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The best-selling novel Gentleman's Agreement was serialized in Cosmopolitan (Nov 1946-February 1947) before it being published in book form. In a July 1947 Cosmopolitan interview, author Laura Z. Hobson stated, "What did I try to do with the book? I think a woman who wrote to me put it in two wonderful sentences. She says, 'Villains aren't really frightening. It's the millions of nice people who do, and allow, villainous things.' I think that's the gist of what I was trying to say." Hobson noted that Darryl Zanuck, Fox's production head, who made the film his sole personal production of 1947, told her that if the film failed at the box office, it "would set Hollywood back twenty years in honest[ly] dealing with the problem of prejudice." The film marked the first time that noted playwright Moss Hart wrote directly for the screen.
Director Elia Kazan, in his autobiography, states that Jewish heads of other major film studios held a meeting in which they urged Hart to convince Zanuck not to make the film because they did not want to stir up anti-Semitism. A New York Times article from March 1947 noted, "A few objections [to the film] have come from Jews, who feel that the picture May increase rather than diminish intolerance, but a far larger proportion of Jewish opinion approves the venture, according to Zanuck." In a New York Times column from November 1947, reviewer Bosley Crowther mentioned a rumor that a "well-known Hollywood producer" tried to convince Hart that the film should not be made, a situation mirrored in the film itself, when a Jewish industrialist states, quoting Crowther, asserts, "You can't write it out of existence. The less talk about it, the better. Leave it alone!"
According to Twentieth Century-Fox legal records, scenes were shot at various locations in New York City, including Rockefeller Plaza and the NBC Building, and at Darien, CT. Los Angeles Daily News stated that John Garfield accepted his limited role in the film after Zanuck promised that the film would be faithful to Hart's script. Publicity for the film states that Zanuck paid Garfield "his full star's salary" for the role. Daily Variety, in reviewing the film, praised the acting of Garfield and Celeste Holm, stating, "This is one picture in which the performances of the supporting cast equal, or top, those of the two principals." Fox legal records report that Morris Carnovsky was originally hired to play "Professor Lieberman," but his contract was terminated by mutual agreement. Modern sources state that the film was Fox's top grossing picture of 1948, that it cost $2,000,000 to produce, and that it was the second largest grossing picture up to that time in the South. The film received the Academy Award for Best Picture, and Celeste Holm won for Best Supporting Actress. Gentleman's Agreement was also nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor (Gregory Peck), Best Actress (Dorothy McGuire), Best Supporting Actress (Anne Revere), Writing-Screenplay (Moss Hart) and Film Editing (Harmon Jones). According to a Motion Picture Herald ad in April 1948, the picture won fifty-one film-related awards, including the New York Critics' Circle Award.
In a modern interview, Kazan stated about the film, "For the first time someone said that America is full of anti-semitism, both conscious and unconscious and among the best and most liberal people. That was then a much bolder statement than it is now.... It was saying to the audience: You are an average American and you are anti-semitic.'" In his autobiography, Kazan qualified his enthusiasm for the film by stating that it "doesn't have what would have made it lasting in its effect: the intimate experience of someone who had been through the bitter and humiliating experience." Reviewers gave the film high praise. Los Angeles Daily News lauded it for being "both daring and adult, a film that isn't afraid to call names or to depict a love affair whose conflicts, for once, are over ideas." Hollywood Reporter called the film "the most spellbinding story ever put on celluloid." The Protestant Motion Picture Council challenged viewers that it will "take courage to see it. That is, to really see it, to face up to its personal implications, and then to 'do something about it.'"
Dialogue in the film refers to a number of then-prominent demagogic figures known for their bigotry, including U.S. Senator Theodore Gilmore Bilbo, from Mississippi, who advocated deporting all African Americans to Africa; Representative John E. Rankin, also from Mississippi, who in a statement from the House floor called broadcaster and columnist Walter Winchell "the little kike"; and Gerald L. K. Smith, a Christian Nationalist Crusade leader. In May 1947, Zanuck queried Fox legal counsel George Wasson on whether they were breaking any laws by making the references. After Wasson responded that no court would consider the references a violation of "right to privacy," and that there was only a slight risk of libel, Zanuck wrote, "Let them sue us. They won't dare and if they do nothing would make me more happy than to appear personally as a witness or a defendant at the trial." In April 1948, Smith did sue Twentieth Century-Fox in a Tulsa court to ban the film in Tulsa, his home for the previous six months. After a district judge refused to issue a restraining order, Smith took his complaint through the court system, suing the company for $1,000,000, but in February 1951, the case was dismissed.
In September 1948, the film was rejected for showing in Spain. The New York Times reported that the ban was instigated "by order of the ecclesiastical member of the Film Censorship Board on moral grounds. According to a source close to the board, the banning order stipulated that while it was a Christian duty to 'stimulate love among individuals, societies, nations and peoples,' this should not extend to Jews." The report listed six points or "theological errors" of the film that warranted the ban, including that the film declared "that a Christian is not superior to a Jew" and that the film asserts that "for many Jews it is a matter of pride to be called Jews. Pride of what? The pride of being the people who put God to death? Of being perfidious, as they are called in Holy Scripture?" On October 3, 1948, according to Hollywood Reporter, the President of the Board of Film Censors in Madrid, Gabriel Garcia Espina, called the statement reported in New York Times to be a "calumny" and that the film was, in fact, banned because anti-Semitism was not an issue in Spain. Espina stated, "There is no racial problem in Spain. We do not know here the conflict of Semitism or anti-Semitism. And precisely because of the beautiful and traditional Spanish idea of human freedom, these anguishing racial differences that have disturbed so much, and apparently do disturb, the lives of the peoples, are alien to us and we want them to continue being alien to us." The film, however, was approved for showing in Spain on January 12, 1949 under the title La Barrera Invisible.
Lux Radio Theatre broadast two radio versions of the story. The first show, starring Gregory Peck, Anne Baxter and Jeff Chandler, aired on September 20, 1948, and the second version, which starred Ray Milland, Dorothy McGuire and Shep Menken, was heard on March 15, 1955.