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King of Alcatraz marked the film debut of Robert Preston. According to a May 9, 1938 letter in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, James V. Bennett of the Bureau of Prisons at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., wrote to Joseph I. Breen, head of the PCA, and stated that according to newspaper gossip columnist Sheila Graham, King of Alcatraz was to be based on the recent mental illness of Al Capone. According to Graham's newspaper article, the film's story would open in Alcatraz and would show the effect of prison life on the mind of the prisoner. The article states, "Ever since Al Capone made headlines with his recent mental illness in Alcatraz Prison, all of Hollywood's major and minor studios have been brooding on how to turn it to capital and a picture." Bennett further states, "I hope that Miss Graham is not in full possession of the facts when she indicates that Paramount will produce a picture tending to show that prison life made Al Capone insane." (Capone's insanity was actually caused by syphilis.) Paramount executive Luigi Luraschi wrote to Breen on May 13, 1938 stating that, according to production supervisor Harold Hurley, Graham's information was erroneous: "Our story deals with a prisoner in Alcatraz who feigns illness in order to be removed to a hospital in San Francisco, from which he plots an escape. There will be no indication in the story that prison conditions drive prisoners insane." Breen responded to Bennett in a letter dated May 16, 1938 with the following: "I told Paramount that we have a kind of 'gentleman's agreement' to put no pictures into production, dealing with any federal prison, without first submitting a copy of the script to the Dept. of Justice in Washington." In a letter to Breen on May 17, 1938, Luraschi quotes Hurley's statement that there was no need to submit the script to the Department of Justice, as the story had "absolutely nothing to do with Alcatraz." Despite Breen's further admonition to Hurley that it would be "hardly fair to jeopardize not only Paramount's but the entire industry's future relationship with the Department of Justice," Hurley, not wanting to establish a precedent, refused to submit the script to Bennett.
Actor Stanley Morner first used the pseudonym of Richard Stanley in this film (although Men With Wings, released after this film, began production earlier). He later changed his name to Dennis Morgan. According to modern sources, the cast included Harry North.