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According to contemporary news items, M-G-M originally purchased Elsie T. Schauffler's play in early 1936 as a possible vehicle for Brian Aherne. In July 1936, Patric Knowles was tested for the role that eventually went to Clark Gable. Actor Hugh Buckler, who died in an automobile accident just prior to the start of production on Parnell, was supposed to play a featured role in the picture. Joan Crawford, who originally was cast in the role of "Katie," left the production just before shooting began because of differences with director John Stahl on the interpretation of her character. At that time she took over Myrna Loy's role in The Last of Mrs. Cheyney and Loy took over Crawford's role in Parnell. A production chart in Hollywood Reporter on December 7, 1936 listed Tully Marshall in the cast, but his participation in the released film has not been confirmed. While most non-musical M-G-M films of the period were shot on a four or five week schedule, it took over three months to complete filming on Parnell. Hollywood Reporter news items indicate that filming stopped for about three weeks in late February and early March 1937 while addtional script work was done. The film received a number of bad reviews, among them Variety's which called it "dull entertainment," and New York Times's which said that Parnell was "singularly pallid," but it also received some excellent notices, including that in Daily Variety which called it a "brilliant trophy" for M-G-M.
The film was not listed in any "best film" lists or box office champions' lists, and is frequently mentioned in modern sources as the biggest "flop" of Gable and Loy's otherwise thriving careers at the time. According to information in the Howard Dietz Collection at the AMPAS Library, the film cost $1,547,000 and grossed $1,576,000, resulting in a net loss for the studio of $637,000. Life magazine featured the picture as its "film of the week" in June 1937. The article on the picture mentioned that the many "character extras" used for the film received Ten dollars per day for their work. The pressbook for the film noted a commercial tie-in between it and the General Mills Co., makers of the popular "Bisquick" baking mix, which featured pictures of prominent M-G-M stars, among them Gable, on their boxes. An unidentified note in the AMPAS library file on the film noted that Jack D. Moore was an uncredited set decorator on the film. The story of Charles Stewart Parnell and Katie O'Shea was also the basis for a BBC mini-series, produced in 1990, that was shown in the United States on PBS television from December 1991 to January 1992. That production, entitled Parnell and the Englishwoman, starred Trevor Eve as Parnell and Francesca Annis as Katie.