Banned in China: Pasternak's book was originally banned in the Soviet Union. A Dutch secret agent managed to get his hands on a Russian copy and he distributed it to his contacts at the CIA. They produced (technically pirated because an Italian publishing house held the original rights) thousands of copies of the original book and gave them to unsuspecting Soviet tourists at the 1958 World's Fair who smuggled them back to the USSR.
In an early scene, Komarovsky was supposed to kiss a shocked Lara. After noticing in rehearsals that Julie Christie was anticipating the scene and showing nervousness, Rod Steiger, with Lean's permission, decided, while kissing her, to not let her go and follow up that first kiss with a french kiss. It worked.
Another example (possibly) is when Komarovsky buys Lara that red dress and forces her to wear it. Shooting the scene was apparently delayed because Julie Christie was so repulsed by it that she refused to wear the dress. She was coaxed out by the production designer, who pointed out that Lara didn't want to wear the dress either, but she's forced to. Christie then agreed. When you watch the scene, Christie's discomfort and unwillingness really shines through.
Fake Russian: The Lebanese-Egyptian Omar Sharif as the Russian Dr. Yuri Zhivago. Then again, most of the cast are British (or in Rod Steiger's case, American) actors playing Russians, so the trope's in effect for everyone.
Hostility on the Set: Alec Guinness and David Lean quarreled frequently on the set of this film. According to Guinness, Lean was "acting the part of a super-star director" and frequently insulted Guinness's performance and him personally. This caused a rift to develop between the two and they would not work again until A Passage to India almost twenty years later.
Pop Culture Urban Legends: It's widely rumored that during the filming of one of the train scenes, a stuntwoman had her legs cut off when she fell under the wheels. Rumors further suggest that the footage of the incident made it into the final film. There's a grain of truth to this: Lili Murati did fall under the train wheels due to a miscommunication between her and Omar Sharif, and her stumble did end up in the finished movie, but she wasn't seriously injured.
The Red Stapler: The film's costumes inspired the "Zhivago Look" fordesigners like Yves St. Laurent and Christian Dior. Fur trims, silkbraiding and boots came back into fashion thanks to the film. Also returned to fashion by the film's success was facial hair. Beards and mustaches were in, just in time for the counter-culture revolution of the late '60s.
Throw It In!: In another scene, after Lara slaps Komarovsky, he slaps her back with his glove. Komarovsky's response wasn't on the script. Rod Steiger later commented that "nobody slaps Komarovsky and gets away with it".
Producer Carlo Ponti won a bidding war for the film rights to Boris Pasternak's novel, and wanted it to be a spectacle on the same scale as Lawrence of Arabia, so he hired many of the same crew members, including David Lean, script writer Robert Bolt, composer Maurice Jarre, and production designer John Box. He wanted location shooting to take place in the Soviet Union, but was refused permission by the government due to the content of the novel. Scandinavia was deemed too cold for a lengthy film shoot, while Yugoslavia was ruled out for both the cold weather and the obstructive bureaucracy; the location shooting was mostly done in Spain. Construction of the Moscow set in a suburb of Madrid took nearly eighteen months, while filming itself fell behind schedule as Lean hoped to shoot scenes during each of the various seasons as depicted in the novel. Unfortunately, the winter scenes did not go as planned due to the unusually mild winter, and they were instead mostly filmed in summer in temperatures as high as 90 degrees Fahrenheit, with marble dust and plastic snow standing in for actual snow and the actors' profuse sweating requiring frequent makeup touchups.note Some of the winter scenes were filmed in more appropriate weather in Finland and Canada.
As an Egyptian playing a Russian, Omar Sharif had to undergo a strenuous make-up process each day, involving shaving his hairline by 2-3 inches (which then had to be waxed every three days as it grew back), straightening his remaining hair, and taping his eyes back. Meanwhile, Julie Christie initially refused to wear the red dress that so captivates Zhivago's attention; as Lean was essentially incapable of buttering up his actors, he had to ask John Box to persuade her for him.
The relationship between David Lean and Alec Guinness had become certifiably toxic; Lean frequently insulted not only Guinness' performance as Yevgraf Zhivago but also Guinness personally. Guinness recalled Lean mocking him as too old for the character and saying his "face was too fat onscreen," a criticism Guinness neither understood nor appreciated. This treatment generated a rift between the two men that would last nearly twenty years.note And even that reconciliation was short-lived; when most of Guinness' performance in Lean's final film as director, A Passage to India, ended up on the cutting room floor, the duo fell out once and for all.
The original director of photography was Nicolas Roeg, but he resigned after Creative Differences with Lean led to a major falling out between the two. Freddie Young, the director of photography from Lawrence of Arabia, was offered the job, and though he was reluctant to work with Lean again after the exhausting experience of shooting Lawrence, he eventually agreed, but needed two weeks to re-shoot the scenes that Roeg had shot before his resignation.
The political climate in Spain (under Fascist leader Francisco Franco) made it a risky country in which to shoot a film about the Russian Revolution. The scene in which the crowd chants the Marxist anthem, "The Internationale", was filmed at 3am; the police, thinking an actual Marxist revolution was taking place, descended on the shoot and insisted on staying until the scene had been filmed. The mostly Spanish extras, fearful that the police would arrest them as Communist subversives, had to pretend not to know the words to "The Internationale".
During shooting of a scene in which Zhivago pulls a young mother onto a train after first pulling her baby onto the train, the actress playing the young mother, Lili Murati, panicked when Omar Sharif grabbed her hand; a miscommunication between the two ultimately resulted in Murati falling under the train's wheels. Fortunately, she had bunched up and thus avoided having her limbs severed, while her thick clothing also protected her from serious injury.
The film continued to stumble in its first weeks in cinemas. Critics thought the film too long, the love affair between Zhivago and Lara too soap operatic, and the depiction of historical events too facile. Maurice Jarre's score, especially "Lara's Theme", was widely dismissed as "syrupy". Lean later said that during the first few weeks, "you could hurl boulders in the theatre and not hit anyone." However, the film and especially "Lara's Theme" eventually caught on with audiences, with Jarre winning his second Oscar and the film having one of the ten highest box office takes in cinema history (adjusted for inflation).
Stanley Kubrick expressed interest in the novel soon after it was first published in the US. In 1958 he and producer James B. Harris began negotiating with the publishers for rights to Zhivago, planning to cast Kirk Douglas as Zhivago. Kubrick even contacted Pasternak to seek his approval. However, Kubrick and Harris were forced to back out after bidding for the rights exceeded what they were able to pay.