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Barrie's play was based on his novel of the same name, which was published in 1891. The copyright records state that the film was based on the novel, not on Barrie's play, but all other sources refer to the play as the film's source. According to a July 1934 Hollywood Reporter news item, Paramount sold the rights to Barrie's play to RKO in exchange for the services of RKO's contract star Francis Lederer. The New York Times review claims that Dorothy Emerson "fictionized" the story, but no other contemporary source mentions this credit. Although production files for the film state that RKO purchased the rights to the song "Twas Meant to Be" from Val Burton and Will Jason, and a Film Daily pre-production news item announced that H. W. Hanemann wrote a song for Katharine Hepburn called "The Willful Male," the only song performed in the picture was "House of Argyle," which was sung in part by Hepburn. A November 1934 Film Daily news item states that Jessie Ralph was to replace Charlotte Granville in the cast. Neither of these actors, however, appears in the final film. Hollywood Reporter production charts list the following additional cast members: Charles Irwin, Charles McNaughton, Jane Baxter, Elsie Prescott and Anna Q. Nilsson. Their participation in the final film has not been confirmed. Some scenes in the film were shot in Sherwood Forest in the San Fernando Valley and at the Fryman Ranch in Laurel Canyon. During the filming of a mob scene, actor John Beal was stabbed in the right eye by an unidentified extra and nearly lost his sight, according to a Daily Variety news item. The Little Minister was cinematographer Henry Gerrard's last film. According to contemporary sources, Gerrard died of a mistreated appendicitis during the final stages of filming.
Modern sources add the following information about the production: Although Hepburn was not at first interested in playing "Babbie" and was advised against taking the part by her agent and others, she changed her mind when she heard that Margaret Sullavan desperately wanted the role. During production, Hepburn made suggestions for the story's ending, some of which director Wallace incorporated into the film. Editing and scoring for the picture required nearly a month's time. The film's budget was a high $650,000, and the picture lost RKO almost $10,000 at the box office. Modern sources credit Mel Berns with the film's makeup, and add May Beatty (Maid) to the cast.
In 1915, Oscar Apfel directed Dorothy Bernard in a Fox Film Corp. production of Barrie's story called The Little Gypsy (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20; F1.2526). In the early 1920s, two other versions were produced: Penryhn Stanlaws directed Betty Compson in a 1921 Famous Players-Lasky release; and David Smith directed Alice Calhoun in a 1922 Vitagraph production (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.3122 and F2.3123). In addition, Maude Adams, who portrayed "Babbie" in the original stage production, revived the part on the radio in two 1934 NBC network broadcasts of the play.