Nat Pendleton was a former champion weightlifter and easily duplicates some of Eugen Sandow's feats in this film; at the time, Nat was the only man to have ever played a strongman from this time period.
Billie Burke never really rated the film much despite taking a personal interest in the writing of the script. She went to great lengths to make sure that writer William Anthony McGuire never besmirched the good name of Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., hence the playing down of his infidelities.
Billie Burke, the wife of the real Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., paid a visit to the film's set one day. While there, she was photographed with Myrna Loy, who was portraying Ms. Burke in the film.
William Powell was loaned by MGM to Universal for the film, but Universal sold the film to MGM when costs mounted. Powell made My Man Godfrey for Universal instead.
Luise Rainer was the first actress in Academy history to win back-to-back Oscars for Best Actress, for this film in 1936 and The Good Earth in 1937. Katharine Hepburn repeated the trick in 1967/68.
Myrna Loy, who received second billing for this film, does not actually appear on screen until 2 hours and 15 minutes into the movie.
A.A. Trimble, who portrays Will Rogers in the film, was actually a Cleveland map salesman who frequently impersonated Rogers at Rotarian lunches.
Eugen Sandow is portrayed as a typically "dumb strongman". In real life, however, Sandow was highly intelligent and a superb businessman. Because he was among the first men to display his muscular body as a "work of art", he was considered to be the "Father of Bodybuilding" and this is what his gravestone reads today. Among his friends were Sir 'Arthur Conan Doyle', Thomas A. Edison (who filmed him at the Black Maria Studios) and even King Edward VII. Sandow's career became bigger than ever after his association with Ziegfeld. He became very wealthy and famous because of his mail-order businesses, gyms, souvenir photographs, books and personal appearances. There is a mountain in Alaska, a railroad and a small town in Texas (near Austin) named after him.
For her famous telephone conversation scene, which is generally credited as being what clinched the Oscar for her, Luise Rainer drew a lot of her material from a play by Jean Cocteau entitled "The Human Voice".
In the footnotes of their American Film Institute's Feature Films, 1931-1940, Catalog mistakenly lists Mary Lou, an adult, played by Jean Chatburn, and Sally Manners, a Ziegfeld star, played by Rosina Lawrence, as the same person.
The film's costs were proving too much for Universal, so MGM bought the rights for $300,000 from them. Ultimately the film cost MGM about $2 million to make, a huge amount in its day. It did however go on to earn over $40 million.
The first biopic to win and Academy Award for "Best Picture".
The sequence "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody" was filmed in two lengthy takes after several weeks of rehearsals and filming (a definite cut is made when moving to a close-up on the singer dressed as Pagliacci, presumably to effect a change of camera position, necessary to start the inexorable move up the huge staircase). It features 180 performers and cost $220,000; 4,300 yards of rayon silk were used for the curtains in the scene.
The set for "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody" took months to build and cost over $200,000. This was substantially more than it cost the real Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. to produce a whole show, according to former Ziegfeld girl Doris Eaton.
Universal Pictures bought the film rights to Ziefeld's life story from his widow Billie Burke in late 1933. William Powell was to play Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., Billie Burke was to play herself, and it would feature specialties by Fanny Brice, Judy Garland (and her sisters), Eddie Cantor and Ray Bolger. When Universal decided to make a faithful film version of the Kern-Hammerstein musical "Show Boat", which Ziegfeld himself had originally produced onstage, the studio heads sold "The Great Ziegfeld" to MGM in March 1935 while still in pre-production. Only Powell, Brice and Bolger survived to the final picture. Ironically, MGM would buy the rights to "Show Boat" from Universal in 1942, and remake the musical, in Technicolor, in 1951.