powered by AFI
The working titles of this film were I Won't Dance and Never Gonna Dance. Modern sources state that Pick Yourself Up was also considered as a title, along with fifteen other suggestions. Writer Erwin Gelsey's original screen story was titled "Portrait of John Garnett." According to modern sources, RKO had purchased Gelsey's story, which focused on the exploits of a gambler, some time before this film's production. In November 1935, Gelsey was hired to adapt his story to the screen, according to a Hollywood Reporter news item. According to Screen Achievements Bulletin records, Gelsey was under consideration for a screenplay credit with Howard Lindsay and Allan Scott as late as July 1936. A June 1936 Screen Achievements Bulletin notice assigns Dorothy Yost and Ben Holmes "contributing writing" credits. Modern sources claim that Lindsay, who had directed Fred Astaire in the stage version of The Gay Divorce, wrote the first draft of the screenplay, which Astaire-Rogers veteran Scott then re-wrote substantially. In late April 1936, just before shooting was to start, a Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Scott had been recalled from New York to write "added dialog."
RKO borrowed Betty Furness from M-G-M for this production. "Bojangles of Harlem," in which Astaire performs in black face, was intended as a tribute to the respected black performer Bill Robinson, whose nickname was "Bojangles of Harlem." (One modern source, however, contends that Astaire's true inspiration was black dancer John W. Bubbles, who created the character of "Sportin' Life" in George and Ira Gershwin's Porgy and Bess.) Jerome Kern and Dorothy Field's song "It's Not in the Cards" was written as a full opening number for the film but is heard only briefly as the instrumental conclusion of the first scene and as background music in later scenes. Kern and Fields won an Academy Award for their song "The Way You Look Tonight," and Hermes Pan was nominated for an Award for his dance direction on the "Bojangles" number. Hollywood Reporter production charts and news items add Joan Davis, Alan Curtis and Edward Price to the cast list, but their participation in the final film has not been confirmed. Modern sources add Dale Van Sickel (Diner), Bud Flanagan (later known as Dennis O'Keefe), Bess Flowers, Ralph Brooks (Dance extras "The Way You Look Tonight") and Blanca Vischer, Marie Osborne (who is listed as a stand-in in production files) and Howard Hickman to the cast. Mel Berns is listed as makeup artist by modern sources. According to studio production files, the New York street scenes were shot on the Paramount lot, the exteriors and interiors of the train station were filmed at Santa Fe Railroad Station in Los Angeles (now called Union Station), and the freight yard scenes were shot in downtown Los Angeles. On July 27, 1936, Astaire and Rogers headed a list of top "money draw" names as compiled by Hollywood Reporter.
Modern sources add the following information about the production: Astaire spent almost eight weeks preparing the film's dance routines. Kern, who negotiated for a $50,000 salary and a percentage of the gross up to an additional $37,500, was hired to write seven songs for the film. When faced with Astaire's request that two of the songs be contemporary swing numbers, the musically conservative Kern waffled. After Kern presented Astaire with a blandly syncopated version of "Bojangles of Harlem," Astaire went to Kern's Beverly Hills hotel and spent several hours tap dancing around the room in an attempt to loosen up the number. Later, Kern's frequent collaborater, Robert Russell Bennett, expanded and arranged the tune for production. During rehearsals, Astaire's rehearsal pianist and collaborator, Hal Borne, supplied additional ideas for the number. Borne's contribution was not recognized by Kern, however, who reputedly notified RKO that Borne was not to compose any music or be paid for any music. In contrast, Astaire requested that Borne receive a screen credit along the lines of "additional musical arrangements," but his request was not granted. Kern also called on Bennett to fill out his musical themes on "The Waltz in Swing Time." (Although not credited on the film, Bennett is listed on the song's sheet music with constructing and arranging this number.) In addition to Bennett, Borne also claims to have contributed to the piece.
Astaire states in his autobiography: "Swing Time took a long time to complete, several weeks more than the others, due largely to the trick screen process necessary for the "Bojangles" number, which I did last of all, after the regular shooting schedule was finished." Astaire used trick photography in the "Bojangles" routine for the first time in his film career. To achieve the effect of the number, in which Astaire appears to be dancing simultaneously with three larger-than-life shadows of himself, Astaire first danced in front of a blank white screen onto which a strong Sun Arc lamp projected a single shadow. Then he performed the "foreground" dance under normal lighting and in front of another blank screen. This dance was combined optically with the shadow dance, which had been tripled optically in the lab. Simultaneity was achieved by having Astaire watch a projected version of the shadow dance while he was performing the foreground dance. The routine required three long days of shooting. For additional information on the Astaire-Rogers films, see entry for Top Hat. On December 4, 2003, Never Gonna Dance, a musical based on the film opened on Broadway, using much of the original score. The play closed in February 2004.