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According to a 1945 New York Times news item, David O. Selznick was paid $175,000 to lend Ingrid Bergman to RKO. As part of the deal, Selznick also acquired the screen rights to Little Women (see below) and A Bill of Divorcement (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.0338). This was the first effort of Rainbow Productions, Inc., an independent production company owned by Leo McCarey, Bing Crosby, B. G. DeSylva, David Butler and Hal Roach, Jr. According to a 1944 news item in New York Times, in 1942, McCarey, who was at the time under contract to RKO, outlined the story to Crosby, who was intrigued but unavailable because of his contract with Paramount. Crosby was freed to make the picture when DeSylva, then an executive producer at Paramount, agreed to lend Crosby to RKO in exchange for a commitment with McCarey, who then wrote and directed Going My Way for Paramount (see below). Crosby first played the role of "Father O'Malley" in Going My Way, which was released prior to The Bells of St. Mary's and won an Academy Award for his performance in Going My Way. The Hollywood Reporter review adds that McCarey based Bergman's character on his aunt, Sister Mary Benedict of the Immaculate Heart Convent in Hollywood, CA.
Hollywood Reporter news items yield the following information: In February 1945, Anna Q. Nilsson was tested for one of the leads. The closing street scene was shot on Paramount's New York street set. Although an April 1945 news item places Myra Nelson and Marion Lessing in the cast, their participation in the released film has not been confirmed. Bobby Dolan, the little boy who narrated the nativity scene in the film, was the son of Robert Emmett Dolan, the film's musical director. The film was nominated for the following Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Film Editor, Best Score and Best Song ("Aren't You Glad You're You"). It won the Academy Award for Best Sound Recording. According to a modern source, the film became the year's top box-office picture and was the biggest hit in RKO history. In the 1950s, Republic acquired the picture for its film library and re-issued it in 1959. On October 7, 1959, CBS broadcast a televised version of the story, starring Claudette Colbert, Robert Preston and Glenda Farrell.