In the first half of the 21st century—so far, at least—superheroes are all the rage at the multiplex. Batman. Spider-man. Iron Man. Corn Dog Man.
Okay, so we made that last one up, but you get our point.
Mutants and vigilante detectives and web-slinging nerds are what moviegoers want to see on the big screen these days.
Back in the first half of the 20th century, though, the movie-musical reigned supreme with audiences, and no studio churned out more hit musicals than Metro Goldwyn Mayer. The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me in St. Louis, Singin' in the Rain—all bona fide MGM blockbusters. From the 1920s to the 1950s, MGM was to the song-and-dance flick what Levi Strauss was to jeans, what Wayne Gretzky was to hockey, and what Corn Dog Man would be to the Avengers if Marvel would stop returning our letters unopened.
Freed Gets What Freed Wants
An American in Paris was the brainchild of producer Arthur Freed. Freed, who had also produced mega-hits like Meet Me in St. Louis and On the Town for MGM, was the production company's go-to guy for movie-musicals from the late 1930s to the early 1960s, and he wanted to make a movie about an American in Paris. During a game of pool, he asked his buddy Ira Gershwin (one-half of the famous composing duo the Gershwin brothers) if he'd sell him his late brother George's 1928 suite "An American in Paris" so he could use the title for the movie he had in mind. Gershwin said sure, as long as all of the tunes in the movie were jams by George.
Well played, Ira. Well played.
Freed and Gershwin sealed the deal. MGM ponied up $300,000 to the Gershwins for their tunes, plus an extra $50,000 to Ira, who revised and added lyrics to several of his brother's songs (source). Freed had his title and his soundtrack in place. The rest, as they say (whoever they are), is history. An American in Paris would go on to win Freed and MGM the Academy Award for Best Picture, make buckets of money, and serve as a musical love letter to the tunes of George Gershwin.
Not bad for a flick that started with two pals playing eight-ball.