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The novel by Jean Webster, grand-niece of Mark Twain, first appeared as a serial in Ladies Home Journal (Apr-September 1912). She wrote a play based on her work, also entitled Daddy Long-Legs, which had its New York premiere on September 28, 1914. In Webster's original story, the orphaned young woman is an American named "Judy Abbott"; several reviews of the 1955 film noted that the character had been changed to accommodate French actress Leslie Caron. Although the film's title is Daddy Long Legs, within the picture, "Julie" addresses her letters to "Dear Daddy Longlegs." [Webster's novel is written as a series of letters through which the story is revealed.] The picture features several elaborate production numbers, including a sequence in which "Jervis Pendleton III" imagines himself as the Texas millionaire, international playboy or guardian angel that Julie's letters speculate he might be, and another during which Julie dreams that she is chasing Jervis in Paris, Hong Kong and Rio de Janeiro.
Twentieth Century-Fox announced plans to produce a musical version of Daddy Long Legs in December 1951, when, according to a Hollywood Reporter news item, Mitzi Gaynor was "penciled in as the star." The news item also reported that Casey Robinson was to produce the picture, with Alec Wilder and William Engvick set to compose the songs. In January 1954, Leslie Caron was borrowed from M-G-M for the production. According to studio publicity, the film was to begin shooting preproduction numbers on September 15, 1954, but was halted due to the death of Fred Astaire's wife Phyllis on September 14, 1954. A modern source reports that Maurice Chevalier was on "stand-by" to assume the role of Jervis if Astaire felt unable to work, but Astaire, who had expressed great enthusiasm for the role when it was offered to him by studio production chief Darryl F. Zanuck, decided to proceed. Although modern sources note that Astaire was supposed to make another film for the studio, Daddy Long Legs was his only picture at Fox.
A Hollywood Reporter news item and studio publicity reported that the portraits of "Jervis Pendleton" and "Jervis Pendleton II" were painted by Emil Kosa, Jr., in the style of James Abbott McNeill Whistler and John Singer Sargent, respectively, while the portrait of "Jervis Pendleton III," in the style of Pablo Picasso, was painted by director Jean Negulesco. Negulesco also created the poster for "Julie's" dream appearance at the Paris Opera ballet. Studio publicity added that Negulesco borrowed many famous paintings for the "Pendleton art gallery," including a real Picasso, Henri Matisse and Georges Bracque, as well as a portrait of Deborah Kerr's daughter painted by Claudette Colbert. An January 11, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that one sequence of the film was to be shot on location at Los Angeles International Airport, where art directors Lyle Wheeler and John DeCuir had "built a duplicate of New York's LaGuardia Airport." Studio publicity reported that the exterior of Andrew Carnegie's Fifth Avenue mansion was used as the exterior of Jervis' New York home. According to a December 31, 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item, Milton Krasner briefly filled in for director of photography Leon Shamroy.
Hollywood Reporter news items include the following actors and dancers in the film, although their appearance in the released picture has not been confirmed: Liliane Montevecchi, Claire Sombert, Monica Schilland, Jamie Bowers, Anna Schelska, Claudine Barbini, Pat Trebble, Irina Kosmorska, Anna Maldin, Wilda Beeber, Margie Baker, Valentina Oumansky, Lila Zoli, Gloria Atherton, Patsy Bangs, Marlina Tepel, Arin Evans, Ino McKinsey, Darleen Engle, Bruce Stowell, Alex Ruiz, Leo Wheeler, Frank Radcliffe, Brogg Bain, Robert Rossolat, Dick Gargano, Alberto Felliano, Paul Rees, Wilson Morelli, Sacha Rodin, Jose Ferran, Rich Nordt, Aaron Girard, Carl Ratcliff, Fritz Hess, Bertie Eckhart, Harold DeGard, Chester Hayes, Doyle Brooks, Otto Sinclair, Manuel Reyes, Loren Janes, Carl Dolen, Mark Sutherland, Ken Osmond, David Kasday, Charles Tannen, Moscha Lazrah, Pat Sheehan, Pat Barker, Lysa Baugher, Sheila Meyers, Beth Marie Roe, Joet Robinson, Mitzi Sutherland, Pat Volckso, Carolee Winchester, Bob Bush, Rodney Beiber, Fred Curt, Ted Cook, John Lewis, Don Torillo, Jim Merrill, Clark Lee, Melinda Markey, Diana Peters, Gwen Caldwell, Caroline Scott, Mimi Hutson, John Carlyle, Paul Glass, Robert Lynn, Jr., Thelma Wunder, Alice Clift, Raenell Laskey, Naga Norgen, Barbara Burke, Isabel Randolph, Gilbert Wilson, Lucy Lee Newman, Carroll Newman, Dick Simmons, Denise Lemley, Patricia Ann Schmid, Beverly Thompson, Suzanne Alexander, Vick Carpenter, Jean A. Carroll, Barrie Chase, Dona Lou Cole, Doris Jean Gildart, Betty Jean Hansen, Diane Cecelia How, Alma Jean Moorhead and Jeanne Warren.
According to the Life review of the film, many of the dancers from Roland Petit's Ballets de Paris appeared in the picture. Caron had been a member of the company prior to working in the film. Modern sources state that Thurl Ravenscroft dubbed Astaire's voice in the "Texas Millionaire" dream sequence. Although a May 3, 1955 item in Hollywood Reporter's "Rambling Reporter" column stated that "Fox is going nuts making last-minute changes demanded by the Legion of Decency," no information about censorship problems was found in the film's file at the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library. The picture's gala premiere in Los Angeles was a benefit for St. John's Hospital, and the New York premiere benefitted the March of Dimes. Daddy Long Legs received Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction (Color), Best Music (Scoring of a Musical Picture) and Best Song for "Something's Got to Give."
Jean Webster's novel and play served as the basis for several other films, including the 1919 First National Release titled Daddy-Long-Legs and starring Mary Pickford and directed by Marshall A. Neilan (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20); the 1931 Fox production Daddy Long Legs, which was directed by Alfred Santell and starred Janet Gaynor and Warner Baxter; another Fox picture, released in 1935 and entitled Curly Top-although Webster's materials were not acknowledged in the onscreen credits-which starred Shirley Temple and was directed by Irving Cummings (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40) ; and the 1938 Netherlands production, Vadertje Langbeen, directed by Friedrich Zelnik.