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The working title of this film was Burlesque. The play Burlesque, originally produced on Broadway starring Barbara Stanwyck and Hal Skelly, won a Critics' Award as one of the ten best Broadway plays of 1927-28. According to news items and information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, after Paramount had produced films in 1929 and 1937 based on the play, they sold the rights to RKO, which planned a version to star Ray Bolger. In 1944, Columbia bought the motion picture rights to the play from Paramount, and according to a March 23, 1944 New York Times item, Al Jolson, in his first assignment as a producer for Columbia, was planning to supervise a film based on the play, starring Rita Hayworth. That production was never realized.
In September 1947, Los Angeles Times reported that Joan Crawford wanted to star in a film based on Burlesque, but Columbia refused to sell the rights to Warner Bros., Crawford's studio. Columbia then sold the motion picture rights to Twentieth Century-Fox in exchange for racehorse stock shots from their 1938 film Kentucky (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films: 1931-40; F3.2260) for use in The Return of October. At the time of the purchase by Twentieth Century-Fox, the play was being produced in a revival on Broadway starring Bert Lahr and Jean Parker.
According to publicity for the film at the AMPAS Library, producer George Jessel envisioned producing this film with Dan Dailey and Betty Grable after seeing them in Twentieth Century-Fox's 1947 musical about a vaudeville family, Mother Wore Tights.
According to information in the Produced Scripts Collection and in Records of the Legal Department, the film originally was to begin with George Jessel "orating regarding burlesque in the middle twenties. He says, 'It was the West Point for many great artists-Weber and Fields, Sam Bernard, David Warfield in the old days; and stars who are still going strong today-Eddie Cantor, Fannie Brice, Bert Lahr, Leon Errol, Sophie Tucker, and if you'll pardon the expression, even me, Georgie Jessel.'" In the final film, an offscreen narrator situates the film in 1920s burlesque, but does not name any specific performers.
The film contains a scene in which Dailey, as the character "Skid Johnson," does an imitation of vaudevillian Ted Lewis singing the title song, "When My Baby Smiles at Me." Lewis is mentioned by name in the scene. According to the Legal Records, Lewis, after signing an agreement allowing the company to impersonate him and to use his name, complained in writing that he had understood that the impersonation would be the same as the one that Hal Skelly originated in the play Burlesque and that Bert Lahr used when he later appeared in the play. That impersonation appeared in the song "Just Around the Corner." Lewis, who stated that the song "When My Baby Smiles at Me," which he co-wrote, had been his theme song for almost thirty years, was upset that the studio had appropriated the title for their film without consulting with him. In a letter dated August 10, 1948, after filming had been completed, Lewis wrote that he had been informed that Dailey had impersonated him throughout the film, not just for one song, and stated, "I hereby withdraw the limited consent to have Dan Dailey impersonate me...for I am convinced that if you do so you will cause me very considerable damage." In a subsequent memo, a studio official stated that Lewis was in error "as we do not impersonate him throughout the picture." Lewis later was informed that the studio had procured permission from the publisher of the song to use the title.
Dailey received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, but lost to Laurence Olivier in Hamlet. Betty Grable and Dailey reprised their roles on the Lux Radio Theatre on April 25, 1949. A radio adaptation was also broadcast on Screen Directors' Playhouse on May 5, 1950. On March 17, 1955, a television version, "Burlesque," was broadcast on CBS-TV's Shower of Stars, with Dailey, Jackie Oakie, Marilyn Maxwell and Joan Blondell. As noted above, the play Burlesque was first filmed by Paramount in 1929 as Dance of Life, directed by John Cromwell and Edward Sutherland and starring Hal Skelly and Nancy Carroll (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.1141), and in 1937 as Swing High, Swing Low, directed by Mitchell Leisen and starring Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.4437).