In 1947, The New York Easter Parade, which people strutted down 5th Avenue for, was estimated to draw over a million people. Perhaps this was what inspired Irving Berlin to first float the idea of a movie entitled "Easter Parade" to the Fox studios. MGM ended up being he backing studio though, with producer Arthur Reed's unit- famous for making fabulous, big budget musicals- in charge. According to Reed, it was the lure of getting to work with Judy Garland that got Berlin to work with MGM.
Originally, Gene Kelley was slated to star opposite of Garland, but a broken ankle from a sporting event meant they needed someone else. Kelley recommended they call up Fred Astaire. This was a bit of a long shot, for Astaire, concerned at the increasing age differences between him and his lead ladies, was nominally retired. The chance to work with Garland for the first time was enough to pull him back into show business though, and he reported for work a mere three days after Kelley broke his leg (er, ankle. Sorry, the pun was too good to resist).
Although both were big stars at the time, they'd never met in person, and Garland was too shy to beginning shooting until properly introduced! We can't blame her; the first scene they shot was of them kissing. Despite the nervous start, Garland enjoyed making the film, far more than her previous one (Pirates, which, being directed by her husband, put considerable strain on their marriage). Astaire said of his dancing partner, "She's the greatest entertainer who ever lived- who probably ever will live... it was one of the greatest thrills to get to work with her."
The cast was rounded out with Ann Miller and Peter Lawford, who each get a few numbers of their own!
Despite the predictably story line, this film was a job to watch for the comic timing, whether in dancing such as when Astaire uses drums to bamboozle a kid out of a stuffed rabbit, or in the characters' interactions themselves. One can rarely tear your eyes from Garland's face; its so animated. There were a lot of inside jokes too. One early dance number involved Garland in a dress that shed its feather trim with every turn. It was a reference to a dress worn by another of Astaire's famous dance partners, Ginger Roger, in Top Hat. After Rogers' dress would stop shedding, Astaire had sworn there would be no more feather dresses!
So, go on, put on your Easter Bonnet, strut down the avenue this Easter- and when you get back settle back and take in Judy Garland and Fred Astaire's charming Easter Parade.