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Father Edward Flanagan, who died almost ten years after this movie was released, was the first person ever to live to see somebody win an Oscar for portraying him.
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When shooting began on the movie Mickey Rooney repeatedly tried to steal scenes by fumbling with a handkerchief, pulling faces and other bits of business. This so annoyed Spencer Tracy that he threatened to have Rooney thrown off the movie unless he behaved.
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The day after Spencer Tracy won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in this film, an MGM publicist released a statement - without consulting Tracy first - that the actor would donate his Oscar to the real Boys Town in Nebraska. Tracy agreed to make the donation if the Academy would send him a replacement Oscar. When the replacement arrived, the engraving on the award read: "Best Actor - Dick Tracy."
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There is rumored to be an alternative version of the Spencer Tracy Oscar story: "In February 1939, when he accepted his Oscar for the role, Spencer Tracy responded graciously by spending all of his acceptance speech talking about [Father Edward Flanagan]. 'If you have seen him through me, then I thank you'." An overzealous MGM publicity representative announced that Tracy was donating his Oscar to Flanagan, but did not confer with Tracy about it. Tracy's response was: "I earned the [*beep*] thing. I want it." The Academy hastily struck another inscription, Tracy kept his statuette, and Boys Town got one, too. It read: "To Father Flanagan, whose great humanity, kindly simplicity, and inspiring courage were strong enough to shine through my humble effort. Spencer Tracy.""
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Father Flanagan was paid $5000 for the movie rights to his book; the movie made a profit of $2 million.
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Included among the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the 400 movies nominated for the Top 100 Greatest American Movies.
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Freddie Bartholomew was considered for the part of Mickey Rooney's best friend, but was not cast because the producers felt he was too associated with Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936) and so would not be believable in this film.
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The Boys Town organization hoped that the success of the movie would increase the amount of donations. In fact, the amount of donor money sharply decreased because many donors thought that the organization had made a huge profit due to the movie's success.
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The third of three films in three successive years in which Spencer Tracy was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar in a Best Picture nominee, after San Francisco (1936) and Captains Courageous (1937). He won Best Actor for Captains Courageous and this film.
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Actor Don 'Red' Barry was spotted at a UCLA game with a Texas All-Star team. Mickey Rooney attended the game with John Wayne. Even though his team lost 21-14, Barry impressed the two actors, who offered to open doors for him if he wanted a film career. Rooney got him a job on this film, but Barry kept blowing the scene with Spencer Tracy' he had been assigned and was replaced.
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Father Edward Flanagan may have been the basis for Harold Gray's character Collar John, a boxer turned priest who appeared in his comic strip "Little Orphan Annie".
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This film received its initial television presentation in Philadelphia Friday 20 September 1957 on WFIL (Channel 6), followed in San Francisco 10 May 1958 on KGO (Channel 7), New York City 8 September 1958 on WCBS (Channel 2), and Los Angeles 7 June 1959 on KTTV (Channel 11).
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If the incident with Peewee had been real, it's known now that Whitey's lifting, then picking up, shaking and carrying him around may have done more extreme medical damage to his internal organs and bone fractures than the original impact. In fact, modern first-aid techniques would require that Peewee be left as he was until suitable medical help arrived. Within the story, though, it's understandable that emotionally distraught Whitey assumed he had caused Peewee's death, and acted that way.
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The road traffic incident with Peewee would now be commonly known as a "Hit and Run" where the driver of the vehicle would speed off and not check the victim, either unknowingly or deliberately.
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After Whitey is wounded at the scene of a bank robbery, Father Flanagan receives a phone call giving him an anonymous tip that Whitey is injured and can be found "in a church at 19th and Dodge". There actually is a church at 19th and Dodge in Omaha, St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church.
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