Gigi had a rough take-off. Arthur Freed had to overcome the censors, who disapproved of a musical about a womanizer and a potential mistress, and purchase the rights for $87,000 from another writing team working on a musical.
But the challenges were worth it as Gigi became 1958’s top grossing musical film. It even won nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for Vincente Minnelli.
1. Hepburn turned down the title role.
Audrey Hepburn originated the Broadway role in a non-musical adaption of Gigi in 1951. While the play wasn’t well-received, her break-out performance helped launch her into the spotlight. Years later, when she was offered the film, she declined because she felt that she was now too old. Leslie Caron, who also starred in an adaption of Gigi, then accepted the part in the musical.
2. Chevalier’s role was written for him.
Alan Jay Lerner expanded the role for Maurice Chevalier, making him the narrator and Gaston’s uncle (not his father). Originally, Chevalier was to wear straw hats exclusively, but he successfully advocated for top hats to be added to his wardrobe. For his performance, Chevalier received an Honorary Academy Award. Interestingly, Chevalier had turned down the opportunity to work with Director Vincente Minnelli and Leslie Caron in another French musical, An American in Paris (read about that here).
3. They filmed on location.
Leslie Caron said, “Shooting a musical in its natural setting, Paris, was a first for MGM and for Arthur Freed.” They were able to film at several locations because they were filming in August, when many were away on holiday and places like the Tuileries gardens and Place de la Concorde weren’t swamped with people. Interiors were shot in Hollywood.