powered by AFI
Katharine Brush's novel was serialized in Saturday Evening Post (22 August-3 October 1931). According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, in August 1931, M-G-M bought the story as a vehicle for Greta Garbo. Other pre-production Hollywood Reporter news items noted that the script was going to be adapted from Brush's novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and that singing star Lillian Roth was planning to leave the cast of her Broadway revue Vanities to take the lead in the picture. A few days after the Roth item, it was reported that M-G-M wanted Barbara Stanwyck for the lead. In February 1932, Clara Bow was mentioned in a Hollywood Reporter news item as M-G-M's choice for the title role but, according to the item, Bow did not want to be tied down to the long-term contract which M-G-M required for her to do the picture.
Marcel De Sano was initially set to direct the picture, and Bess Meredyth and C. Gardner Sullivan were working on the scenario and dialogue, according to various news items. De Sano was replaced shortly before the start of production. Meredyth and Sullivan are not credited onscreen or in reviews, and the extent of their participation in the film has not been determined. Although an June 18, 1932 news item noted that the picture was going to be released a record two weeks after the end of production, it actually was released four weeks after shooting ended, a span of time not unusual for films of the period. According to a news item in Motion Picture Herald, some shooting revisions were necessary on the picture which it termed "daring and torrid."
According to the file on the film contained in the MPAA/PCA Collection in the AMPAS library, the Hays Office approved the film after the elimination of some suggestive dialogue and shots of Harlow. Several state and local censorship boards throughout the United States and Canada required additional eliminations from the film before it was accepted for distribution, as did some foreign countries. After the film was approved, several letters of protest were sent to the Hays Office from various civic and religious leaders, particularly in the South, who felt that the it should not have been approved. Darryl Zanuck, then an executive producer at Warner Bros., also wrote to Col. Jason Joy in the Hays Office to protest that the office had approved Red-Headed Woman but had balked at his proposed film, Son of Russia. HarR had an editorial on the film in July 1932 that criticized its "filth" and said "pictures of this kind, instead of attracting customers to the theatres, will drive them away. Thus will they [motion picture producers] defeat their own purpose." Other trade publications viewed the film much more favorably, however. Hollywood Reporter said in its review of the film, "[Harlow's was] the sexiest performance since Clara Bow discovered 'It'." According to Anita's Loos's autobiographical book A Cast of Thousands, the film's opening line, "So gentlemen prefer blondes, do they? Yes, they do," spoken by Harlow, and the brief montage following the line, were written by her at the insistance of M-G-M production chief Irving Thalberg. According to Loos, because a Glendale, CA preview audience didn't seem to realize that they were watching a comedy until well into the picture, Thalberg wanted her to preface the action with a comic "set-up." Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was the title of a 1925 Broadway comedy hit that was Loos' most famous work. Loos's book and other modern sources credit Harlow's rise to the ranks of a major star to the success of Red-Headed Woman.