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It all started with a title. Musical heavyweight producer Arthur Freed dreamed of making a picture set in Paris, and after listening to George Gershwin’s An American in Paris suite, he asked his brother, Ira, if he could use the name. In no time, an agreement was made to purchase the title for $300 thousand and for a new film with music by George and lyrics by Ira.
1. They had the whole Gershwin score to pick from.
Gene Kelly, Vincente Minnelli, and the music director went to Ira Gershwin’s home where they listened to his brother’s work to find the right music for their project. Interestingly, they had gotten the green light from the studio to begin working without a plot line for the story. While they listened to songs, screenwriter Alan Jay Lerner worked in seclusion working up a plot. In the end, the trio decided to pick the well-known George Gershwin songs.
2. It was Leslie Caron’s film debut.
Gene Kelly had actually seen her perform years earlier in a ballet in Paris when she was only 15 years old. Kelly convinced the studio to send him back to test her acting ability, as they trusted his judgment on dancing. Kelly also tested Odile Versois, but they felt Caron had the naiveté suitable for the role.
3. Maurice Chevalier turned down a role.
Despite being offered a very generous amount for the role, the French star didn’t see himself in the part of a man who didn’t get the girl in the end. Years later, however, he would work with director Vincente Minnelli and Leslie Caron in Gigi and not as the lead's love interest. Yves Montand wanted the role but was turned down. Instead, George Guetary played the part, and since he was younger, his hair was dyed gray.
4. The ballet was expensive.
The film ends with a long and cinematic ballet number that cost about $450,000. The sequence contained approximately 500 costumes, took six weeks to rehearse, and took one month to film. Many were unsure if the number would actually work and stuggled to develop it. They eventually found their inspiration in famous painters and used their technique to set the mood. Originally, the ballet was set to “Somebody Loves Me”.