Based on a play by George Brewer and Bertram Bloch, Dark Victory originally starred Tallulah Bankhead on Broadway and had a successful run until Bankhead had to leave the production due to illness. The rights to the play were bought by David O. Selznick and MGM who originally wanted Greta Garbo to play Judith Traherne, and then later Merle Oberon when Garbo chose to do another project. Oberon eventually left the project as well when there was a contractual dispute. When Selznick became wrapped up in filming Gone With the Wind, he sold the story rights to Warner Brothers, who then put Bette Davis in the lead role after years of her begging Jack Warner to by the project for her.
Dark Victory was nominated for the Academy award for best picture of 1939 and Bette Davis was nominated for her second consecutive best actress Oscar, but 1939 proved to be a stiff year of competition with Gone With The Wind and The Wizard of Oz leading the Academy Awards in nominations and wins. While not on the same scope and scale as the winners of 1939, Dark Victory has become known as one of the great classics from that golden year of cinema and is considered one of the ten best of 1939.