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Thelma Strabel's novel was serialized in The Saturday Evening Post from 27 April to June 1, 1940. The foreword in Strabel's novel, as published in 1942, was written by director/producer Cecil B. DeMille. Hollywood Reporter news items provide the following information about the production: Among the actors considered for lead roles in this film were John Barrymore, James Stewart, Rex Harrison, William Boyd, Claudette Colbert, Tallulah Bankhead and Katharine Hepburn. Susan Hayward tested for the role of "Loxi" and was originally cast as "Ivy Devereaux," before being cast as "Drusilla." Cecil B. DeMille's son Richard was scheduled to make his screen debut in this film, but his appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Actor Morris Ankrum was replaced by Charles Bickford in the role of "Mate of the Tyfib," and Hedda Hopper replaced Spring Byington as "Aunt Henrietta." Reap the Wild Wind marked the last time that Hopper appeared onscreen as a character other than herself.
According to modern sources, Maurice Costello and Elmo Lincoln appear in the film. News items further report that Frank Loesser was signed to write the picture's theme song and Sigmund Krumgold was to write the music score, but neither was credited on the film. Hollywood Reporter reported that artist Dan Sayre Groesback was set to design scenes for the picture, as he reportedly had for other DeMille films, and that English poet laureate John Masefield was to work on the film, but their contributions to this film have not been verified.
Files in the Paramount Collection at the AMPAS Library provide the following additional information about the film: Expenses on this film rose far over the original budget, and concerned production executives urged all department heads "to make cuts wherever possible." Particularly difficult and expensive to shoot was the scene with the giant octopus. Information in the files and an article in New York Herald Tribune indicates that underwater sequences were filmed at the Pacific Marine Museum in Malibu, CA, although modern sources suggest that the scene with the giant octopus was filmed in a tank at the Paramount studios. According to an article in New York Herald Tribune, preparation for the underwater scenes took two months, and an additional two months was spent in shooting the underwater Southern Cross scenes. DeMille also used the "Little Old New York" set at the Twentieth Century-Fox lot, the water tank at the United Artists studio, which had to be enlarged to shoot the ship sequences, and the "Old Hawks' Tank" and "The Water Way" at the Columbia Ranch in Burbank, CA. The film went $250,000 over budget. According to an article in New York Herald Tribune, fish and lobster were culled from the Pacific Ocean in Malibu with the permission of the California Fish and Game Commission, and were used to stock the tanks. Other scenes were shot on location in Charleston, SC, and in Miami, Key West and New Iberia, FL.
On March 18, 1942, Paramount held the world premiere of Reap the Wild Wind in conjunction with a celebration of its thirtieth year in business and Cecil B. DeMille's thirtieth year in films at the newly renovated El Capitan Theatre on Hollywood Blvd. in Los Angeles, CA. The theatre, renamed the Paramount Hollywood Theatre, was remodeled by noted Los Angeles architect W. L. Pereira, who is credited with special photographic effects in this film, and Hal Pereira, and was described in a contemporary Hollywood Reporter article as "the last word in theatre architecture." In 1991, Disney and Pacific Theaters restored the El Capitan to its original 1926 design. The premiere drew a crowd of approximately 3,000 persons and proceeds of the evening were donated to the Navy Relief Fund, according to Hollywood Reporter. This film was hailed by reviewers for its technical achievements and won an Academy Award in the category of Special Effects (Farciot Edouart, Gordon Jennings, William L. Pereira and Louis Mesenkop). It was nominated for Academy Awards in the following categories: Cinematography (Color), Victor Milner and William V. Skall; and Art Direction/Interior Decoration (Color), Hans Dreier and Roland Anderson, George Sawley. Ray Milland and Paulette Goddard reprised their roles in a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast on March 8, 1943.