The film had its world premiere on Dec. 17, 1959, in more than 20 cities worldwide, including Moscow. It was the first time an American film had had a premiere in the Soviet Union. The special premiere in Moscow was held at a workers' club, with 1200 Soviet dignitaries, the foreign press corps and diplomats including US Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson attending. Gregory Peck and his wife traveled to the Soviet Union for the premiere.
Gregory Peck was a lifelong opponent of nuclear weapons, and made this film for this reason. He believed atomic weapons should not have been used during World War II, and the reason for Japan's surrender was the Soviet Union's declaration of war on 9 August 1945 and simultaneous invasion of Manchuria. He also stated there was no need for any invasion of Japan, as a naval blockade of the islands would have starved the country into unconditional surrender.
Ava Gardner's first film as a freelance actress after completing her 20-year studio contract at MGM, where she worked for a weekly salary and didn't benefit financially from being loaned to other studios. She was now free to choose her roles and negotiate her salary.
The U.S. Department of Defense and the United States Navy declined to cooperate in the production of this film, including access to a nuclear-powered submarine, which forced the film production to use a non-nuclear, diesel-electric Royal Navy submarine, HMS Andrew (Royal Navy submarines were based in Australia until 1967, when the Royal Australian Navy commissioned its own submarines).
Fred Astaire launched his non-musical, dramatic acting career with this film. Stanley Kramer couldn't decide who to cast in this role until his wife suggested Astaire while watching one of his films on TV.
The movie was shot in part in Berwick, a (then) small town in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. Some streets which were being established during this time were named after people involved in the film. Some examples are: Gardner Street (Ava Gardner), Shute Avenue (Nevil Shute) and Kramer Drive (Stanley Kramer).
According to Philip R. Davey, author of the book "When Hollywood Came to Melbourne: The Story of the Making of Stanley Kramer's 'On The Beach'", director Stanley Kramer experienced many problems with the thousands of bathers who stood in shoulder-deep water to watch the proceedings, and who applauded the cast after each take. Their enthusiasm was gratifying in this respect if not in others, such as when thousands of people began crowding forward to get a closer look at Ava Gardner, they repeatedly moved into camera range, thus necessitating many frustrating retakes.
When Moira goes to visit Towers at the dock, an Australian sailor calls out "Get a load of that Charlie Wheeler". This is rhyming slang: 'Charlie Wheeler' rhymes with "sheila", an Australian term for a (young) woman.
Nevil Shute originally collaborated with Stanley Kramer on the film but soon realized that many of his ideas were not being incorporated so he distanced himself from the project. He was absolutely enraged by the final film - some say that this hatred of the movie contributed to a fatal stroke a month after the film's premiere. Shute was only 60 when he died.
Ava Gardner got herself into hot water when she claimed that "Melbourne was the perfect place to make a film about the end of the world". This, however, was something she never said and was made up by a journalist.
During the 1980s Gregory Peck was a very active opponent of President Ronald Reagan's Star Wars defense missile system. Peck stated his main priority in life was to see the world rid of nuclear weapons.
The tune played repeatedly throughout the film is the iconic Australian folk song "Waltzing Matilda". It tells the story of a swagman (Australian for hobo) who steals a sheep and commits suicide rather than accept capture and imprisonment.
The car Osborne drives in the race is a 1955 Ferarri 750 Monza Spider. It is one of only 35 built. In 2011 this exact car sold at auction for over $2.5M. In 2016, another example, with a more famous and race-winning pedigree sold for over $5.2M.
Fred Astaire thoroughly enjoyed filming in Australia as, unlike Ava Gardner, he was not hounded by the press. In fact, for most of the shoot, he was able to move around freely, frequenting thrift shops and race tracks.
The Hollywood premiere was attended by many celebrities, including some of the film's stars. The New York premiere was attended by Mayor Robert F. Wagner. The London premiere was attended by Yakov Malik, Soviet Ambassador to the U.K. Ava Gardner attended the Rome premiere. The Japanese Royal Family attended the Tokyo premiere. Swedish King Gustaf VI Adolf attended the Stockholm premiere. The Melbourne premiere was attended by Premier of Victoria Henry Bolte. Premieres were held simultaneously in 20 cities on six continents.
Television star Graham Kennedy was one of several Melbourne TV performers who appeared as extras in a night-club scene. Much of the scene was deleted, and Kennedy did not appear in the theatrical release, nor any subsequent DVD versions.
There was a U.S. Navy submarine named Sawfish (SS-276). It was a Gato-class diesel-electric submarine commissioned in 1942. She was deployed on ten war patrols, earning eight battle stars and rescued two naval aviators while on lifeguard duty during carrier strike operations. She was decommissioned in 1946 and finally stricken and scrapped in 1960.
Second film ending with Ava Gardner, her back to the camera, seeing off departing persons, or a person, she loves. The first was 1951's "Show Boat," but in between there is a third if you count her statue where her character is buried in 1954's "The Barefoot Contessa."