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The working titles of the film were Singin' the Blues and The Ruth Etting Story. The opening credits identify the two new songs written for the film, "I'll Never Stop Loving You" and "Never Look Back," then introduce the composers of the standards performed in the film as follows: "...And some of the old songs which will be associated always with the name of Ruth Etting-great songs by our greatest song writers, among whom are: Irving Berlin-DeSylva, Brown & Henderson-Walter Donaldson-Arthur Freed-Gus Kahn-McCarthy & Monaco-Rodgers & Hart-Turk and Ahlert." Brief snippets of the songs "What Can I Say After I Say I'm Sorry," "I Cried for You" and "My Blue Heaven" are heard in a montage sequence depicting the rise of Etting's recording career.
Ruth Etting (1896-1978) married Moe "The Gimp" Snyder in 1920. She starred in the Ziegfeld Follies from 1927-31, performed on Broadway in shows such as the popular 1928 musical comedy Whoopee, in which she introduced the song "Love Me or Leave Me," and appeared in the M-G-M films Roman Scandals and A Gift of Gab (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40). Etting was also a popular radio performer in the 1930s and a highly successful recording artist. She married her pianist, Myrl Alderman [called Johnny Alderman in the film], in 1938, after Snyder shot him in a fit of jealousy. Etting and Alderman remained married until his death in 1966. A number of reviews pointed out that Etting, Snyder and Alderman were still alive when the film was made, and that all three received undisclosed payments from M-G-M for the rights to portray them onscreen.
A September 1953 Daily Variety news item reported that Jane Powell would portray Etting, and an October 1953 item in Hollywood Reporter's "Rambling Reporter" column suggested that M-G-M was testing Jane Morgan for the role. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, Ava Gardner was cast as Etting in April 1954, and was placed on suspension when she refused the role. In her autobiography, Gardner wrote that she turned down the assignment because she was "afraid it would be just another fairly standard biography." A modern source claims that George Cukor originally selected to direct the film. According to May 1954 items in Hollywood Reporter's "Rambling Reporter" column, Humphrey Bogart and Richard Widmark were considered for the role of Snyder, and October 1954 columns reported that Farley Granger had tested for the film, and that Fred Clark was under consideration for a role. A September 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item adds Keenan Wynn to the cast, but he was not in the film. Hollywood Reporter news items and production charts also include Benny Rubin, Stephen Bekassy, Robert Dix, Cosmo Sardo, Johnny Olszewski and singer Chris Warfield in the cast, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Although an October 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item named Joseph Ruttenberg as the film's director of photography, Arthur E. Arling was credited onscreen. Cameron Mitchell, who portrayed Alderman, was borrowed from Twentieth Century-Fox for the production.
Modern sources assert that Etting was not pleased with the final film, and considered it a distortion of her life. According to an internal memo in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, Etting refused to approve an August 1954 draft of the script because it made it appear that she and Snyder were having an affair early in her career, when in fact they were married at the time. "Since Miss Etting insisted that the script be altered accordingly," the memo stated, "This presented the Code problem of the breakup of her marriage to The Gimp and the suggestion that she eventually marries her piano player." The memo noted that the Code's ban on divorce might be circumvented because Etting's marriage was not ended for "romantic reasons" (so that she could marry someone else), but because of Snyder's vicious nature. On October 6, 1954, Daily Variety editor Joe Schoenfeld's "Time and Place" column revealed the behind-the-scenes conflict, adding that Etting and Snyder had "[threatened] to sue Metro if it portrayed them not married, which would be tantamount to telling the world that they had lived together in sin. Now the company is caught between the Code and the threat of a lawsuit, but with still no solution to the crux of the drama."
Correspondence in the PCA file indicates that PCA director Joseph I. Breen wrote to Schoenfeld the following day, denying the version of events presented in the column. Schoenfeld wrote back on 11 Oct, claiming to have gotten his information from a "reliable source" and stating, "If the facts as I wrote them...are incorrect as pertaining to your office, then some of the people associated with this picture at Metro are sadly misinformed." According to a March 1957 Daily Variety news item, Etting brought a one million dollar libel suit against the Hearst Corporation, publisher of Cosmopolitan, claiming that she was maligned by an article in the April 1956 issue about Doris Day's performance in Love Me or Leave Me. In her suit, Etting cited the article's description of her as "a famous girl singer of the twenties who fell in love with a bad man, became an alcoholic, and inspired a murder." The outcome of the suit has not been determined.
Love Me or Leave Me received the Academy Award for Best Motion Picture Story, and was nominated in the following categories: Best Actor (Cagney), Best Screenplay, Best Sound Recording, Best Song ("I'll Never Stop Loving You") and Best Scoring of a Musical Picture. Love Me or Leave Me was the first M-G-M film for Day and Cagney, and marked arranger Percy Faith's first screen assignment. The film also marked the first time Cagney was not given top billing since A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1935. Day and Cagney had earlier co-starred, along with Gordon McRae, in the 1950 Warner Bros. musical The West Point Story (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50). A modern source adds Dorothy Abbott (Dancer) and Phil Schumacher (IBouncer ) to the cast.