From Page to Stage to Screen
Gigi began its life as a 1944 novella by Colette, in which the title character is raised by her grandmother and aunt to follow in the family business: high-class prostitution. (And to think, some families are content with super-stores.) As in the film, young Gigi and uber-wealthy party-boy Gaston find true love beyond the trappings of high-society life in turn-of-the-20th-century France.
The novella was a saucy little number, and accordingly, adaptation followed, beginning with a little-known French production in '49, and followed by a more prominent Broadway play starring Audrey Hepburn and written by Anita Loos (a successful Hollywood writer known for the Marilyn Monroe film Gentleman Prefer Blondes.)
While in early production for a Broadway version of My Fair Lady, producer Arthur Freed and musical writer Alan Jay Lerner began to discuss bringing Gigi to the silver screen. They got pumped.
Meanwhile, Colette had said sayonara to this mortal coil, and her husband had already sold the film rights to another producer. In the end, Freed was hungry to make the movie, so he forked over over $87K for the pleasure of turning the romantic drama into a broad rom-com musical, palatable to American tastes and values.
This meant tackling the Hays Code, a Motion Picture Association guideline that dictated how things like sex, gender, alcohol, and drugs could be portrayed on the silver screen. The censors were worried about "man-mistress relationships" and Gaston's "number of illicit affairs" for starters (source).
Colette's naïf-turned-escort-turned-lover morphed into Lerner's naïf-turned-"kept woman"-turned lover. The pay-to-play angle was toned down so much that you could read the film script without noticing that it wasn't really Gigi's hand in marriage that Gaston was after at first.
Words & Music & Partnerships
The Hays Code wasn't the only stumbling block. Often, musical writers work in pairs, one specializing in lyric, the other in music compositions. Although Lerner was all-systems-go, his musical partner Frederick Loewe said no thanks (source). They'd already worked on bringing 1954's Brigadoon from Broadway to Hollywood, and watched six of their songs get cut in the process. Bummer. But with a few promises, Freed managed to get both halves of the duo on the same…page.
First, they were to shoot in Paris, away from the oily, rude business of the American film industry. Second, Lerner wanted a particular actor to play Gaston, and third, a particular designer to wrangle the art direction. Because of a contract, the former didn't happen (and Louis Jourdan stepped into the role), but the latter did, and famous photographer and designer Cecile Beaton would put together the lush Belle Époque visions that graced both Gigi and My Fair Lady before it.
We'll Always Have Paris
Lerner and Loewe headed to Paris and the pair started writing as director Vincente Minnelli began production. The resulting songs are a bit of collage: the lyrics from "I Remember It Well" was reclaimed from a stage musical Lerner had worked on a decade prior, while Gigi's only solo, "Say A Prayer for Me Tonight," was taken from My Fair Lady's cutting room floor.
Back to Hollywood Anyway
When Lerner hated the way Minnelli had shot a scene in Maxim's, MGM agreed to re-shoot it in LA while Minnelli was overseas on another project. It was super expensive, but at least Lerner was happy. Would this happen today? Unlikely.