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The opening credits begin with the following quote: "`This is the way I remember it-definitely.'-Rocky Graziano." The opening and closing cast credits differ in order. In the opening credits, Paul Newman is listed first, followed by Pier Angeli. In early 1955, Hollywood Reporter reported that M-G-M had paid $230,000 for the rights to Graziano's autobiography, which was to be published in Feb. Studio press notes state that Ernest Lehman based the screenplay on many interviews with Graziano's friends and family, as well as on the autobiography. As portrayed in the film, Graziano (1919-1990), whose original last name was Barbella, was born in New York to a former boxer and escaped an early life of crime by triumphing in the boxing ring. Graziano was middleweight boxing champion of the world from 1947-1948. As in the film, Graziano won his second title fight over Tony Zale. Although the film ends after Graziano wins the title, Sale regained it in their third and final match. Not shown in the film was the fact that, as a boy, Graziano was sent to live with his grandparents when his parents found him unmanageable. In his later life, the boxer became a popular actor, appearing regularly on The Martha Raye Show and making guest appearances on variety shows, as well as acting as a spokesman in television commercials.
As confirmed in modern interviews with director Robert Wise, the studio bought the property for James Dean, who died before the completion of the script. "Rambling Reporter" also noted in June 1955 that Dewey Martin was being considered for a leading role, and in September 1955 that Dean Martin was being loaned to the M-G-M production. In addition, Hollywood Reporter news items in September and October 1955 added that Sam Levene would portray Rocky's manager and former world champion boxer Jack Dempsey would play himself in the film. None of these stars appeared in the film, however. Although "Rambling Reporter" announced in August 1955 that Robin Morse was being considered to play a fight manager, he appears only as a bit player in the picture. A January 1956 "Rambling Reporter" item stated that Pier Angeli would sing the film's title song, but Perry Como sang the song, and later recorded it as a single for RKO Records. Additional Hollywood Reporter news items in January and March 1956 add the following actors to the cast: Elinor Donahue, Charles Easton, Lillian Powell, and boxers Pat Valentino, Bill Filippo and Tommy Herman. Donahue was not in the film and the appearance of the other actors has not been confirmed.
The film was shot partially on location in New York, in Manhattan's Lower East Side and in Brooklyn. Hollywood Diary reported in April 1956 that M-G-M had rented out the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles to shoot the Yankee Stadium prizefight scene. Dean Jones and Broadway actress Eileen Heckart (1919-2001) made their feature-film debuts in the picture, as did character actor Frank Campanella (1919-2006). Somebody Up There Likes Me also marked the acting debut of Steve McQueen (1930-1980), although he had appeared as an extra in the 1953 film Girl on the Run. Modern sources note that Paul Newman, who was loaned to M-G-M from Warner Bros. for the role, spent time with Graziano in order to learn his mannerisms and speech patterns. After the release of Somebody Up There Likes Me, contemporary critics regularly compared Newman to Marlon Brando, with Hollywood Reporter stating that with this film, "we have a male actor projected to major stardom on the basis of one performance." The reviews were almost unanimously positive, including Variety, which called the film "a superb and outstanding piece of film dramaturgy." Somebody Up There Likes Me was nominated for an Academy Award for Film Editing (Albert Akst) and won Academy Awards for Art Direction, Black and White (art direction-Cedric Gibbons and Malcolm Brown; set decorations-Edwin B. Willis, Keogh Gleason) and for Cinematography, Black and White (Joseph Ruttenberg).