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The film opens with the following inscription: "This picture is dedicated to him [Father Edward Flanagan] and his splendid work for homeless, abandoned boys, regardless of race, creed or color." Portions of the film were shot at the site of the real Boys Town near Omaha, Nebraska. According to a pre-production news item in July 1937, William Rankin was one of the screenwriters who went to Omaha to scout locations for the film. Rankin's name was not listed in any other source, and it is not known whether he actually contributed to the screenplay. At the time of the scouting trip, M-G-M child stars Jackie Cooper and Freddie Bartholomew were being considered for roles in the film, in addition to Mickey Rooney. Other news items noted the J. Walter Ruben was initially set to direct the picture and John Miljan was being tested for a role. A news item in Hollywood Reporter noted that actor Edward Norris replaced Donald Barry in the role of Joe Marsh several weeks after filming began. M-G-M's NBC radio program "Good News" began its 1939 season on September 1, 1938 with a brief preview of the film featuring Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney and the real Father Flanagan. M-G-M also made a fifteen minute promotional program for the film which was broadcast over local Los Angeles radio station KFI on September 12, 1938. Boys Town was one of the top money-making pictures of the year, won two Academy Awards, one for Tracy as Best Actor (his second in two years following 1937's Captains Courageous) and one for Eleanore Griffin and Dore Schary for Original Story. Additionally, the film was nominated for Best Picture and Norman Taurog was nominated for Best Direction. Rooney received a special Academy Award in 1938 for his unique contributions to the screen as a juvenile player. Boys Town finished fourth in the Film Daily poll of critics and was on a number of "ten best" lists. Tracy was given a citation for his acting by the National Board of Review. After the success of this film, Tracy and Rooney became the fourth and fifth top box office stars of the year, according to a Motion Picture Herald poll of exhibitors. A news item in Hollywood Reporter noted that Rooney shot Boys Town and Love Finds Andy Hardy simultaneously for about ten days.
A sequel to Boys Town, called Men of Boys Town, was directed by Taurog for M-G-M in 1941 and also starred Tracy, Rooney and others from the original cast. According to news items in Motion Picture Daily, M-G-M started discussing the sequel shortly after the release of Boys Town because the $5,000 paid to the institution for the rights to the Boys Town story was almost all used by the home to cover costs incurred during the film's production. Modern sources note that donations to Boys Town decreased after the release of the 1938 picture, ostensibly because the ending gave the impression that its financial standing was stronger than it actually was. According to a news item in the film's press pack, actor Leslie Fenton, who was a friend of Taurog's and about to embark on his own directing career, agreed to act in the film only after Taurog convinced him that he was the only person right for the part. Boys Town was the last film in which Fenton acted. According to modern sources, after Tracy won the Oscar for this film, he gave it to Father Flanagan with an inscription dedicating his performance to the founder of Boys Town. The statue was put on display in a museum in Boys Town, where it has remained since that time. Some modern sources say that the statue was originally incorrectly inscribed with the name "Dick Tracy" instead of Spencer Tracy; however, no contemporary information has been located to corroborate this. In July 1988 Boys Town hosted a fiftieth anniversary celebration for the film. Mickey Rooney, Bobs Watson and Sid Miller attended the celebration. Modern sources note that the film cost $800,000 to produce. The 1958 M-G-M release Girl Town, directed by Charles Haas and starring Mamie Van Doran and Maggie Hayes, was very loosely based on Boys Town.