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Contemporary news items add the following information about the production: Katherine Anderson McLean, whose pseudonym was Kathryn Forbes, published the first two chapters of her novel, "Mama's Bank Account" and "Mama's Roomer," in a national magazine in 1942. (Modern biographical sources note that, despite the seemingly autobiographical nature of the novel, McLean's actual family life only vaguely resembled that of her fictional characters.) RKO bought the rights to McLean's novel for $50,000. Later, RKO bought fifty percent of John van Druten's Broadway adaptation and made a deal with the play's producers, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, to buy the screen rights to the play on a sliding price scale to be calculated at $2,500 for every week of the Broadway run, up to $150,000. The play ran for approximately twenty-one months. The deal with Rodgers and Hammerstein also stipulated that the studio could not begin production on the picture until the Broadway show had closed. Oscar Homolka was the only member of the Broadway show to revive his role on film. Mady Christians played "Mama" in the play, which also featured Marlon Brando in his Broadway debut as "Nels." To perform the role of Peter Thorkelson, popular ventriloquist Edgar Bergen appeared on screen for the first time without his dummy, Charlie McCarthy.
Some scenes in the picture were filmed in San Francisco, including Telegraph Hill, Russian Hill, the Ferry Building and Liberty Street, and at Agoura Ranch in Agoura, CA. Shortly after RKO acquired McLean's novel, producer Harriet Parsons approached Katina Paxinou, a Greek-born actress, to star as Mama and planned to change the nationality of the story's family from Norwegian to Greek. Modern sources note that Parsons also asked George Cukor to offer the role to Greta Garbo, who had retired by then, but she turned the part down. In addition, modern sources claim that Marlene Dietrich wanted to do the Mama role and had director Mitchell Leisen talk to RKO about casting her, but the studio rejected the idea because of Dietrich's racy image. A March 1948 Los Angeles Times article states that after Parsons "got" Paxinou to play Mama, the project was "snatched away" from her. An article in New York Times adds that, despite being ousted from the film, Parsons received an onscreen producing credit with director George Stevens because of her significant contributions to the final film. According to a New York Times article, Paramount Pictures received twenty-five percent of the film's distribution gross because it had bought Liberty Films, a production company in which Stevens was part owner, in 1947. Modern sources note that, although it received excellent reviews, the picture lost money at the box office because of its big, $3,068,000, budget.
Irene Dunne was nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal of "Marta," but lost to Jane Wyman in Johnny Belinda. Homolka was nominated as Best Supporting Actor, but lost to Walter Huston in Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and Barbara Bel Geddes and Ellen Corby were both nominated for Best Supporting Actress, but lost to Claire Trevor in Key Largo. Nicholas Musuraca was nominated for Best Cinematography. In addition to the John van Druten adaptation, McLean's novel was twice turned into a stage musical. The first, entitled Mama, was adapted by Neal Du Brock and John Clifton and opened in Buffalo, New York on January 6, 1972, with Celeste Holm as Mama. In 1979, Richard Rodgers wrote the music for the second musical version, also called Mama, for which Thomas Meehan wrote the book and Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann played Mama. Irene Dunne and Barbara Bel Geddes reprised their roles in a August 30, 1948 Lux Radio Theatre broadcast. McLean's book was also the basis for a television series, I Remember Mama, which was broadcast on the CBS network from July 1, 1949 to March 17, 1957. Peggy Wood starred as Mama in the popular show.