Basil Rathbone played Tybalt in this film even though he had triumphed in the role of Romeo on Broadway in 1934, opposite the Juliet of Katharine Cornell.
William Randolph Hearst campaigned heavily for Marion Davies (Hearst's mistress) to star as Juliet. However, MGM thought Davies would be miscast and should only stick to comedies.
Fredric March, Robert Donat and Robert Montgomery all turned down the lead before Leslie Howard was cast.
An autographed copy of the script adaptation, containing the signatures of 27 cast and crew members (including Rathbone, Howard and Shearer) was donated to the University of Idaho library by Talbot Jennings in 1939.
Because she wanted to play the Nurse in this film, Edna May Oliver turned down Universal's offer to reprise her stage role of Parthy Ann Hawks in the 1936 film version of Show Boat. The Nurse turned out to be Oliver's only Shakespearean role.
Contains the only on-screen sword fight that expert swordsman Basil Rathbone won in his entire career.
In The Hollywood Revue of 1929, Norma Shearer plays Juliet in a comedy skit, with then-screen idol John Gilbert as Romeo. In the skit, they are being "directed" by Lionel Barrymore. After performing the famous "balcony scene" together, they get a "phone call" from "The Boss" (i.e. producer Irving Thalberg, Norma's husband), who tells them to jazz up the language in the scene, and try to make it more appealing to modern audiences. Shearer and Gilbert try a version of the balcony scene using 1920's slang (i.e. "Julie, baby, I'm ga-ga over you!"), but quickly agree that you can't improve the original language of Shakespeare.
One minor complaint about this film version, according to many fans of the play, would be that Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer were physically too old to portray teenage lovers. At the time of this film's release, Howard was 43 years old; Shearer was 34 years old.
Special non-skid felt shoes were designed for Leslie Howard, John Barrymore and Basil Rathbone for their dueling scenes. Research at the time disclosed that felt soles were prepared with a resinous compound brought from Scythia. A similar compound was made up by a druggist and the soles were carefully treated for filming the scene on the flagstone of the public square set.
The film's literary consultant was Professor William Strunk Jr., co-author of the famous treatise on the English language, Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style." Producer Irving Thalberg hired Strunk to work with the screenwriters to make sure that the Hollywood adaption of Shakespeare's play stayed true and respectful to its original source. Thalberg told Strunk, "Your job is to protect Shakespeare from us."
The role of Mercutio was the only Shakespearean role that John Barrymore ever played complete onscreen. His only other screen appearances in Shakespearean roles were in a screen test for a never-made film version of "Hamlet", a soliloquy as Richard III in the 1929 film "The Show of Shows", and a role in the film "Playmates", as a hammy Shakespearean actor.
The role of Romeo was originally offered to John Gielgud, who had just had a triumph in a stage production of the play in London in which he alternated the roles of Romeo and Mercutio with Laurence Olivier. Gielgud not only turned the part down (thinking that Shakespeare couldn't effectively be presented on screen), but was so disgusted by the finished film that he walked out of the theater after watching only fifteen minutes of it.
The role of Romeo was turned down by Laurence Olivier.
The role of Romeo was turned down by Robert Donat.
This was the last film producer Irving Thalberg personally produced before his death. The film's Los Angeles premiere took place at the Carthay Circle Theater on September 14, 1936, the night of Thalberg's death. Frank Whitbeck, the radio announcer for the broadcast of the premiere, decided not to interview the stars of the movie on the air. The actors were so grief-stricken that Whitbeck was afraid they would break down crying, so he simply announced their names as they arrived.