This film was responsible for launching the career of Bette Midler. She can be seen in the crowd as an extra playing a seasick passenger aboard a ship listening to the preacher played by Max von Sydow. Midler was also hired for a small speaking role and went to Los Angeles to film these scenes in a studio. Her scenes were cut from the final film. However, Bette used the money she earned to move to New York, where her career took off.
Walter Mirisch hired veteran Fred Zinnemann to produce and direct the movie in 1960. Zinnemann brought with him screenwriter Daniel Taradash, as they had already successfully partnered in bringing From Here to Eternity to the screen. But Taradash was not able to condense the epic book by James Michener, into a workable story. When Mirisch hired Dalton Trumbo to take over the script, Zinnemann - after two more years of development - left the project when United Artists rejected his concept of a 4-hour movie to be shown in two parts.
The real life sons of actor Max von Sydow, Henrik von Sydow and Clas S. von Sydow, both played his son, Micah, at different ages during the film. Henrik played a 7-year-old Micah and Clas played a 12-year-old Micah.
Fred Zinnemann was originally slated to direct and Audrey Hepburn and Alec Guinness were set to star. Unfortunately, conflicts with producer Walter Mirisch and co-screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, as well as numerous delays caused by the weather, caused him to walk off the project shortly before filming started. George Roy Hill was brought in to direct.
This was the biggest box office hit in 1966, earning slightly more than $6 million.
Reportedly the first or, if not, certainly one of the earliest, movies to feature a Moog synthesizer as a scoring instrument
The fictional character of Malama in James Michener's book and subsequently in this movie, was based on Queen Ka'ahumanu, the actual ruler of Maui at the time of the missionaries' arrival in the islands. It was she who welcomed the missionaries onto the island, passed the laws against the sailors and who converted to Christianity shortly before her death, just as Malama does in the film. Malama was expertly portrayed in the film by Jocelyn LaGarde, a Tahitian actress who resembled the actual Queen Ka'ahumanu in every way except one... Queen Ka'ahumanu was supposedly very heavily tattooed.