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The working title of this film was McLeod's Folly. According to a news item in Los Angeles Examiner, Louis Bromfield's novel McLeod's Folly was originally serialized in Cosmopolitan magazine as You Get What You Give. Hollywood Reporter news items reported that Bell Pictures Corp. bought the film rights to McLeod's Folly in 1940 for an independent production, and also that producer Jack Forrester optioned the novel in 1941 for a possible film project. A news item in Film Daily noted that Agnes Christine Johnston was originally slated to write the screenplay, but her contribution to the final film has not been determined. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, Alfred Henry Hall was cast in the film, but died on the set prior to shooting a scene, and does not appear in the film.
Johnny Come Lately marks stage actress Grace George's feature film debut and was the first film produced by Cagney Productions, Inc., a company formed by actor James Cagney and his brother William. Leigh Harline was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Best Music (Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture).