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According to Hollywood Reporter news items, first Roy Del Ruth and then Lewis Milestone were set to direct this film. Hollywood Reporter news items also provide the following information about the production: producer Harry Cohn negotiated with Eugenie Leontovich, who played "Lily Garland" in the Broadway production, to recreate her role for the film, and later tried to obtain Gloria Swanson for the part. (In 1950, Swanson starred in a New York revival of the play.) A March 15, 1936 New York Times article stated that Miriam Hopkins was also considered for the lead. Columbia considered casting William Frawley as "Owen O'Malley," the part he played in the Broadway production, but instead borrowed Roscoe Karns from Paramount for the role. Although a November 16, 1933 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Gregory Ratoff was signed for the role he had enacted on the stage, he was not in the original Broadway production nor the finished film. Etienne Girardot was the only actor to recreate his role in the Broadway production for the film. Other Hollywood Reporter news items in late November 1933 reported that Preston Sturges had been hired to write the screenplay, but that he was let go a week later after he had "failed to get going" on the script. The studio then began negotiations with Herman Mankiewicz to work on the film, which was to be produced by Felix Young. There is no confirmation that Mankiewicz worked on the script, however, and Sturges' contribution to the completed film is doubtful. A Hollywood Reporter news item includes George E. Stone and Edward Edgar in the cast, but their appearance in the finished picture has not been confirmed. Although contemporary and modern sources credit Edward Gargan with the role of the sheriff, it was played by James Burke, who is listed on the CBCS. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, Austin Parker was signed to adapt the play, but his contribution to the completed film has not been confirmed. According to a Daily Variety news item, Columbia considered releasing the picture under a different title because they were afraid that too many "westerners" had never heard of the Twentieth Century train.
According to information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the Hays Office felt great concern about "the advisability of using the Passion Play and its characters as the comedy element, as it was used in the original play that ran on Broadway," and repeatedly warned Columbia to tone down the religious angle. In a letter to Cohn, PCA Director Joseph I. Breen stated: "...we still believe there will be serious difficulty in inducing an anti-Semitic public to accept a [motion picture] play produced by an industry believed to be Jewish in which the Passion Play is used for comedy purposes." The Hays Office requested that the studio eliminate the line, "I am der lead" in the interchange between the two beards and "Oscar Jaffe" when they tell him about the Passion Play. After the deletion was made, the PCA was satisfied with the picture, although they did later insist that the scene were "Oscar Jaffe" jabs "Lily Garland" with the pin be modified so that it could not be seen exactly where he jabs her.
According to modern sources, Gene Fowler contributed to the screenplay and Kalloch designed the gowns. Modern sources also assert that Ina Claire, Tallulah Bankhead, Ruth Chatterton, Constance Bennett, Ann Harding, Kay Francis and Joan Crawford were all considered for the lead by Cohn and director Howard Hawks. According to modern sources, Napoleon on Broadway, written by Charles Bruce Millholland, was not produced, but instead was rewritten by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur and renamed Twentieth Century. On the Twentieth Century, a musical adaptation of the play, opened in New York on February 19, 1978 with John Cullum and Madeline Kahn starring. Television presentations of the play included the October 7, 1949 Ford Theatre version, directed by Marc Daniels and starring Fredric March and Lili Palmer; a October 12, 1953 Broadway Television Theatre production directed by Robert St. Aubrey and starring Fred Clark and Constance Bennett; and the April 7, 1956 Ford Star Jubilee production, produced by Arthur Schwartz and starring Orson Welles and Betty Grable.