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The above title credits for the producers, which read: "A George Abbott Stanley Donen Production," are superimposed over a scene of stands in a ball park. The camera lowers to show color shots of a baseball game in action. Then the scene is shown as it appears on a black-and-white television set in the living room of characters "Joe and Meg Boyd." A color sequence commences, showing Joe engrossed in a Yankees-Senators game. When the Yankees score, Joe says, "Those damn Yankees!" prompting an animation to begin, in which a red box containing the title in large white letters appears, after which the letters and box flash various colors. The rest of the opening credits appear over a ball-park themed, animated background. After the credits, the scene returns to the Boyds' living room and the film continues.
The onscreen credits for the husband-and-wife costume and design team, who also worked on the Broadway production, reads: "Production and Costumes Designed by William and Jean Eckart." Choreographer Bob Fosse appears as Verdon's dance partner in the song "Who's Got the Pain?" and is referred to in the film by his surname, "Fosse." The character played by Albert Linville was called "Lindy" in the scene prior to the song "(You've Got to Have) Heart"; however, a studio staff and cast list calls the character "Linville," and an official billing dated July 10, 1958 lists his character name as "Vernon," which is what his character was called in the stage version.
As noted in reviews and other sources, the story of Damn Yankees is a modernized variation of the Faust legend, in which "Faust" sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for wealth and fame. The character name for "Shoeless Joe" May have been inspired by the real-life "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, a popular and successful baseball player whose career was ruined when he and seven other White Sox players were accused of throwing the 1919 World Series in favor of the Cincinnati Reds. Although he was acquitted by a Chicago jury, the baseball commissioner banned the eight men from playing for life.
The original Broadway show of Damn Yankees ran from May 5, 1955 -October 12, 1957. As in the film The Pajama Game , Stanley Donen and George Abbott shared producer and director credits; however, as the Hollywood Reporter review noted, Donen was "in charge of camera matters." Donen's biography and other modern sources state that Donen requested Abbott's input to keep the film consistent with the Broadway production.
According to studio production notes, seven cameras filmed three actual Yankees-Washington Senators games to use in the film. The production notes also stated that portions of the film, the "Shoeless Joe" ballet sequence and certain close-ups and crowd scenes, were shot at Los Angeles' Wrigley Field. The story is set in Washington, D.C., and according to a modern source, some sequences were filmed at the city's Griffith Stadium. To match the Wrigley Field exteriors to Griffith Stadium, building fronts were added and canvas drops painted to look like the sky to mask the surrounding palm trees.
With the exception of Tab Hunter, who portrayed Joe Hardy, all the actors in major roles, as well as many crew members, worked in the original Broadway show. Modern sources surmise that Hunter was cast instead of Stephen Douglass, who played the part on Broadway, because of Hunter's box-office appeal. According to Donen's biography, Hunter's singing voice was partially dubbed. Although Bert Tuttle was listed in several weeks of Hollywood Reporter production charts as art director, only Stanley Fleischer is credited onscreen. Dancer-actress Verdon, whose portrayal of "Lola" in the film and on Broadway marked her first big speaking role, became Fosse's third wife in 1960. Although their appearance in the film has not been confirmed, May 1958 Hollywood Reporter news items add Del Christie, William A. Forester and Phil Arnold, and modern sources add Nesdon Booth, Joseph Mell, Leo Theodore and Art Passarella to the cast.
Many special effects were used throughout the film. When "Applegate" appears and disappears, and when the appearance of characters Joe and Lola are transformed by Applegate's magic, their changed appearance is preceded by a softly shimmering, amorphous shape. During portions of the song "Six Months Out of Every Year," Donen employed a multiple, split-screen effect, showing six scenes at one time. While singing "Those Were the Good Old Days," Applegate's head is surrounded by colored bubbles that contain scenes of his past nefarious deeds. Near the end of the film, when Applegate must rush to get to the final baseball game before it ends, his movements are shown in fast motion.
Several songs from the Broadway version, among them "A Man Doesn't Know," "Near to You" and "The Game," were cut from the film. An additional song written for the film by Richard Adler (after his partner, Jerry Ross, died of lung disease in 1955) was "There's Something About an Empty Chair." As noted in modern sources, Damn Yankees was the first of Fosse's shows to exhibit controversially "sexy" dance routines. Verdon's performance of the song "What Lola Wants" was tamed in the film version to comply with the censors.
The film's opening was held in Denver, CO, which was the location of the Yankees' farm club, according to a September 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item. According to a June 9, 1958 Hollywood Reporter news item, the film was released under the title What Lola Wants outside the United States. The news item explained that the studio believed audience members outside the U.S. would not realize that the nickname "Yankees" referred to the New York ball club and not Americans generally. A June 25, 1958 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Damn Yankees was the first Hollywood musical to be scored abroad. Because of the strike of the AFM studio musicians, which, at the time, was in its fifth month, music director Ray Heindorf supervised the recording in Rome. Heindorf was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, but lost to Gigi's Andr Previn.
On April 1967, a televised version of Damn Yankees, directed by Kirk Browning, aired on the NBC network and starred Lee Remick, Jim Backus and Phil Silvers. In March 2004, according to a Daily Variety news item, a new screen version written by Peter Tolan and Mike Martineau, was being developed. As of June 2005, the film had not gone into production.