Helen Hayes was reportedly so appalled by her performance that she tried to buy the movie from the studio so that she could destroy it.
Edward Knoblock's play opened on Broadway in New York City, New York, USA on 17 September 1923 and closed in January 1924 after 144 performances. The opening night cast included May Robson, Rose Hobart, Frank Morgan, Leonard Mudie and Charles Trowbridge.
A studio cast list, dated 15 June 1931, lists the following performers (and character names), all of whom were replaced and did not appear in the movie: William Bakewell (Jacques), Tenen Holtz (Emil), Lloyd Ingraham (Claudet), Claire McDowell (Angeline), Bradley Page (Salignac), Aileen Pringle (Suzette) and Margaret Seddon (Grandmother). In the final rewritten script, many of these characters were eliminated. A modern source lists Otto Hoffman in the cast as "Official," but he was not seen in the movie.
According to 'When the Lion Roars,' Irving Thalberg and his producers were previewing films one night and he asked to see this one. Told it was hopeless, he asked to put it on anyway. After watching it, he remarked that it wasn't bad; the main thing to do was change the last seven minutes. Re-takes were done and Helen Hayes went on to win the Oscar for the part.
According to Anthony Holden's book "Behind the Oscar" (1993), M.G.M. production chief Irving Thalberg, when pondering a soap-opera-ish script, gave it the green light with the immortal words, "Let's face it. We win Academy Awards with crap like 'Madelon Claudet.'"
After the film flopped badly on its first preview, Irving Thalberg ordered it back into production and had about one-third of the film re-shot. Since Helen Hayes was already making her second film, Arrowsmith, she was called back to work on the "Claudet" retakes during her only times off from shooting "Arrowsmith," Saturday afternoons and Sundays. When Samuel Goldwyn, the producer of "Arrowsmith," heard that Hayes was working seven days a week and making two films simultaneously, he insisted that Hayes stop doing "Claudet" retakes until "Arrowsmith" was finished.
Before writer Charles MacArthur was assigned to the project, he saw a preliminary script and protested to MGM studio head Irving Thalberg that the play "The Lullaby" was hopelessly old-fashioned and wouldn't be a good film debut for his wife, Helen Hayes. Thalberg heard him out and told him, "You don't like it - you're a writer. You fix it," and hired MacArthur to do the script.