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The opening credits read "Ken Russell's Talking Picture The Boy Friend." The Boy Friend was based on the Sandy Wilson stage musical that premiered in London in April 1953 and starred Anne Rogers as "Polly." Julie Andrews starred in the Broadway production the following year, marking her first stage appearance in America. In the original musical play, the setting of the story is the French Riviera. In Russell's adaptation, the rundown theater was located in a London suburb, and the story was expanded to include Polly's frustrated backstage crush on "Tony." The most distinctive addition to the film version of The Boy Friend was Russell's inclusion of several extravagant numbers, imagined by various cast members and movie director "De Thrill," in the style of famed film musical director Busby Berkeley.
News items from May 1970 stated that British producer-director Ken Russell was to produce The Boy Friend for M-G-M and intended to star famed British model Twiggy, whose real name was Leslie Hornby. In Russell's autobiography, he stated that Twiggy's mentor, entrepreneur Justin de Villeneuve, suggested her for the part. The film marked the model's screen debut. In her autobiography, Twiggy related that she spent nearly nine months learning to tap dance and sing for the role of Polly. Russell added two numbers for her, both used previously in earlier M-G-M films, "You Are My Lucky Star" and "All I Do Is Dream of You." Glenda Jackson, who had starred in Russell's successful 1969 production of Women in Love and his 1970 film on composer Tchaikovsky, The Music Lovers, appeared in an unbilled cameo as "Rita Monroe."
In Sandy Wilson's autobiography, he stated that soon after the musical opened successfully in London he was approached for the film rights by the Rank Organisation. Shortly afterward, however, Wilson sold the rights to musical producers Cy Feuer and Ernest Martin, who, when they could get no other film studios interested in the property, eventually made a deal with M-G-M.
Wilson listed several stars who, at various times, were considered for roles in the film adaptation, including David Niven, Donald O'Connor and Kay Kendall. Wilson stated that he knew of at least seven script treatments of The Boy Friend that never reached fruition. A modern biography of M-G-M musical producer Arthur Freed indicates that M-G-M secured the rights to The Boy Friend in 1957 and intended to star Debbie Reynolds in a production adapted by Dorothy Kingsley and George Wells. A November 1961 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that film producer Ross Hunter was trying to buy the rights to The Boy Friend as an M-G-M vehicle for Sandra Dee and Carol Channing. According to numerous Hollywood Reporter items in 1967, Freed had added The Boy Friend to his production schedule with a cast of unknowns from America and Europe. A January 1967 Hollywood Reporter "Rambling Reporter" column speculated that television actor Michael Callan would star in the production. A February 1967 Daily Variety news item stated that the producer also had signed George Kirgo to write the screenplay. Freed's biography indicates that Kirgo's adaptation was subsequently rejected by then studio head Robert Weitman. With M-G-M suffering from a series of business transitions that saw the lot dismantled in mid-1970, Freed left M-G-M in December 1970 after more than thirty years with the studio.
The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Music Score but lost to Fiddler on the Roof (see below). According to a lengthy June 1987 Los Angeles Times article commemorating a re-release of The Boy Friend, Russell's initial cut of the picture ran 134 minutes, but M-G-M trimmed more than 26 minutes before its release. In 1987 M-G-M/United Artists Classics restored the 26 minutes; that longer version was viewed for this entry. The longer version included two songs, "It's Nicer in Nice" and "The You-Don't-Want-To-Play-With-Me Blues" as well as the seven minute Grecian bacchanal party fantasy.