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Onscreen credits call the film "King Vidor's Production," but Vidor is not given a separate directorial credit. Hollywood Reporter reported that RKO purchased the Tully play for $375,000. RKO borrowed King Vidor from M-G-M for the production. An early pre-production news item in Film Daily announced Herbert Brenon as the assigned director. According to modern sources, M-G-M head Louis B. Mayer was persuaded to lend Vidor to RKO at the special request of his son-in-law, David Selznick. A May 1931 Film Daily news item announced that Bird of Paradise was to be shot in the "recently improved Technicolor process." This plan was apparently abandoned, however. According to studio production files, some of the exteriors of the film were shot on the Hawaiian Islands. Location shooting, which was plagued by a drenching, windy "Kona storm," began on February 7, 1932 and was completed on March 8, 1932. The weather was so stormy and unpredictable that much of the script was abandoned or rewritten to accommodate the changing shooting conditions. Production supervisor John E. Burch complained in Western Union telegrams and letters to RKO executive Val Paul that none of the Hawaiian locations were "primitive" enough for the story's demands and had to be altered or built upon to satisfy Vidor. In his autobiography, Vidor confirms his dissatisfaction with the Hawaiian settings and the chaotic scriptwriting process. In a modern interview, Vidor describes how he and his cinematographer filmed the underwater love scenes: "I had an idea to try to make a back light out of the bubbles. I had a boat then, and we could fish at night, and I had seen the phosphorescent light that some fish have. I thought if we could have a back light in a similar way, we could have a great love scene under the water." Vidor adds that, despite his efforts, he was "a little disappointed" with the scenes. According to a February 1932 Film Daily news item, Busby Berkeley was hired by RKO to "put a chorus through its paces" during the production. In the modern interview, Vidor confirms that Berkeley choreographed the village dance scene.
According to files in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, Jason S. Joy, Director of the Studio Relations Office of the AMPPA, suggested in a January 16, 1932 letter to Selznick that certain lines and shots be eliminated or altered, including a shot showing a baby feeding at her mother's breast and shots depicting the sacrifice of a chicken. Although various state censorship boards objected to some of the dancing scenes, only British Columbia objected to the closeups of Dolores Del Rio swimming half-naked underwater. Pennsylvania censors objected to a scene in which a "small boy, with Johnny's shirt on standing with back to camera, when you see a shadow of his sex on the shirt." Modern sources and Vidor's autobiography mention that other scenes were shot on Santa Catalina Island, at the RKO-Path lot in Culver City, where a "native" village was built, and at a water tank at the First National lot in Burbank. According to Hollywood Reporter, the film's much publicized production problems and its $1,000,000 budget made it the "brunt of more gags than anything that has ever happened around the town since Cecil B. DeMille was in production with the King of Kings ." A modern source, which lists the film's budget as $752,000, claims that Max Steiner spent $20,000 to purchase marimbas, ukeleles, steel guitars and vibraphones for the production. Bird of Paradise was remade with Louis Jordan and Debra Paget in 1951 by Twentieth Century-Fox.