powered by AFI
According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department at the UCLA Theater Arts Library, early in 1934, writers Gene Towne and Graham Baker, who had been loaned to Fox by Twentieth Century Pictures, were approached by Fox studio official Colonel Jason Joy, who said that the studio was badly in need of a story for Shirley Temple. They wrote a synopsis for a story entitled "Meal Ticket," and after Joy submitted it to producer Al Rockett, the studio purchased it and planned to have Temple and Spencer Tracy play the leads. During this period, Edwin Burke had been developing a story of his own with director David Butler, which also was planned for Temple. According to an unidentified news story in Los Angeles Herald Express, it was announced that Temple would appear in no other films with "gangster backgrounds," in response to the demand for "clean pictures." The Burke story, which included an airplane sequence, was then discarded because of its "crook element." Butler subsequently submitted an original idea entitled "The Little Mother" for Temple, but it was not accepted by Joy and Julian Johnson, of the scenario department, because of its similarity to "Meal Ticket." Butler then was assigned to direct Meal Ticket, and he spent a week going over the script with Rockett. According to an unidentified news item dated June 1934 in the M-G-M Story Department card files at the AFI Library, Helen Twelvetrees was scheduled to be in the film along with Temple and Tracy. Towne and Baker were not given screen credit for the film, and in 1935, Twentieth Century-Fox produced This Is the Life, starring Jane Withers, which was based on Towne and Baker's story. As they did receive screen credit for the latter film, and as the stories of the two films are dissimilar, it is possible that little of their story was used in the final version of Bright Eyes, or that the subsequent writers on This Is Your Life changed that story substantially.
After the film was produced, an attorney for Paramount wrote to Fox to inform them of his concern that a film they were preparing, based on a Marguerite Roberts story entitled "Born with Wings," contained a situation that occurs in both stories, namely that a child becomes a stowaway in a climactic flight. Because both films were planned for a Christmas release and the Roberts story had been submitted to Fox earlier than the story for Bright Eyes, the Paramount attorney suggested that Fox "may find it advisable and proper to eliminate the stowaway situation" from their film. Joy decided that because characterizations, motivations and "business" were "entirely dissimilar" between the two stories, that neither company had grounds for a lawsuit based on plagiarism. The Fox legal council concurred that eliminating the portions of Bright Eyes that seemed similar to the Roberts story was not necessary. The Roberts story was never produced by Paramount.
According to news items, because of "good fan reception" to the team of James Dunn, Shirley Temple and Claire Trevor, who starred together in Baby Takes a Bow, Fox cast them again in this film; however, Trevor was pulled from the film when she was cast in a bigger role in another picture. Mary Brian was then cast to replace her, but she was replaced with Judith Allen. This was eight-year-old Jane Withers' first large role in a film. Critics praised her performance, and New York Times noted, "There were those among the critical gentry who came right out and said that her performance topped that of little Shirley." Withers went on to star in her own films for Fox, and although her starring roles were in "B" pictures, she became the number two child star in terms of box office receipts, and in 1937 and 1938 placed in the top ten in the Motion Picture Herald survey of top money-making stars.