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According to a May 1949 Hollywood Reporter news item, M-G-M first purchased the rights to the successful stage musical from RKO in 1947. A January 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Martin Rackin and Herbert Baker were writing the screenplay, but their contribution to the final film has not been determined. Pre-production news items include George Murphy, Bobby Van and Vera-Ellen in the cast, but they were not in the film. A July 14, 1953 item in Hollywood Reporter's "Rambling Reporter" column stated that Jane Powell was being dropped from the cast, and that Ann Crowley would test for the role of "Susan Smith." According to a December 1953 news item, comic Jack E. Leonard was under consideration for a role, but he was not in the film. Hollywood Reporter news items add the following cast members: Dorothy Abbott, Virginia Maples, Edna Ryan, Blanche Taylor, Ann Templeton, Joan Whitney, Roy Damron, David Greene, Virginia Alberts, Jean Chaney, Peggy Mae O'Connell, Marilyn Gustafson and Austin McCrory, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Some background shooting took place in San Francisco, according to an August 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item. Kay Armen, who made her film debut in Hit the Deck, was a popular singer and radio performer.
Hubert Oscorne's play Shore Leave, which inspired the stage musical Hit the Deck, was first adapted for the screen in 1925. The film Shore Leave, distributed by First National Pictures, was directed by John S. Robertson and starred Richard Barthelmess and Dorothy MacKaill. RKO's 1930 musical film Hit the Deck was directed by Luther Reed and featured Jack Oakie and Polly Walker (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30). In 1936, RKO released Follow the Fleet, which was based on Hubert Osborne's play with a score by Irving Berlin. The film was directed by Mark Sandrich and starred Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40). Although M-G-M's version of Hit the Deck included songs from the Broadway musical, the plot differed from that of all previous stage and film versions. On December 11, 1950, scenes from Hit the Deck were featured on NBC's television program Musical Comedy Time, with John Beal and Jack Guilford.