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Playwright and composer Meredith Willson found instant success with The Music Man when it premiered on Broadway in 1957. The musical, a tribute to his childhood days in Mason City, Iowa, won six Tony Awards and cemented the work as a classic piece of American theater.
But the fun didn’t end there. In 1962, Warner Brothers brought the magic to the screen, paying one million dollars for the rights. The large scale production took nine months to film, as Director Morton Da Costa, who staged the Broadway performance, took the helm again.
Shirley Jones remembered, “I’ve never had a better time making a movie.”
1. Grant turned down the lead.
Robert Preston originated the character of Harold Hill on Broadway and won a Tony for his performance. As Hollywood normally does when adapting stage works, the studio sought a star – Frank Sinatra. However, Meredith Wilson was opposed to the idea and told them it was Robert Preston or nothing. Warner Brothers then offered the part to Cary Grant who echoed Wilson’s sentiment that the part could only be played by Preston.
2. Shirley Jones hid a secret.
She found out she was pregnant during filming, and the director told her to keep it from the cast. To hide her baby bump, the costume department used a corset, bows, and fringe until eventually she was only shot from the waist up. Robert Preston found out about her pregnancy while filming the love song “Till There Was You”. When he pulled her in for an embrace, he felt the baby kick! "Bob practically passed out in shock,” Jones said.
3. It was Howard’s first big movie.
After a national talent search, “Ronny” Howard got the part. At the time, he was also making an impression on television doing The Andy Griffith Show. “I think they thought it was adorable that I couldn’t carry a tune,” Howard said, remembering his song “Gary, Indiana”. Shirley Jones remembered working with her Howard as a joy and said, "Ronny was already a pro... [He] always knew his lines word perfect."