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Pal Joey was based on the John O'Hara novel of the same name (New York, 1940). Portions of the novel had previously appeared as a short stories in The New Yorker. According to a May 1957 Los Angeles Times news item, Columbia purchased the screen rights to the O'Hara, Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers play in 1941. In 1951, an October 1951 Daily Variety news item noted that Jerry Bresler was assigned to produce a film based on the play, which was to star Gene Kelly as "Joey," the role he originated on Broadway. When Kelly's studio, M-G-M demanded an exorbitant fee for his loan out, the project was shelved.
The Los Angeles Times news item notes that the project was then postponed for years due censorship problems in adapting the play to film. One of difficulties arose from the racy song lyrics. Several of the more suggestive songs-"In Our Little Den of Iniquity," "Happy Hunting Horn," and "Take Him (But Don't Ever Take Him to Heart)"-were eliminated from the film. Three other songs with racy lyrics-
"You Mustn't Kick It Around," "Plant You Now, Dig You Later" and "Do It the Hard Way"-are heard in the film as instrumentals only. Although a May 1957 Los Angeles Times article stated that the song "What Do I Care for a Dame?" was eliminated from the motion picture, Frank Sinatra performs it in the film. A January 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item adds that some of the more suggestive lyrics from the stage production were toned down for the picture. The following Rodgers and Hart songs from the 1930s were included in the film but were not performed in the Broadway version of Pal Joey: "I Didn't Know What Time It Was," "The Lady Is a Tramp," "There's a Small Hotel" and "My Funny Valentine." In the film, the character of Joey was changed from a dancer to a singer and the setting was changed from Chicago to San Francisco. In addition, Joey's character was softened by the inclusion of the last act in which Joey is reconciled with "Linda." Various locations throughout San Francisco were utilized for the film, including Telegraph Hill, according to a May 1957 Variety news item.
According to an April 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item, Barbara Stanwyck was considered for the role of "Vera Simpson." Although a November 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Janis Paige was to perform in the "Zip" strip number, Paige does not appear in the released film. A March 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item adds that if Sinatra had refused the role of Joey, Columbia studio chief Harry Cohn would have considered Kirk Douglas for the part. According to a May 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item, Flamenco dancer Carmen Amaya coached Novak on some dance steps. A May 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that the film's shooting schedule ran from noon until 8 p.m., a departure from the normal 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. schedule. The change was made to allow the cast to sleep later, thus improving their performances. Although a June 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that Jack Entratter, the general manager of the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, was to appear as an assistant head waiter at Chez Joey, his appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. Hollywood Reporter news items and production charts add Charles Aldrich, Slim Duncan, Mark Power, and Cosmo Sardo to the cast, but their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. Modern sources mention a wide variety of actors that were considered for various roles in the films, but this information has not been verified.
Pal Joey marked the only production of Essex-George Sidney Productions, a production unit formed by George Sidney and Frank Sinatra. Pal Joey was nominated for the following Academy Awards: Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing and Best Sound Recording. Sinatra won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor for his performance in the film.