A newspaper read by Mrs. Owens toward the end of the film identifies the town as Salinson, Kansas. The fictional locale is a portmanteau of the actual Kansas towns of Salina and Hutchinson.
Having directed William Inge's play two years previously on Broadway, Logan brought some radical cast changes to the production. Only 'Arthur OConnell, Reta Shaw, and Elizabeth Wilson recreated their characterizations. Holden was cast as Hal Carter over Ralph Meeker who had played him onstage. His room-mate on Broadway had been played by Paul Newman; Cliff Robertson got the film part. Kim Stanley lost the part of Millie Owens to the much younger Susan Strasberg and Janice Rule lost out on the part of Madge to young contract player Kim Novak. Rosalind Russell actively campaigned for the role of Rosemary Sydney, the role Eileen Heckart had played it onstage.
The last aerial shot of the bus and the train was filmed by Haskell Wexler, who was - at that time - James Wong Howe's assistant.
Finnish censorship certificate # 044220.
In 1957 a marketing investigator, James Vicary, announced that for six weeks he had included subliminal messages in showings of this movie. The messages supposedly said: "Eat popcorn, drink Coca-Cola." According to Vicary, the sales of this products increased from 18% to 57%. Even though his experiment led him to fame, Vicary never gave details of how he came to his conclusions, and admitted in a later interview that everything was just a marketing trick.
William Holden was so nervous about having to dance in the Moonglow scene that Joshua Logan took him to Kansas roadhouses to practice his dance steps, along with choreographer Miriam Nelson. When the scene came to be shot, Holden, an alcoholic, was drunk to calm his nerves.
Filming began in Salina, Kansas, May 16, 1955. Night-time crowds watched along the Smoky Hill River near an old mill dam as William Holden whipped a "borrowed" convertible with Kim Novak in the passenger seat to a stop along the river. Director Logan, a perfectionist, filmed the scene over and over. A number of spectatoring small boys often got in the way of the filming. A production member was designated assistant-in-charge-of-chasing-small-boys-out-of-camera-range. Other scenes filmed were Holden being chased by police around the mill and between railroad box cars. Suddenly, the loud-speaker blared: "There's a small boy underneath the box car! Get him out of there!" When the big Holden/Novak love scene was filmed, most of the crowd had gone home. "Those who stayed said it was a dilly of a romance." Filming wrapped shortly after five in the morning. By week's end, filming moved to Hutchinson.
The climactic picnic scenes had to be shot on a soundstage due to rainstorms.
The original Broadway production of "The Picnic" by William Inge opened on February 19, 1953 at the Music Box Theater, ran for 477 performances and won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 1953.
Rosalind Russell remarked, "'Bill Inge' has sisters who were schoolteachers. That helped him in writing Rosemary so perceptively."
Columbia Pictures wanted to promote Rosalind Russell for an Academy Award nomination, but the actress refused to be placed in the best supporting category. Many felt she would have won had she only cooperated.
While selecting locals to play extras in the film, director Logan said, "There's a girl with a typical Kansas face." The woman, Joan Farwell, was hired for "atmosphere" but confessed, "I'm from Brooklyn. I'm just here visiting my grandmother."
For a scene in Picnic in which she had to cry, Kim Novack asked director Joshua Logan to pinch her black and blue off screen, telling him, "I can only cry when I'm hurt."
Insisting on authenticity, director Joshua Logan filmed in several Kansas towns, including Hutchinson, only 75 miles from Udall, a town leveled by a tornado days after filming began. "It's gotta look like Kansas and it will if I have to kill every last one of ya!," the volatile Logan yelled at his cast. William Holden suffered a leg gash on a railroad signal light, Kim Novak was stung on the hip by a bee underneath her $500 Jean Louis gown, and Rosalind Russell was "bruised from earlobe to toenail during a wild gambol across a suspension bridge." A local 70-year-old "spinster" saw her film debut canceled when she broke both legs and several ribs during a fall down an embankment. Filming was interrupted almost daily by hailstorms and "wailing" tornado warnings. The actual picnic was on a muddy fairground at Halstead, Kansas. Cast and crew were "half-consumed" by "carnivorous" bugs. Phone calls had to be made from old-time crank telephones at Halstead's Baker Hotel.
The house where Rosalind Russell lived with Kim Novak's family was located in Nickerson, Kansas, and was actually across the street from Reno Community High, where Russell's character taught school. Location shooting wrapped in nearby Sterling, Kansas, where the lake and bathhouse scenes were filmed. The movie's Labor Day festivities called for Sterling Lake to be filled with rowboats, which were in short supply since boating wasn't normally allowed. To make up the shortage, anyone who supplied a rowboat stood a good chance of being a movie extra. Sterling was also where William Holden hopped the Missouri Pacific freight train that was then tracked by cinematographer Haskell Wexler in a memorable closing aerial shot.
William Holden almost turned down the film because he thought he was too old at 37 to play Hal Carter.
French visa # 17940.
Despite its legend, this was NOT the first movie to feature a helicopter shot. They Live by Night (1949) was an early, if not the very first, film to use it.
William Holden had to shave his chest for this role, so that he appeared much younger than his true 37 years.
William Holden refused to do the dance sequence unless he was given an $8,000 "stuntman premium" and was allowed to do the scene while under the influence of alcohol. He didn't believe the studio would do either, but they wound up allowing both. In that scene he is actually intoxicated, and it still remains one of only four movies that he ever danced in (the others being Sabrina, Dear Ruth (1947) and Sunset Blvd.), and one of the most memorable scenes in the movie.