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Originally, The Harvey Girls was a Western that would have potentially starred Lana Turner, Joan Crawford, or Clark Gable. Eventually, after several failed attempts to get it off the ground, the script was sent to the musical unit where producer Arthur Freed and Director George Sidney finally brought the story to life.
1. Judy had a history with the director.
Before she became Judy Garland, she was Frances Gumm and performed with her sisters. L. B. Mayer’s secretary saw their show and suggested that the girl with the big voice be tested. At the time, director George Sidney was the studio’s test director, and he actually conducted a screen test for Judy. Her name “Garland” is attributed to actor George Jessel who said she looked prettier than a garland of flowers.
2. They bought a train for the film.
The train used for the film was an actual train that ran as part of the Virginia Trucky Railroad in California. However, finding the train was the easy part. Getting it back to the studio proved difficult. In order to do so, they used flatbeds and pulled it with a truck. When crowds began gathering to watch the train go by, the crew decided to only transport it by night. Their final obstacle was three large trees standing in their way. So, with the studio’s permission, they purchased them at $200 each and transplanted them on the studio lot. They were lovingly called “The Harvey Girls.”
3. It was Lansbury’s fourth film.
Ann Southern was originally cast in the role of the madam (a part that Lucille Ball was considered for). Angela Lansbury, who was nineteen years old, played the part and had to learn how to dance and sing. Read about her first film role here.
4. Red Skelton met his wife on set.
Skelton visited the set one day and noticed one of the Alhambra girls. Director George Sidney introduced them, as Skelton was shy. “That was it. They were married like two minutes later,” said Sidney.