In his memoir "The Ragman's Son" Kirk Douglas recounted that John Wayne attended a screening of the film, and was horrified. "Christ, Kirk! How can you play a part like that? There's so few of us left. We got to play strong, tough characters. Not those weak queers," Wayne said. Douglas tried to explain, "It's all make-believe, John. It isn't real. You're not really John Wayne, you know." Wayne (born Marion Morrison) looked at him oddly, as if Douglas had betrayed him.
Many of the locations used for filming were the actual locations Vincent van Gogh visited in his life.
The color process used for the film (Ansco Color, but labeled in the credits as Metrocolor) was unsuitable for long term color preservation. As a result, revival prints lost the extraordinary brightness and range of the movie's original images, and began to turn beet red. Luckily, the original colors have now been properly restored in the DVD edition. As a matter of course, MGM made three black and white color separations from the monopack negative. Because the black and white images, which provide color values relative to one another, cannot fade, it was relatively easy to restore the film's color to its original brilliance, the only problem being different shrinkage rate between the three b&w separations.
Even though many sources claim that Anthony Quinn won his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for appearing a short 8 minutes in the movie, his performance actually lasts 22 minutes and 40 seconds.
A very young Michael Douglas and his brother Joel ran screaming from the theater during the scene where Van Gogh severs his own ear because they believed their father, Kirk Douglas, had actually harmed himself.
Director Vincente Minnelli had a portion of a field spray-painted yellow to closer resemble Vincent van Gogh's painting.
Parts of the film were shot in Auvers-sur-Oise, where Vincent van Gogh lived and died. Kirk Douglas had his hair cut specially in the style of the artist and had it dyed to a similar reddish tint. This was enough to make some of the older inhabitants of the town believe that Van Gogh had returned.
On December 17, 1955, during Perry Como's television show on NBC, Como (who started out as a barber) shaved off Kirk Douglas' beard he grew for this picture on live TV.
There is no evidence that suggests that 'Wheatfield of Crows' was Van Gogh's final painting. Some suggest it's 'Tree Roots' or 'Daubigny's Garden'.
Irving Stone's novel was first published in 1946 and MGM purchased the film rights in that year. However, there was a rider to the purchase - the film would have to be made within ten years or else the rights would revert to the author. MGM took a very long time to decide on whether or not to make the film (producer John Houseman believed that it was the big box-office success of "Moulin Rouge", with Jose Ferrer as Toulouse-Lautrec that finally spurred them on) and the film had to be made against the clock, as it were. However, the completed movie was in cinemas before the end of 1956.
Opening credits prologue: Without their (museums) help and that of private collectors the world over, this motion picture about a great painter could not have been made.
Theo's name is pronounced the American way. The Dutch pronunciation (which would have been more accurate) is TAY-oh. The biggest misconception is that the artist's name is pronounced "van GO," whereas the correct Dutch pronunciation is actually "van KHOKH," with the "kh" a throaty "h" sound.
Director Vincente Minelli was opposed to using Cinemascope as the aspect ration of the film, believing that it was inconsistent with the mostly intimate story that he wanted to tell, as well as with the Van Gogh works depicted from time to time, including the recreations of many of the sites (e.g., a cafe, a pool hall, or Van Gogh's bedroom in Arles) that ended up being depicted in Van Gogh's paintings. Minelli lost that battle with the studio, but was successful in getting to use Ansco Color as his film stock, which was not as saturated a medium as Technicolor; Minelli believed that it would better capture the darker moods of Van Gogh's life. Ansco Color, however, had already gone out of production in 1955 when filming took place, and Minelli had to scrounge enough of the remaining film stock to make the movie, and then had to arrange special processing to develop the film as well.
This had been Vincente Minnelli's dream project for years at MGM, as van Gogh's life encompassed all of the director's own passions and beliefs, specifically devotion to artistic creation at the expense of all else, and use of color as a metaphor for language. MGM was resistant, as they believe that the film had poor box office prospects, but Minnelli finagled the opportunity by consenting to helm two Broadway-to-Hollywood musical transfers for the Arthur Freed Unit, whose commercial appeal would, it was assumed, compensate for projected losses on Lust for Life (1956) (in the Big Studio days, losses on a few "prestige" projects were tolerated if they were not too steep, and did not keep the studio from meeting its overall profit target for the year. In fact, most of Vincente Minnelli's films fall into this category, as they typically brought MGM lots of prestige, but hit-or-miss box office returns). But Minnelli's heart was in neither of these musical ventures, and both Brigadoon (1954) and Kismet (1955) emerged as artistic and commercial disappointments - too late, however, as Lust for Life (1956) was already in production when the returns came in.