Anything Goes was based on an idea by a producer, Vinton Freedley, who was living on a boat in Panama, having left the USA to avoid his debts. He selected the writing team, and the star, Ethel Merman. As the show was in preparation, a passenger ship, the SS Morro Castle, sank and over 125 passengers were drowned The plot, which concerned a shipwreck, was deemed insensitive, and the show was largely rewritten.
The resulting story was that of a nightclub singer, Reno Sweeney, played by Merman. The show opened at the Alvin Theatre, New York City, on 21 November, 1934 and became the fourth longest-running musical of the 1930s. It was filmed in 1936, starring Ethel Merman and Bing Crosby.