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Although this film bears the title of the Eleanor Gates novel, which was published in New York in 1912, and her play, which was first produced in New York on January 21, 1913, many of the characters and incidents in it are based on an original story by Ralph Spence entitled "Betsy Takes the Air." According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department at the UCLA Theater Arts Library, Fox Film Corp. acquired the motion picture rights to the play by Gates before they merged with Twentieth Century Pictures. They paid $20,000 to Gates and $20,000 to The Pickford Co., which held the motion picture rights following the production in 1917 of a film based on the play, which was distributed by Artcraft Pictures Corp and starred Mary Pickford. That film was directed by Maurice Tourneur (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20; F1.3493). Gates agreed to allow Shirley Temple to sing and dance in the film, but would not allow the company to make a musical comedy with chorus girls or an operetta. In a memo dated May 11, 1935, J. J. Gain, a Fox official, noted that the company had "found it advisable to make an agreement with Mary Pickford to utilize her services in connection with any ideas she might have on this story. The amount involved for this service will be $10,000." It is not known if Pickford did, in fact, contribute any ideas to the final film. In October 1934, Rose Franken and Eric Knight contributed treatments based on the play, and in 1935, Ernest Pascal wrote one, but it is not known if any of their material was used in the final film.
In a memo to associate producer Buddy DeSylva, dated August 6, 1935, in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection, also at UCLA, production head Darryl Zanuck noted that the title, "is a great box-office title." He then went on to explain his own conception of the film: "I don't think anybody in the present generation remembers anything about the old play other than it had to do with a wealthy girl who was sad. Therefore, I think we could take any liberties we wanted and write an entirely new story-something that is a light, bubbling musical comedy with plenty of opportunity for Shirley to sing and dance and do clever pieces of business....We should take a very funny story, a plot that has definite comedy situations, and probably adapt one of the adult parts to fit Shirley." In correspondence in the legal records regarding a plagiarism suit filed by Izola Forrester and Mann Page, the genesis of the story used is described in great detail. According to the correspondence, Ralph Spence wrote the scene in which Shirley Temple appears in the film Stand Up and Cheer (see below) and then severed his connection with the studio. It soon became evident that Temple had stolen the picture, so Spence's secretary, Gertrude Livingston, who was a fan of a radio program starring Baby Rose Marie, wrote a twenty-page outline of an idea for a radio story for Temple. Spence developed her story into a complete story outline, entitled "Betsy Takes the Air," but did not submit it to Fox because of personal differences with Fox's head of production, Winfield R. Sheehan, and held on to it hoping that another child star would be developed who could use the story. In October 1935, after the merger with Twentieth Century, Spence learned that the company was looking for a musical, and he sold the story to them for $5,000. The suit by Forrester and Page was settled in 1941 when Twentieth Century-Fox purchased their story, which they claimed was plagiarized, for $1,000.
In June 1936, before the film's release, Eleanor Gates objected to the use of her name in connection with the film, as she claimed that the story was not hers. DeSylva convinced the legal department to use Gates' name in the credits by stating that they used the Gates title and the "main theme of [a] little rich girl left alone by [her] parents in [a] big house with servants who goes through harrowing experiences resulting in [the] usual reconciliation."
In the film, Temple, while singing the song "But Definitely," does an imitation of Bing Crosby crooning "Where the Blue of the Night," by Crosby, Roy Turk and Fred E. Ahlert. The scenes of the exterior of the Barry estate were taken at 160 So. San Raphael Avenue in Pasadena. Charles Coleman is listed as a cast member in Hollywood Reporter production charts, but his participation in the final film has not been confirmed. In 1937, the film was rejected by one of the censor authorities in Germany because of some non-Aryan names involved with it, including director Irving Cummings, writer Sam Hellman, songwriter Mack Gordon, and cast members Sarah Haden and Henry Armetta. Because Twentieth Century-Fox wanted a release to liquidate their debt in that country, they agreed to send proof by official documents that the actors were Aryans. By 1939, according to the legal records, the film, which cost $696,600 to produce, had made $2,354,100 in total rentals, foreign and domestic.