powered by AFI
The working titles of this film were Passport to Life, Passport to Love and Sun Valley. According to the Variety review, the film was "the spontaneous brainchild of Darryl Zanuck, 20th-Fox production chief, who got the background inspiration during a vacation sojourn at the resort [Sun Valley, Idaho] several months ago." According to the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, the screenplay was based on an "original story outline" by producer Milton Sperling. The legal records and Hollywood Reporter news items indicate, however, that the original story Passport to Life was written by Allan Scott and Bert Granet. A memorandum attached to the Screen Achievements Bulletin, located in the picture's clippings file at the AMPAS Library, noted that "the studio had bought a story without any obligation to give credit to either title or authors and that Art Arthur and Robert Harari had done so much work in preparing it that they were giving them screen story credit, but that even though no other source was given, they definitely did NOT do an ORIGINAL screen story." A September 22, 1939 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell were to star in Scott and Granet's original story Passport to Life, which was to be produced by Raymond Griffith. Arthur and Harari were assigned to do the treatment, and on April 8, 1940, Hollywood Reporter stated that Sperling was to rewrite their screenplay, Passport to Love, for producer Griffith. In July 1940, Sperling was assigned production duties, his first for Twentieth Century-Fox. The legal records note that Ralph Freed and Captain Richard Carroll filed a law suit against Twentieth Century-Fox in which they claimed that the studio had plagiarized their story, "Pigtails," but the suit was later dropped.
According to a July 3, 1940 Hollywood Reporter news item, Sun Valley ski instructor Ragnar Qvale was expected to have a role in the picture. Although he does not appear in the released film, studio publicity noted that Qvale taught extras how to ski. Sun Valley Serenade was Sonja Henie's first film since Everything Happened at Night, released by Twentieth Century-Fox in 1939, and also marked Glenn Miller's first film as an actor, although he had appeared as himself in earlier pictures. Child actor Gary Gray made his screen debut in the film, as did Miller's popular singing group The Modernaires. Hollywood Reporter news items indicate that Jack Oakie was to have a leading role, Cobina Wright, Jr. and Carole Landis were considered for the part of "Vivian Dawn," and Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin were originally assigned to write songs for the picture. Hollywood Reporter also noted that Janis Carter was to be tested for a role, although she does not appear in the finished film, and that second unit director Mal St. Clair briefly filled in for director H. Bruce Humberstone after he was injured in a car accident at the beginning of May 1941. Hollywood Reporter news items, studio publicity and legal records note that parts of the picture were shot on location at Sun Valley and at a railroad station in Salt Lake City, Utah. According to studio records and publicity and the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, three songs written by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon did not appear in the released film. They were titled: "At Last," "The World Is Waiting to Waltz Again" and "I'm Lena, the Ballerina." Although it has not been determined if the first two songs were recorded, "I'm Lena, the Ballerina" was recorded by Joan Davis, and the sequence featuring her singing it was photographed. The PCA objected to certain lyrics in the song, although it has not been determined if that was the reason for the number being deleted from the release print. The film opened in several other cities after its premieres in Salt Lake City and Atlantic City on August 21, 1941 and before its general release on August 29, 1941. The picture received Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography, Best Music (Scoring of a musical picture) and Best Song ("Chattanooga Choo Choo"). "Chattanooga Choo Choo," as recorded by Glenn Miller and his orchestra with a vocal by Tex Beneke, was a huge hit, and was the first record in fifteen years to sell over a million copies. To commemorate the achievement, RCA Victor presented Miller with a solid gold record, which was an actual disc of the song. It was the first time a gold record was presented to a recording artist, although the Record Industry Association of America did not start awarding "official" gold records until 1958. In a November 27, 1948 Saturday Evening Post article, Sonja Henie stated that "Karen Benson" was the role she "liked best" and that it was the "liveliest role of [her] screen career." According to a November 24, 1952 Los Angeles Times news item, Darryl Zanuck hoped to remake the film as It Happened in Sun Valley with Dan Dailey as the star. According to a September 10, 1988 Variety news item, Broadway producer Martin Stager also planned to remake the film as a stage musical with a script written by Steve Allen and Sheldon Keller. As with the Zanuck project, the stage musical was never realized.