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The working titles of this film were Down Went McGinty, The Story of a Man, The Vagrant, The Mantle of Dignity and The Biography of a Bum. It marked Preston Sturges' directorial debut. According to materials contained in the Preston Sturges Files at the UCLA Library, Sturges wrote the original story, entitled "The Story of a Man," in 1933 with Spencer Tracy in mind. He tried to sell it to Universal in 1935, and in 1938, he tried to sell the story, retitled "Biography of a Bum," to Saturday Evening Post. When that magazine refused the story, Sturges sold it to Paramount for ten dollars on the condition that he be allowed to direct it. The film began production on December 15, 1939 and closed down on January 25, 1940 with one day left to shoot. The final scenes were shot on April 15, 1940, after the first cut had been made. According to a news item in Hollywood Reporter, the production of this film was postponed to allow Akim Tamiroff to appear in The Way of All Flesh. During filming, Sturges was stricken with pneumonia and, as a result, needed a private nurse on the set with him. Correspondence in the Preston Sturges Papers notes that Jo Ann Sayers was borrowed from M-G-M to play the female lead opposite Brain Donlevy, but was declared incompetent and consequently was dropped. The Los Angeles Herald Express and Hollywood Reporter add that Paramount tried to borrow Joseph Schildkraut for a role in this film. Sturges won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for this picture. The picture was also included in FD's "ten best" films of 1940. In 1942, Brian Donlevy starred in a Philip Morris Playhouse version of the story on the CBS radio network. In 1942, Brian Donlevy and Akim Tamiroff reprised their roles of Dan McGinty and The Boss in Sturges's The Miracle of Morgan's Creek. In 1950, Paramount considered remaking the film with Bing Crosby, and in 1954 with Bob Hope, but dropped the project.