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Carol Ann Beery, the daughter of actor Wallace Beery, is credited onscreen and in reviews with the role of "Carol Ann." A March 29, 1935 news item in Hollywood Reporter noted that this was to be her screen debut, however, she was not in the viewed print, her character was not mentioned in the cutting continuity, nor was there reference to a child in either the film or continuity. According to contemporary news items and information contained in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, M-G-M first planned to make China Seas in late 1931 or early 1932, with Clark Gable as the star and Tod Browning as the director. When M-G-M submitted the Crosbie Garston novel to the Hays Office at that time, it was rejected. Objectionable aspects of the novel included the interracial love affair that was central to the original story; the resultant illegitimate child; and references to opium use. In Garston's novel, the character "China Doll," who was Chinese and had had a love affair with the character "Alan Gaskell" that produced a child. (It is possible that the character of the child May have been in the final shooting script and that this was the character "Carol Ann" credited, but not seen in the released film).
According to news items in Hollywood Reporter from August through October 1932, the picture was to begin filming in mid-November 1932, with Edward McWade set in addition to Gable. In September 1933, M-G-M producer Edward J. Mannix submitted a new script to the Hays Office, with several changes made to conform to Production Code standards. According to news items, however, M-G-M decided to put the picture, which was now to star Gable and Myrna Loy and be directed by Jack Conway, aside. Conway was eventually replaced by Tay Garnett, and Albert Lewin, rather than Mannix was credited as associate producer onscreen. In late December 1934, two additional scripts were submitted to the Hays Office with additional changes. Although one was written by Maurice Revnes, it is unclear whether the other was written by him or by Monckton Hoffe, who was mentioned in a October 23, 1934 news item as having prepared the "final script" for the picture. The same news item noted that Jean Harlow was to appear in the film and had enacted a scene from Hoffe's script on the Hollywood Hotel radio program on October 19, 1934. Onscreen credits list only Jules Furthman and James Kevin McGuinness for screenplay. The Screen Achievements Bulletin additionally credits John Lee Mahin with contributions to the screenplay and Paul Hervey Fox with contributions to the dialogue. The extent to which the work of writers assigned to the project from 1931 through 1934 is reflected in the released film has not been determined.
Additional news items in late 1934 indicate that William Powell had been considered for one of the leads in the film but was too busy to appear, and that Charles Butterworth was to be in a principal role. Several news items in Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety in early 1935 noted that the picture was to start in early, then mid-Feb, but it did not begin until March 16, 1935. Cast members mentioned in Hollywood Reporter news items or production charts who were not in the released film include Charles Coleman, Daisy Belmore and Harry C. Bradley. The appearances of Malcolm McGregor, Tom Gubbins and James Wang, who were mentioned in news items during production have not been confirmed.
According to an early April 1935 news item in Hollywood Reporter, Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed were working on a "theme melody" for the picture, however, neither Brown or Freed or any specific song are credited on the film or in reviews. According to a news item in Daily Variety on March 23, 1935, executive producer Irving Thalberg wanted to change the characterization of "Jamesy MacArdle," played by Wallace Beery in the picture, and not have him obviously Irish. According to the article, because the studio had received considerable protests from Irish groups over characterizations in the 1927 M-G-M film The Callahans and the Murphys (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.0728), Thalberg feared similar protests over China Seas. Beery, the article noted, was insistent that the character remain Irish, protested that his contract gave him a say over his roles and planned to "walk" if he could not play the part as written. Beery apparently did not leave the picture at any time, and in the viewed print, his character has a distinct Irish brogue in some scenes, but the accent is not discernable in most. Additional Daily Variety news items note that the length and complexity of the production schedule caused the company to be split into various units. James McKay was assigned to direct night water scenes in mid-Mar, while Tay Garnett directed daytime scenes, then, in early April William Wellman was required to direct the "pirate scene" while Garnett filmed scenes involving the principals. Finally, in mid to late Apr, Harry Bucquet began directing mob and stunt segments of the film while Garnett worked on the dramatic scenes. Gable, Harlow and Beery had previously co-starred in the 1931 M-G-M film The Secret Six. According to an undated, but contemporary news item in Los Angeles Times, the picture was "an enormous hit." Additional information in the MPAA/PCA file notes that the film was banned in Malaya and Singapore. Modern sources include Ferdinand Munier (Police superintendent) and Chester Gan (Rickshaw boy) in the cast.