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The working title of this film was Belle of Market Street. The picture is loosely based on the life of famed entertainer Lotta Crabtree, who was known as "The Golden Girl" (1847-1924). Crabtree began performing in a small California mining town at the age of six, and took dancing lessons from Lola Montez. By the age of eight, Crabtree, accompanied by her mother, was touring California, and soon became a sensation in San Francisco, New York and the rest of the United States. When Crabtree retired at the age of forty-five, she was the wealthiest actress of her generation, and as depicted in the film, her many philanthropic actions included the gift of a fountain to the city of San Francisco.
According to a June 1950 Hollywood Reporter news item, ballerina Valerie Bettis was tested for the lead role. Although an March 8, 1951 Los Angeles Examiner news item announced that Thelma Ritter had been cast as "Mary Ann Crabtree," Una Merkel played the role. Shooting was delayed for approximately three weeks due to a broken toe suffered by Mizti Gaynor, according to Hollywood Reporter news items. Although Hollywood Reporter news items include the following actors in the cast, their appearance in the released picture has not been confirmed: Grady Harrison, Doc McGill, Lola Kendrick, Alvin Hammer, Sally Yarnell and Danny Borzage. On May 3, 1950, Hollywood Reporter noted that character actor Bill Worth died while being made up for his part in the picture. In mid-June 1950, Hollywood Reporter also reported that director Lloyd Bacon, who apparently made a cameo appearance in each of his pictures, would be playing a policeman in Golden Girl. Worth's and Bacon's appearance in the completed film has not been confirmed, however. Portions of the picture were filmed at Century Ranch in Malibu Hills and in San Francisco, CA. The film marked Gaynor's first leading role, and the Los Angeles Examiner reviewer called her "one of Hollywood's most promising young actresses." Lionel Newman and Eliot Daniel's song "Never" was nominated for an Academy Award.