After the success of Flying Down to Rio (read about that here), RKO quickly looked for other properties to star Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, who had danced for the first time in the film as secondary characters. The Gay Divorcee seemed like the perfect fit, as Astaire had already been in the Broadway show.
The plot changed to bring more cohesion to the story. Originally, Astaire’s character was a writer who danced. However, for the film adaption, he was now a professional dancer. Astaire said, “This change made a lot of difference in the story line and unquestionably improved the vehicle.”
Due to the potentially big box office appeal of their next team-up, RKO afforded the stars the necessary weeks to rehearse, which was especially helpful as Astaire worked out numbers with dancer Hermes Pan for difficult pieces like “The Continental” and “Night and Day”.
Astaire also prefered the extra time so some of the dances could be finished first, rather than saving them all for the end of the shoot. Additionally, if choreographing a dance sequence gave him problems, he would have time to work through the details while still working on other scenes.
Of course, one of the most difficult tasks associated with the dancing was dubbing the taps. Dubbing was necessary because the sound equipment wasn’t able to pick up the tap sounds properly. So Astaire had to wear earphones and recreate his taps in each number. It was a hard project, but one he felt strongly about.
Overall, Astaire and Rogers were both excited about the potential of the film and working together. When the project got the go-ahead, Rogers was told that Astaire was hesitant to be an on-screen team because he didn’t want to be partnered again – as he had been partnered with his sister on stage before. Nevertheless, the pair got along, and the partnership extended to many more films together.
Astaire said, “[Gay Divorcee] was a holdover smash everywhere and there was no longer any question about my being accepted by the movie public. Ginger and I as a team had registered again and the studio was ready to take advantage of it.”