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The working title of this film was The Life of John Philip Sousa. The film's title card reads: "Twentieth Century-Fox presents John Philip Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever." The film features intermittent voice-over narration describing Sousa's life. At the film's end, a shot of Clifton Webb as "Sousa" is superimposed over scenes of the then-current Marine Corps Band marching and performing "The Stars and Stripes Forever."
The picture is loosely based on the life of renowned composer and band leader John Philip Sousa (1854-1932), who joined the Marine Corps Band at the age of thirteen and became its leader when he was twenty-six years old. After leading the Marine Corps Band for twelve years, Sousa formed his own band in 1892 and toured extensively and successfully for many years. Although Sousa's popular marches earned him the nickname "The March King," he also wrote ballads and comic operas, as well as a number of books. Studio publicity reported that whenever possible, Sousa's original music scores were used for the picture. According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, producer-writer Lamar Trotti consulted with members of the Sousa family while preparing the film's screenplay. The characters "Lily" and "Willie" were fictional and created for the picture.
In November 1938, a Los Angeles Times news item reported that Warner Bros. was "likely to produce" a picture about Sousa, and according to a March 1940 Hollywood Reporter news item, Universal was among the studios interested in purchasing the rights to Sousa's autobiography. A November 1942 studio press release announced that the film was set to be produced by Kenneth Macgowan, with Harry Goetz serving as associate producer. In September 1943, Hollywood Reporter announced that due to Macgowan's heavy schedule, the picture would instead be produced by William Bacher. Information in studio records indicates that in 1942-1943, Bacher, Ketti Frings, Harry Kronman, Stephen Longstreet and John Twist worked on drafts of the screenplay. It is unlikely that their work was used in the completed picture, however. Although 1950 Daily Variety and New York Times news items reported that independent producers Jerry Wald and Norman Krasna had purchased the rights to Sousa's song "The Stars and Stripes Forever," and would be using it in a film about "a U.S.O. troupe in the South Pacific," that project was not completed.
According to a November 27, 1942 Los Angeles Examiner news item, Alice Faye was set to star in the picture, which was described as "an early romance between the famous bandmaster and a beautiful girl-Alice." In February 1952, Los Angeles Examiner announced that Rory Calhoun and June Haver had been cast in the romantic leads. Although the CBCS includes Benay Venuta in the cast, her role as "Mme. Bernsdorff-Mueller" was cut from the final film. Studio publicity includes Marilyn Russell, Fred U. Brown, William Martinez, Jack Santora and Carli Elinor in the cast, but their appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed.
In connection with publicity for the film, star Clifton Webb, assisted by several Marines, imprinted his hand-and footprints in cement in the famed Grauman's Chinese Theatre forecourt on December 7, 1952. According to December 1952 Hollywood Reporter news items, the U.S. Marine Band received presidential approval to play at the film's premiere in New York, which marked the first time that the band had played at such an event. The gala's highlights were broadcast in several cities by the ABC network, marking the first time that a premiere had been covered for television, according to Hollywood Reporter. Stars and Stripes Forever was the last picture of Trotti, who died on August 28, 1951. Trotti, who wrote and produced many successful films at Twentieth Century-Fox, had also worked for the PCA Office in the early 1930s.