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The working titles of this film were Years Ago, Fame and Fortune and Father and the Actress. The film was based on actress/writer Ruth Gordon's autobiographical play, Years Ago. Before writing the play, Gordon published reminiscences of her youth in The Atlantic Monthly under the title "Look in Your Glass" (Aug-October 1939). As portrayed in the film, Gordon (1896-1985) grew up in Wollaston, MA, and surprised her parents with her desire to be an actress. Gordon made her Broadway debut in 1915, and enjoyed a successful stage career before marrying writer Garson Kanin, with whom she collaborated on the Academy Award-nominated screenplays for A Double Life, Adam's Rib and Pat and Mike (see below). Gordon won an Academy Award for her performance in Rosemary's Baby in 1968, and published three memoirs and a novel.
According to 1951 Hollywood Reporter news items, Debbie Reynolds was originally cast as "Ruth." Hollywood Reporter news items also include Russ Saunders' acrobatic troupe and stage actress Mary Young in the cast, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Portions of the film were shot on location at Inglewood High School in Southern California. The Actress was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Costume Design (Black and White). Anthony Perkins made his motion picture debut in the film. According to a December 2, 1953 Variety news item, the FBI was called in when the manager of a Columbus, OH movie theater received threatening letters demanding that The Actress no longer be shown. The author of the letters called the film "obscene and disgusting," complaining specifically about the scene in which Spencer Tracy's pants fall down during a gymnastics routine. The outcome of the investigation is not known.