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Working titles of this film were The Bandwagon and Julie. According to documents in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department and the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, in November 1943 the studio purchased rights to the 1931 Broadway revue The Band Wagon from Gregory Ratoff Productions, Inc. The first screenplay from the property, written in August 1945, was titled Girl in the Moon but was largely adapted from the 1940 Fox hit Star Dust (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.4292). Plot developments in Star Dust were retained for what eventually became Dancing in the Dark. In the spring of 1946, Mary C. McCall, Jr. was assigned to write another screenplay. In a May 1946 memo to producer George Jessel and McCall, studio head Darryl F. Zanuck wrote that, "Everything about Hollywood should be done very honestly and very reasonably. The Big Boss should be a guy with a sense of humor. He should not be the obvious movie mogul or the eccentric idiot. If you give him a good sense of humor and he is able to laugh at his own tough luck or bad judgment, it will do a great deal toward making the picture honest as well as add a bit of dignity to our industry." In 1947 and 1948, Jay Dratler and Marion Turk contributed revisions of McCall's screenplay. Writers John Larkin, Frank Gabrielson, Howard Dimsdale and Jerome Cady also worked on the project, but the extent of their contribution to the released film has not been determined
As the final screenplay bore no resemblance, beyond the use of certain songs, to the original stage revue, which featured dance numbers with Fred and Adele Astaire interspersed with comedy sketches, Jessel wrote to the revue's author George S. Kaufman in May 1949: "I understand from our legal department that if we use the title Bandwagon and a portion of the musical material, we must incorporate in the main title your name....I am writing this to you personally as I am sure you do not want any credit (and particularly a small unimportant one) on a picture of which you have never seen the manuscript and have had nothing to do with and particularly since there is no guarantee that the picture will be good." Kaufman responded, "Of course I don't want credit on Bandwagon, since I have written none of it. But, since it isn't Bandwagon, why are you calling it that? (Dietz told me to ask that.)" The revue's co-author, Howard Deitz, requested credit only for the songs. Although the film's title was changed to Dancing in the Dark in late May 1949, the studio's legal department was adamant that the original production had to be credited in accordance with their original contractual obligations.
A further legal complication involved the use of lines from the play Cyrano de Bergerac, which was in the public domain in the U.S. but fully protected in France and other Berne Convention countries. The problematic lines were eliminated from prints made for foreign release.
A October 3, 1945 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Dick Haymes was to star for producer George Jessel and director Gregory Ratoff. In a December 1945 memo to Jessel, Zanuck viewed the project as a potential vehicle for Clifton Webb. In December 1946, Betty Grable was being considered for the role of "Julie." In April 1947, when the production was known briefly as Julie, a Los Angeles Times news item reported that John Payne and Jean Peters would star. In a November 1948 memo to Jessel, Zanuck wrote, "In thinking about it Adolphe Menjou or Frank Morgan could play the leading role. Both would be superb. But I definitely think we should not consider it for Clifton Webb. He is now so identified as "Mr. Belvedere" that I am afraid he must play either "Mr. Belvedere" or big dramatic roles where there can be no comparisons made. . . .If Betty Lynn makes a hit in Mother Is a Freshman she will be sensational as the girl because she sings and dances in addition to being a sensational actress." At the end of 1948, the Los Angeles Times announced that John Lund would star. Studio documents indicate that Betsy Drake was a last minute replacement for June Haver and reveal that Helen Westcott, Marion Marshall, Dick Cogan, Alvin Hammer, Charles Farris, Helen Brown, John Berkes and Fred Kelsey had bit roles which were eliminated from the final cut.
A press release in the AMPAS clipping files notes that "Crossman's" office was a reproduction of Zanuck's. "Melville Crossman" was a pseudonym used by Zanuck during his writing career. According to a news item in Hollywood Citizen-News, Jean Hersholt, playing himself as head of the Motion Picture Relief Fund, turned over half of his salary for the picture to the fund. Actor Lloyd Corrigan was also a MPRF board member.
In 1953, M-G-M released another version of The Band Wagon, with a new story and screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. That version, which starred Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse, was directed by Vincente Minnelli.