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Gore Vidal based his play Visit to a Small Planet on his teleplay of the same name, which was broadcast on the Philco Television Playhouse on May 8, 1955. In February 1959, producer Hal Wallis bought the rights to the stage play, which had had its Broadway debut on February 7, 1957. At the time of the purchase, according to a Hollywood Reporter news item, Wallis was considering either Lewis, Alec Guinness or Danny Kaye for the lead role. Although Vidal's play included what the Variety reviewer called "thoughtful commentary on the stupidity of war," the film version contains no such theme.
Although Hollywood Reporter noted in April 1959 that Donna Douglas tested for a role, she was not in the film. June and July 1959 Hollywood Reporter news items add the following actors to the cast: Charles "Chuck" Ward, John Diggs, Anne Cornwall, Mike Ross, Carl Lucas, Hugh Langtry, John Drake, William Rands, James Knight, Jack Jones, Richard Johnson, Jose Dominguez, Paul Smith, Eddie Robinson, Jr., Max Power, John Eloff, Louise Glenn, Sondra Matesky, John Dennis, Dominic Fidelibus, Titus Moede, Beach Dickerson, Bob Harvey, David Lanfield, Joseph Turkel, Mark Russell, Gene Collins, Paul Wexler, and Frank Socolow. Their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Modern sources add Don Bagley, Jack Costanzo and Dany Saval to the cast.
Hal Pereira, Walter Tyler, Sam Comer and Arthur Krams received a 1961 Academy Award nomination for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White. Visit to a Small Planet marked the last film for Jerry Lewis under his long-term contract with producer Hal Wallis, who helped jumpstart Lewis' career. The two made one more film together, 1965's Boeing Boeing (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70). For more information on their relationship, see the record for the film My Friend Irma (AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50).