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The working title of the film was The Parisiennes. The following written acknowledgment appears in the onscreen credits: "We gratefully acknowledge the use of the gardens and parks of Paris, Muse Jacquemart-Andr of Paris, Maxim's, Carrere's Auberge de la Moutiere, Palace de Glace with special appreciation for permission to photograph interiors." Cecil Beaton's onscreen credit reads: "Costumes, scenery and production design by Cecil Beaton." After the opening credits, Maurice Chevalier as the character "Honor Lachaille" directly addresses the camera while strolling through the Bois de Bologne in Paris. After introducing himself as a happily unmarried older man, he states that although many people do marry, there are others who choose not to, then expounds the joy of watching little girls grow up.
Gigi was based on the 1945 novelette by renowned French writer, Sidonie Gabrielle Colette (1873-1954), who published under the name Colette. A 1959 Paris Match article indicates that Colette based the story on a conversation she overheard in 1914 Paris between two women discussing their astonishment at a young girl winning a marriage proposal from a wealthy older man after refusing to become his mistress. The article adds that Colette described another influence as the 1926 marriage of a budding star ballerina, the free-spirited and youthful Yola Henriquez, to the much older, wealthy and fashionable Henri Letellier.
According to information contained in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, in April 1950, Murray O'Hanlon of Spalter International Pictures in New York inquired about the possibility of Gigi being adapted to the American screen. PCA head Joseph Breen reviewed the 1948 French film based on Colette's work, directed by Jacqueline Audy and starring Daniele Delorme as "Gilberte" or "Gigi" and Frank Villard as "Gaston." Breen responded that the basic story was in direct violation of the Production Code and could not be approved. Breen went on to state: "The problem is so basic to the picture that we cannot suggest any eliminations which might bring it into conformity with the Code." In 1951 American screenwriter and playwright Anita Loos adapted Colette's novelette into a play. Upon seeing Audrey Hepburn filming a small role in the 1951 French film, Nous irons de Monte Carlo, Colette contacted Loos to recommend Hepburn for the starring role in the Broadway production. The play opened at the Fulton Theatre in New York City on November 24, 1951 with Hepburn as Gigi, Michael Evans as Gaston and Josephine Brown as "Mme. Alvarez."
Correspondence in the PCA file dated July 1952, from screenwriter and novelist Niven Busch, presents his outline of how to deal with the inherent problems of telling a story about a family of courtesans. An October 1952 internal memo from Geoffrey Shurlock indicates that Busch's proposed treatment of Gigi would eliminate its objectionable elements and would likely be acceptable to the PCA. There is no further information that Busch proceeded with the project.
According to correspondence in the M-G-M Collection at the USC Cinema-Television Library, in December 1951 Joe Fields, who along with Robert and Raymond Hackims held the film rights to Gigi, hoped to interest producer Arthur Freed in the property. Fields pitched the idea to M-G-M production head Dore Schary and suggested casting Leslie Caron, who had just appeared in the studio's An American in Paris and who subsequently appeared in the 1956 London production of Loos's play. Freed screened the 1948 French film but did not did not see the play with Hepburn until 1953. The PCA file indicates that in January 1955 Freed seriously began to grapple with the censorship difficulties of Gigi. In March 1955 the PCA's Robert Vogel sent Freed a list the objectionable elements in the story: "All the characters in the story participate, or did participate, or intend to participate, in a man-mistress relationship. The heroine is deliberately trained to enter such a relationship ...shown in detail and with much sympathy. ...(T)he story indicates that such low relationships are commonly accepted practices. ...(N)ever is there the slightest indication that such relationships are sinful." By the end of 1955 Freed had satisfied the PCA that the a screenplay could be written emphasizing Gigi's rejection of the way of life of a courtesan.
In his autobiography (entitled I Remember It Well from the song sung by Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold in Gigi), Minnelli noted that the French film version provided an "adequate" story, but he found the play "too farcically played." Freed and Minnelli approached Alan Jay Lerner and partner Frederick Loewe, who had just completed the Broadway musical My Fair Lady, about creating a musical around the Colette story, and the pair agreed. By 1957 Lerner had fashioned a script that was accepted by the PCA and had introduced changes from the novelette and the play, both of which end with Gigi startling her mother and aunt by skillfully manipulating Gaston into proposing. The character of "Honor Lachaille" does not exist in the Loos play and an unnamed charming older society figure once involved with Gigi's grandmother, Mme. Alvarez, is only suggested in the novelette. The French film introduced Gaston's uncle Honor and placed Gigi's mother in the background, details retained by Lerner.
Minnelli indicated in his autobiography that he hoped to lure Ina Claire out of retirement to play "Aunt Alicia," but when she refused, Beaton (who had also worked on My Fair Lady) suggested Isabel Jeans. A modern source relates that Freed also considered Gladys Cooper for the role. Chevallier was always considered for the role of Honor. Modern sources indicate that Lerner considered Dirk Bogarde for the role of Gaston, but the actor was unavailable. When Louis Jourdan was cast in the role, Lerner and Loewe arranged his songs to be delivered in the semi-spoken manner used by Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady.
The film was shot on location in Paris at many of the famous locations seen in the film including the Bois de Boulogne, the Palais de Glace, Maxim's restaurant and the Muse Jacquemart-Andr, which was used as Gaston's apartment. The scenes in Trouville by-the-sea were shot in Venice, California. Additional scenes and re-takes were shot at M-G-M Studios in Culver City, CA. Modern sources indicate that long-time M-G-M cinematographer Ray June photographed the re-takes. A Hollywood Reporter news item indicates that Cesare Danova was tested for a role. An August 1957 Hollywood Reporter item adds Richard Winckler to the cast, but his appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. The publicity and artwork for the film featured Beaton's distinctive signature logo of the film's title.
According to a modern source, during post-production editor Adrienne Fazan requested assistance for looping from long-time M-G-M editor Margaret Booth, but Booth became involved in overseeing editing of the entire picture. The same source quotes Fazan as claiming that Booth's severe cuts removed all the story's warmth from the film. A January 20, 1958 preview in Santa Barbara was described by Lerner as "a disaster." Both Lerner and Loewe insisted the picture was "not the film we wrote," considering it too long and too slow. Despite the success of a later preview in Pomona, the writers remained unhappy and the studio approved retakes of several songs by Jourdan and Caron.
Freed arranged for a grand premiere at New York City's Royale Theatre. Reviews praised the film while noting its similarities to My Fair Lady, with the New York Times critic commenting that "Messrs. Lerner, Loewe and Beaton have stolen Gigi from themselves." The film went on to great success and is recognized by many film historians as the last of the great M-G-M musicals. Gigi set a new Academy Award record by winning in all nine categories for which it was nominated (previous record holders winning eight awards were Gone With the Wind, 1939 [please see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40], From Here to Eternity, 1953  and On the Waterfront, 1954 [see below] including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Costume Design, Best Cinematography (Color), Best Music, Best Song ("Gigi"), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration and Best Film Editing.