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The film introduced Ruby Keeler and was the first Warner Bros. film for Busby Berkeley and songwriters Harry Warren and Al Dubin. Mervyn LeRoy was originally scheduled to direct, but due to illness was replaced by Lloyd Bacon. According to AMPAS clipping files, as a publicity stunt, a train called the "42nd Street Special," traveled from Hollywood to New York City, arriving the day the film opened in New York. Celebrities including Tom Mix and his horse and chorus girls from the film were on the train.
The film had a shooting schedule of 28 days and was made for a total cost of $340,000. The popular musical, which was one of the top money making films of the year, won Academy Award nominations for Best Picture and Best Sound Recording and also appeared as number two on the Film Daily Ten Best. In 1980, a theatrical adaptation of the screenplay with additional songs, produced by David Merrick and choregraphed by Gower Champion, was a Broadway hit. According to modern sources, Whitney Bolton wrote the first treatment and worked with James Seymour on several drafts before he was replaced by Rian James.