Black" lyrics, including a reference to killing babies, were toned down. A portion of the original "Mack the Black" footage with Garland can be viewed in the trailer. The three discarded prerecordings, along with the two final takes heard in the picture, are included on Rhino's soundtrack CD.
After filming Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) for MGM, Vincente Minnelli and Judy Garland vacationed in New York City; enamoured with the play, Minnelli called the studio asking MGM to purchase "The Pirate" filming property rights for him. After investigating, MGM production office responded "we already own it!" Minnelli and Garland repeatedly attended the play's performances during their New York stay; with Minnelli inscribing sketches and notes of the sets, costumes, and production details. Returning to Culver City, Minnelli hired, bringing Barbara Karinska to "Hollywood" to execute and duplicate all the original play's costumes. Not a costume illustrator, Karinska brought with her Tom Keogh, a costume illustrator. In design meetings, the illustrator, with Karinska would discuss and develop Minnelli's costume design concepts. Minnelli had been a scenic designer for the "Radio City Music Hall" during the 1930s, prior to his Hollywood directorial career. Minnelli met with the MGM Art Department art directors designing all the stage sets. With Cole Porter composing the music, Minnelli turned the play into a musical comedy film for Garland and Gene Kelly.
Arguments, conflict and "creative differences" between husband and wife Judy Garland and director Vincente Minnelli during the prolonged production of this film reputedly played a part in their getting divorced after its completion. The fact that it was a rare box office dud amid a string of hit movies in Garland's late 1940s career further complicated matters.
If you're a fan of M-G-M musicals, you'll probably recognize the similarities between this film's Cole Porter song "Be a Clown" and the Nacio Herb Brown/Arthur Freed tune "Make 'em Laugh" featured in 1952's Singin' in the Rain. In fact, the two songs are so much alike, there was talk of a plagiarism lawsuit.
Although several sources have reported that Liza Minnelli appears in the film, the actress denies it, and she cannot be seen in the release print. She does appear in In the Good Old Summertime during the finale number.
This film was in production from February 1947, on and off, until 19 December 1947, which escalated the production costs to such a level that there was little or no hope of its ever earning back enough to end up on the profit side of the ledger; this accounted for a much larger proportion of its well known financial loss, than its otherwise widely publicized cool reception by the ticket buying public, which didn't help either.
The sequence that includes Gene Kelly swinging from one wall to another using a curtain is identical to a sequence in Anchors Aweigh filmed in 1945.
After their remarkable on screen chemistry in The Harvey Girls (1946), John Hodiak was briefly considered for the role of Serafin (Judy Garland's love interest for the film). When the film required more advanced and skilled dancing and singing, Hodiak was dropped from the production and replaced by Gene Kelly
M-G-M studio chief Louis B. Mayer openly hated this film, finding it both "high-brow" and extremely pretentious. Even though its box office failure added plenty of red ink to the studio's financial bottom line for fiscal 1948, Mayer was secretly overjoyed (and felt personally vindicated) when it bombed.
Included among the American Film Institute's 2000 list of the 500 movies nominated for the Top 100 Funniest American Movies.
Judy Garland's character in this film, Manuela, has many similarities to her iconic role of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (1939). For instance, Dorothy and Manuela are both orphans who are raised by an aunt/uncle, they both live in small and isolated towns, they are both in search of something greater, and they have a desire to runaway/leave home.
The movie had already developed a cult following overseas by the 1960s. When Judy Garland performed in Australia in 1964 a mention of the title brought a round of applause from the audience. Garland joked to her fans 'You must be the only ones who saw it.'
On the first day she was to film the hypnosis scene in the town square, Judy Garland was severely disoriented from her various medications that she began to panic at the sight of the lit torches on the set and hallucinate that she was on fire. She began asking extras and crew members if they had any Benzedrine or reefers, and eventually was taken home and put to bed, still in her costume.
Endless production delays, re-shoots and frequent absences from the set by Judy Garland drove this film so over budget that it wound up costing almost as much as M-G-M's all-time biggest box office hit, Gone with the Wind. Unlike that film, this one lost money.
This film's earliest documented telecast took place in Honolulu Wednesday 8 May 1957 on KHVH (Channel 13); it first aired in Chicago 8 July 1957 on WBBM (Channel 2), in Seattle 11 July 1957 on KING (Channel 5), in Portland OR 3 August 1957 on KGW (Channel 8), in Tucson 10 August 1957 on KVOA (Channel 4), in Cincinnati 11 August 1957 on WXIX (Channel 19) (Newport KY), in Phoenix 14 September 1957 on KPHO (Channel 5), in Nashville 7 October 1957 on WLAC (Channel 5), in Columbus 8 December 1957 on WLW-C (Channel 4), and in San Francisco 26 January 1958 on KGO (Channel 7); the Pirate finally found his way to Philadelphia 13 April 1958 on WFIL (Channel 6), to Los Angeles 28 August 1958 on KTTV (Channel 11), and, finally, to New York City 5 November 1958 on WCBS (Channel 2). At this time, color broadcasting was in its infancy, limited to only a small number of high rated programs, primarily on NBC and NBC affiliated stations, so these film showings were all still in B&W. Viewers were not offered the opportunity to see these films in their original Technicolor until several years later.
Upon completion of the film, Tom Keogh finally returned to New York City. Tom Keogh did a few ballet costume design projects while working with Barbara Karinska's costume shop; then decided to move to France, pursuing a fine artist painting career. Keogh was a very good artist/painter with a mildly successful career.